The Son's Veto: Summary, Analysis Themes & Characters

Analysis, summary, themes, characters in the short story "The Son's Veto" written by Thomas Hardy.

Thomas Hardy

• A Victorian realist, influenced both in his novels and poetry by Romanticism
• Highly critical of much in Victorian society, though focused more on the declining rural society.
• Regarded himself primarily as a poet


The exposition phase of the story takes place after a significant event and serves to provide background information and introduce the main characters.

  • Sophy, the protagonist, is depicted as physically disabled and confined to a wheelchair. Her disability becomes a defining aspect of her character and influences her experiences throughout the narrative.
  • Randolph, Sophy's son, is portrayed as highly educated, having attended Oxford. He often corrects his mother's English, highlighting the stark contrast in their education levels. This leads to a sense of embarrassment for Sophy and emphasizes the social divide between them.


The central conflict arises when Sam, a man who has previously proposed to Sophy, proposes to her for the second time.

  • After the death of her husband Twycott, Sophy has become lonely and agrees to marry Sam, longing for companionship and a chance at happiness.
  • However, there is a significant obstacle in their path—the need for Sophy to obtain her son's consent before she can proceed with the marriage.
  • This conflict highlights the power dynamics within their relationship and raises questions about the control Randolph holds over his mother's life choices.


The climax of the story occurs when Sam forbids Sophy from marrying him, resulting in a pivotal moment that significantly impacts the narrative.

  • Sam, influenced by his own prejudices and a desire to maintain social status, opposes the idea of his mother marrying someone he considers beneath their class.
  • He exerts his authority over Sophy, making her swear that she won't marry Sam. This act of control and domination showcases the power dynamics between mother and son, and the emotional turmoil faced by Sophy.


The story reaches its resolution, which carries a sense of tragedy and sorrow.

  • Sophy, depressed and lonely, dies without ever having the opportunity to truly enjoy herself or find happiness in her life.
  • Her death highlights the profound consequences of her son's veto and the limitations imposed on her freedom and personal fulfillment.
  • The resolution serves as a critique of societal norms and the detrimental effects they can have on individuals, particularly those who are marginalized or constrained by their circumstances.

Effects of the Exposition:

The exposition of the story serves several purposes and has specific effects on the narrative and the reader's understanding of the events that unfold.

  • The exposition is set after all the events of the story, creating a flashback structure. This technique provides a retrospective view of the events and adds a sense of reflection and hindsight to the narrative.
  • The scene is set at a bandstand in a private garden or park in the suburbs of London. This setting creates an atmosphere of elegance and refinement, contrasting with the subsequent sadness and tragedy that unfolds.
  • The initial paragraph of the exposition focuses on complimenting Sophy's hair, using vivid and artful language. Phrases such as 'a wonder and a mystery,' 'a rare... example of ingenious art,' and 'successful fabrication' create an image of beauty and admiration.
  • The subsequent description in the exposition evokes sympathy for Sophy.
    • The use of the phrase 'poor thing' in a third-person subjective voice immediately arouses a sense of pity and concern for Sophy's situation.
    • The mention of her limited accomplishments, with 'the only accomplishment she could boast of,' suggests that her life has been devoid of opportunities and achievements.
    • The image of a 'young invalid lady... sitting in a wheelchair' reinforces her physical disability and highlights the challenges she faces on a daily basis.
  • Overall, the exposition sets a foreshadowing tone by revealing sad images and invoking a sense of melancholy. This prepares the reader for the tragic events that will unfold in the story, establishing an emotional connection and empathy towards Sophy's plight.

Plot Summary

"The Son's Veto" portrays the intricate narrative of a proletarian woman's matrimonial union with a prominent Anglican clergyman, her subsequent widowhood, her strained rapport with her progeny, and her thwarted amorous connection with a youthful paramour. The narrative commences with the protagonist, Sophy, attending an al fresco concert in the company of her adolescent son, Randolph. The author deftly provides initial glimpses into Sophy's backstory, delineating her reliance on a wheelchair and her imperfect linguistic aptitude, which incites a stern reproach from her filial counterpart.

Subsequently, the story retrospectively recounts the events that precipitated Sophy's nuptials to her present spouse, Mr. Twycott. Sophy, serving as a parlour-maid in Mr. Twycott's household within the pastoral environs of Gaymead, a countryside hamlet adjacent to London, forms a camaraderie with Sam Hobson, a gardener in the same employ. Following the demise of Mr. Twycott's initial wife, Sophy and Sam entertain matrimonial aspirations. Initially, Sophy expresses her intention to depart in order to marry Sam, but following a disagreement with him, she alters her course and decides to stay. As she tends to Mr. Twycott during his bout of illness, Sophy sustains a debilitating foot injury after a fall down the stairs. Informed of her impending departure, Mr. Twycott discerns his growing affection for Sophy and proffers a proposal of marriage. Despite harboring no genuine love for him, she acquiesces. Recognizing the potential societal repercussions of their union, Mr. Twycott relocates from the countryside to London and invests in Sophy's education, seeking to ameliorate her proletarian lineage. The couple begets a son, Randolph, who is privileged with an exemplary education. After a duration of fourteen years, Mr. Twycott succumbs to an ailment. His testament bestows upon Sophy a modest personal income and marginal control over the estate, precipitating her descent into seclusion and discontentment. Simultaneously, her association with her son deteriorates as he matures and exhibits increasing contempt for her more humble origins.

On one fateful day, Sophy serendipitously encounters Sam as he transports his produce to a city market, rekindling their erstwhile liaison. They devise plans to unite in matrimony and establish their abode in their native village of Gaymead. Nevertheless, Sophy experiences trepidation, apprehensive of Randolph's disapproval. Summoning her courage, she divulges her intentions to her son, only to be met with vehement refusal, grounded in his fear that her remarriage to a working-class individual would tarnish his own societal standing. For a span of four or five years, Sophy endeavors to persuade her son to grant his assent to her union with Sam, yet he obliges her to pledge not to proceed without his consent. Entwined in the hope that Randolph may one day relent, Sophy languishes in a state of longing, beset by bewilderment as to why she should abstain from marrying Sam. The narrative culminates with the poignant spectacle of Sophy's funereal cortege traversing the streets of Gaymead; Sam, observing from his emporium, is overcome with inconsolable sorrow, while Randolph, casting a dark and disapproving glare upon him, remains unyielding in his stance.


Sophy - Protagonist:

  • Sophy is depicted as a poor and vulnerable lady. Phrases such as 'poor thing,' 'had no maid,' and 'sitting in a wheelchair' highlight her disadvantaged position and evoke sympathy from the reader.
  • She is portrayed as uneducated, as seen in her son Randolph correcting her English usage with 'Has, dear mother - not have.' This emphasizes the contrast in education levels between Sophy and her son.
  • Sophy looks down on herself and expresses a sense of inferiority. She states, 'No, I am not a lady... I never shall be,' indicating her lack of confidence and societal self-perception.

Randolph - Antagonist:

  • Randolph is characterized as an arrogant young man. Descriptions such as 'impatient fastidiousness that was almost harsh' and 'Surely you know by now!' highlight his self-importance and impatience with his mother.
  • He is well educated, having received an education in an 'aristocratic school' and being an undergraduate from Oxford. This background reinforces his sense of superiority and knowledge.
  • Randolph's attitude towards his mother is spiteful, as shown by phrases like 'manly anger now,' 'maintained his ascendancy,' and 'his education... sufficiently ousted his humanity.' Despite his mother's potential happiness with Sam, Randolph opposes their relationship.

Sam - Main Character:

  • Sam is depicted as a hardworking individual, having the 'largest fruiterer's shop in Aldbrickham.' His dedication and work ethic contribute to his success.
  • He is described as well-dressed, wearing a 'neat suit of black,' which suggests his attention to appearance and professionalism.
  • Sam is portrayed as romantic and faithful. He waited for years to propose to Sophy twice and is described as leading an 'idyllic life' with her as a 'faithful fruiterer.' His love and devotion are evident in his actions.
  • Sam is very respectful and unresentful towards Sophy. He addresses her as 'dear Mrs. Twycott,' showing his consideration and regard for her, especially after the death of Mr. Twycott.

Effectiveness of Ending

The ending of the story has several powerful effects on the reader, shaping their perception of the characters and evoking strong emotions.

  • The implied death of Sophy at the end of the story creates a sense of dissatisfaction. The fact that she dies without experiencing any happiness or fulfillment in her life is disheartening and leaves the reader with a feeling of sadness and injustice.
  • The ending intensifies the reader's disdain towards Randolph. His selfishness and preoccupation with social status, at the expense of his mother's happiness, become more apparent. The reader is likely to harbor strong negative feelings towards him for his actions and lack of empathy.
  • Sophy's death elicits even greater sympathy from the reader. Already sympathetic towards her due to her vulnerability and circumstances, her demise intensifies the emotional connection. The reader feels a deep sense of sorrow and pities Sophy for the limitations placed upon her and the missed opportunities for joy in her life.
  • The ending prompts a growing resentment not only towards Randolph but also towards the class system. The frustration stems from the realization that Sophy's unhappiness and ultimate demise were the result of societal norms and expectations. This can lead the reader to question the fairness and inherent flaws of a system that values social standing above personal happiness.

The ending of the story, with its combination of dissatisfaction, increased dislike towards Randolph, heightened sympathy for Sophy, and criticism of the class system, leaves a lasting impact on the reader and invites contemplation on themes of social inequality and the sacrifices individuals are forced to make.

Critical Analysis

"The Son's Veto" by Thomas Hardy invites critical analysis through its exploration of social class dynamics, the consequences of societal expectations, and the limitations placed on individual agency.

One aspect that can be critically examined is the portrayal of social class. The story highlights the stark divide between the working class and the upper class, exposing the prejudices and judgments that accompany such distinctions. Mr. Twycott's decision to marry Sophy, a former servant, is met with societal scorn and forces him to uproot his life. This raises questions about the rigidity of social hierarchies and the constraints they impose on individuals' personal choices and happiness.

Moreover, the narrative examines the detrimental effects of conforming to societal expectations. Sophy, despite her initial desire to marry Sam, succumbs to the pressure of her son and society, sacrificing her own happiness. This raises questions about the role of social conformity in suppressing individual desires and the toll it takes on one's well-being.

The story also presents a critique of the limited agency granted to women in patriarchal societies. Sophy's lack of education and her dependence on male figures, first Mr. Twycott and later Randolph, reinforce the unequal power dynamics prevalent in the narrative. This prompts a critical analysis of the gender roles and societal norms that confine women to predetermined roles and hinder their personal growth and autonomy.

Additionally, the character of Randolph invites scrutiny and analysis. His disdain for his mother's working-class origins and his rigid adherence to societal expectations reflect the oppressive nature of social class divisions. His treatment of Sophy as an inferior and his refusal to grant her the freedom to pursue happiness expose the harmful effects of elitism and privilege.

"The Son's Veto" provokes critical analysis by prompting readers to question societal norms, examine power dynamics, and consider the limitations placed on individuals by social class and gender expectations. It offers a critique of the oppressive nature of societal structures and invites readers to reflect on the implications of conformity and the pursuit of personal agency and happiness.


Social Class vs. Human Flourishing

The theme of social class versus human flourishing is central to "The Son's Veto." The characters in the story are profoundly affected by the distinctions of social class and the unspoken societal expectations that accompany them. Mr. Twycott, an Anglican parson, faces the dilemma of sacrificing his own happiness and uprooting his life to avoid potential scorn from marrying Sophy, his former servant. This highlights the restrictive nature of social class and the sacrifices individuals may have to make to conform to societal norms.

After her marriage to Mr. Twycott, Sophy finds herself thrust into a world for which she is ill-prepared. The complex set of social expectations placed upon her isolates her from her previous social circle and hinders her ability to flourish as an individual. The story explores how the constraints of social class can limit personal growth and fulfillment, emphasizing the detrimental impact of societal judgments on individual well-being.

Family Duty vs. Desire

The theme of family duty versus desire permeates the narrative of "The Son's Veto." Sophy, the protagonist, grapples with a profound conflict between her own yearning for happiness and her sense of duty towards her son, Randolph. Her rekindled romance with Sam, a man she almost married in her youth, offers her a chance at personal happiness and freedom that seemed unattainable after becoming a widow.

However, Randolph's obsession with maintaining his social status and the expectations placed upon him as a member of the upper class create a barrier between Sophy and her desires. She is torn between her role as a devoted mother and her longing for personal fulfillment. The story explores the tension between individual desires and societal obligations within the context of familial relationships, shedding light on the sacrifices individuals may face when their personal aspirations conflict with their familial duties.

Freedom vs. Immobility

The theme of freedom versus immobility is evident in the stark contrast between the different phases of Sophy's life in "The Son's Veto." Her early life as a working-class maid is characterized by a sense of mobility and freedom. However, her marriage to Mr. Twycott and the subsequent injury she sustains, which permanently incapacitates her, mark a turning point.

Her physical immobility becomes symbolic of the limitations imposed on her life. Sophy's confinement to a wheelchair serves as a metaphor for the restrictions placed upon her personal freedom and agency. The story explores the transformative power of a life-altering event and the profound impact it can have on an individual's ability to navigate and shape their own destiny.

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