A Wagner Matinee: Analysis

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Words: 803 |

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5 min read

Published: Mar 20, 2024

Words: 803|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Mar 20, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Sacrifice in “A Wagner Matinee”
  2. The Transformative Power of Music
  3. Significance of Themes in the Story
  4. Conclusion

Edith Wharton’s short story “A Wagner Matinee” explores the theme of sacrifice and the impact of music on the human spirit. The story follows the protagonist, Clark, as he brings his aunt, Georgiana, to a performance of Wagner’s music after many years of living on a Nebraska farm. Through this experience, the reader is exposed to the power of music and the sacrifices Georgiana made for her family. This essay will analyze the themes of sacrifice and the transformative power of music in “A Wagner Matinee” and explore the significance of these themes in the context of the story’s setting and characters.

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Sacrifice in “A Wagner Matinee”

One of the central themes in “A Wagner Matinee” is sacrifice. Georgiana sacrificed her passion for music and her life in Boston to move to the Nebraska prairie with her husband, Howard. Throughout the story, it becomes evident that Georgiana’s sacrifice was not only physical but also emotional. She gave up her love for music and the cultural experiences of city life in order to support her husband and raise their children in a rural setting. The narrator, Clark, reflects on the impact of this sacrifice, stating, “She had been a girl of much sweetness and grace, and I can remember hearing a Boston conductor say that her contralto voice had almost the compass of a mezzo-soprano” (Wharton).

Georgiana’s sacrifice is further highlighted when she attends the Wagner concert. As she listens to the music, she is overwhelmed by the memories of her past life and her love for music. The narrator describes her emotional state, saying, “Her face worked so during the prelude that I feared the concert would distress her, and I suggested leaving; but she set her lips and shook her head, and sat it out” (Wharton). This passage demonstrates the depth of Georgiana’s sacrifice and the emotional toll it has taken on her.

The Transformative Power of Music

Another important theme in “A Wagner Matinee” is the transformative power of music. The story illustrates how music has the ability to evoke strong emotions and memories within a person. When Georgiana attends the Wagner concert, she is transported back to her youth and her love for music. The narrator describes her reaction to the music, stating, “I watched her under the dissolving lights, and I could see that the old passion was hot in her soul again” (Wharton). This passage emphasizes the profound impact that music has on Georgiana, despite the many years she has spent away from it.

Furthermore, the story suggests that music has the power to transcend time and space. As Georgiana listens to the music, she is able to momentarily escape the hardships of her life on the Nebraska farm and reconnect with her former self. The narrator reflects on this transformative experience, stating, “I remembered the patient, motionless figure in the darkened room, and I reflected that the years are very long, and that it is no use to try to measure them in units of experience” (Wharton). This passage highlights the enduring power of music and its ability to transport individuals beyond their immediate circumstances.

Significance of Themes in the Story

The themes of sacrifice and the transformative power of music are significant in “A Wagner Matinee” because they highlight the complexity of human experience and the enduring nature of personal passions. Georgiana’s sacrifice serves as a poignant reminder of the challenges and compromises that individuals make in their lives, particularly in the context of family and relationships. Her emotional response to the music further underscores the lasting impact of personal passions and the capacity for individuals to rediscover them, even after many years.

Additionally, the themes in the story shed light on the contrast between rural and urban life, as well as the cultural and artistic differences between the two settings. Georgiana’s experience at the Wagner concert serves as a lens through which the reader can understand the dichotomy between her past life in Boston and her present life on the Nebraska farm. The story prompts the reader to consider the ways in which individuals navigate these differences and the lasting impact they have on personal identity and fulfillment.


“A Wagner Matinee” by Edith Wharton is a powerful exploration of sacrifice and the transformative power of music. Through the character of Georgiana, the story delves into the emotional and personal consequences of sacrificing one’s passions for the sake of others. It also highlights the enduring impact of music on the human spirit and its ability to transcend time and space. Ultimately, the themes in the story prompt the reader to consider the complexities of human experience and the enduring nature of personal passions.

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Wharton, Edith. “A Wagner Matinee.” Harper’s Magazine, 1904, pp. 292–297.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

A Wagner Matinee: Analysis. (2024, March 20). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from
“A Wagner Matinee: Analysis.” GradesFixer, 20 Mar. 2024,
A Wagner Matinee: Analysis. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 May 2024].
A Wagner Matinee: Analysis [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Mar 20 [cited 2024 May 30]. Available from:
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