The Ever-Changing Intensity of Love
“The Maytrees” by Annie Dillard is a novel about the love and relationship between Lou and Toby Maytree over the course of their lives, as their son is born. and even as the intensity has faded from their love and Maytree loves another woman. Frida directed by Julie Taymor is a biopic about Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera and the trials and tribulations of their relationship and the intensity of their love in the stages of their lives. What these works share is a theme of love, relationships, and marriage. Ultimately the works suggest that love is eternal but not absolute. Meaning that to love somebody is to love them forever but the intensity of love waxes and wanes.
A large component of both works is marriage, the marriage between Frida and Diego and the marriage between Lou and Maytree. In both works the protagonists use marriage as the next logical step of being in love. In Frida, Diego and Frida marry because, as Diego says, “I think it's quite possible that we were born for each other.” (00:38:06) In “The Maytrees,” Lou and Maytree marry because they love being together. Maytree thinks, “Without her he already felt like one of two pieces of electrical tape pulled apart.” (pg. 9) Both works offer a counterpoint, those that do not believe in marriage, for example in “The Maytrees,” “(marriage is) a sort of friendship recognized by the police.” (pg. 9) But ultimately the protagonists marry. Why then, if marriage is a follow up to love, do both works feature such strained marriages? This is because marriage is absolute where love is not. When Maytree and Lou or Diego and Frida marry their love for each other is strong but does not remain that way. Maytree’s love for Lou falters in intensity, causing him to run off with Deary. Maytree could not maintain the level of love for Lou that their marriage required but he did still love her, imagining, “he might one day betray his Lou and their marriage he loved.” (pg. 77) When Diego and Frida live in different houses the intensity of their love had lessened since their marriage but they still loved each other, hence the bridge. Both couples have failing marriages as their love falters, despite this and despite Frida and Diego’s divorce, the couples ultimately come back together. Neither stopped loving the other, their love is eternal, but their love could not sustain the absolute quality of marriage, suggesting that love is not absolute.
In “The Maytrees,” Maytree believes that love is eternal and absolute. He does not understand why he has loved more than one person, Lou and then Deary, thinking, “Why can love, love apparently absolute, recur? And recur? Why does love feel it is—know for certain it is—eternal and absolute, every time?” (pg. 127) Maytree is conflating intense love with whether or not he loves somebody. When Maytree is with Deary he feels an intense love for her and believes that because of this he has fallen out of love with Lou. At the time, Maytree fails to realize that while the intensity of his love for Lou had diminished, that their love was not absolute, that doesn’t mean that their love is not eternal. Later in life as Deary is sick Maytree realizes that love is not absolute but is eternal. Maytree realizes the underlying love he still feels for Lou which had lain dormant. This underlying love rekindles after Deary dies causing Maytree to realize that their love is eternal but not absolute, he was just not feeling the same intensity of love for Lou when he left her, rather than what he previously thought, that he stopped loving her entirely. As mentioned later in the novel, this is, “the finding of a person who one did not know one loved so much.” (pg. 199) Maytree finally understands after all this time that love is eternal but not absolute.
In Frida, Diego asks for a divorce before he moves to California. Lou and Maytree never get divorced. This is consistent with Maytree and Diego’s respective views on love and marriage. Diego is of the same school of thought that suggests marriage is, “a sort of friendship recognized by the police.” At this point Diego has married three different women, he believes that marriage shows the intensity of love and recognizes that intensity of love fades. It is only after the intensity of the love between Diego and Frida has faded that he asks for a divorce. Lou and Maytree never divorce, consistent with Maytree’s belief that love is absolute. If Maytree understood how he could love Deary, if Maytree understood that love was not absolute, he likely would have divorced Lou as the intensity of their love could no longer support the absolute quality of marriage. As it stands their marriage stood as a testament to his misconceptions. When Diego returns to Mexico and the intensity of love between him and Frida is rekindled, they remarry. When Maytree returns to Lou and the intensity is rekindled there is no need to remarry, yet, because Maytree now understands that marriage represents the intensity of love between two people, had Maytree and Lou divorced they would likely remarry now that the intensity had returned. Maytree’s new view on love has reconciled itself with reality. Thus, provided marriage is viewed as a show of intensity of love, divorce can be seen as a waning intensity, holding that love is eternal but not absolute.
Lou and Maytree have Petie. Diego and Frida try to have a baby but cannot. Children are the ultimate exception to the rule that love is not absolute. As in “The Maytrees,” “Just as few men love their wives so much as their daughters, few, if any, women love anyone so much as their children.” (pg. 108) As established, Maytree does not initially understand how he can love Deary after loving Lou. Yet, even during this crisis of faith, Maytree loves Lou enough to leave Petie with her. Lou understands love from the get go, the intensity of her love for Maytree falters but she always love Petie with intensity. In Frida, Diego loves Frida intensely and is willing to have a child with her, but he primarily loves her. When Frida has her miscarriage she takes it incredibly hard, even before the birth she had an intense love for this child, crying, “I want to see him!” (01:02:26) when learning the child did not survive. These women love their children absolutely. While their fathers do love them, the fathers care more intensely for the mothers. Thus these works subvert the idea of love not being absolute by examining the love between a woman and her child as being absolute.
The eternal quality of the love between the protagonists of each work allows for the couples to rely on their counterpart in a time of need. In Frida, because of their love, Diego is able to rely on Frida to house Trotsky in her father’s house. The intensity of the love between Diego and Frida was at an all time low, Frida was living alone at the time, and still, because of their eternal love, Frida was willing to make the personal sacrifice necessary to host Trotsky. The same can be seen in “The Maytrees” when Maytree brings Deary to Lou and asks for her help in taking care of Deary. Lou and Maytree had not seen each other for many years, the intensity of their love had dwindled in comparison to the early part of their marriage. Lou has every right to reject Maytree’s request, she doesn’t owe the man who left her anything, but she doesn’t reject it because she felt the underlying love the two shared. This unconditional love upholds the idea that love is eternal but waxes and wanes in intensity over the course of your life.
“The Maytrees” examines the love between Lou and Maytree and their relationship over time. While Maytree initially believes love to be eternal and absolute, he comes to term with the fact that love is not absolute. Lou understands that love wanes yet the love that she holds for Petie is absolute. In Frida, Diego and Frida recognize that the intensity of love waxes and wanes over time. These works use marriage, both between Frida and Diego and Maytree and Lou, as an example of the intensity of love and divorce, whether divorcing or remaining married, as an example of love fading. With Trotsky and with Deary the works cover unconditional love as it relates to eternal love, the ability to rely on somebody you once loved when there is nowhere else to turn. The culmination of these views of love in “The Maytrees” and Frida holds that love is eternal but not absolute, it waxes and wanes. The only absolute love is that between a mother and her child.