Marian runs away from the group as Len calls after her. She runs for a while through the neighborhood until Peter catches up with her and takes her back to his car. Len, Ainsley, Peter, and Marian go to Len’s apartment, where Len pours drinks for everyone and they all begin to socialize once more. Marian sits in silence, feeling distant from the group, and decides to crawl under the bed to escape the noise. As she lies there, she begins to feel resentment towards Peter, all of a sudden realizing that she wanted him to care about her more and pay more attention to her. This feeling is a shift from her previous belief that the two “weren’t really involved,” meaning that neither saw their relationship as lasting or serious.
Len and Peter soon notice that Marian is under the bed, and Peter lifts up the bed, forcing Marian to get out; he believes she was stuck, even though she willingly climbed under the bed to get away from the group. Marian announces that she wishes to walk home alone and Peter aggressively tells her he doesn’t care what she does. Len and Ainsley stay in the apartment alone together. Peter follows Marian in his car, convincing her to get in so he can drive her home. She refuses and they begin to fight, but eventually agrees and gets in the car with him. They continue to argue until Peter accelerates the car and almost crashes it in a fit of anger. He accuses her of ruining the night and she calls him an “overgrown adolescent.” However, once they are parked outside of Marian’s apartment, she suddenly feels attracted to him and they embrace.
Peter asks Marian how she would feel if they were married. Marian wakes up the next morning, confused and scattered, as if the insides of her brains have been “scooped out like a cantaloupe.” She goes into the kitchen and has a conversation with Ainsley, first telling Ainsley that she and Peter are engaged—which Ainsley doesn’t approve of—before discussing Ainsley’s plan to seduce Len and make him the father of her child. Ainsley explains that Len is the only suitable man in the city, and that she’s already discussed his family background with him enough to decide that he is a good candidate and genetically strong. Marian feels conflicted, and once Ainsley leaves, Marian debates whether she should tell Len about Ainsley’s plan, and whether Ainsley’s plan is immoral.
Peter arrives at Marian’s apartment. He jokes about how drunk he was the night before, and says that he’s unsure if he really meant what he said, but then appears to contradict that statement by telling Marian how he really does believe it’s time for him to get married, just like Trigger. Peter states that it will be good for his career, and that Marian is “very sensible,” which will make her a good wife. He says he is happy about the decision and Marian agrees, although she feels uncertain about how to navigate their redefined dynamic, which has now become serious and committed, where it was previously founded upon the assumption that they would not stay together, and that neither wanted marriage. Peter asks Marian when she would like to get married and she surprises herself by telling him that she wants him to decide, adding that she wants him to make all the “big decisions,” even though she’s not sure if she means what she says.
After Peter leaves, Marian finds that she feels restless and decides to go to the laundromat to do laundry. When she arrives at the laundromat, she discovers that she’s forgotten the soap. However, to her surprise, Duncan—the young man she attempted to interview for the door-to-door survey on beer—is at the laundromat and offers her his soap. Duncan and Marian begin talking. Duncan speaks in a confessional style at length, at first explaining to Marian that he likes watching the washing machines because it lets him escape from his apartment, which he finds dark and depressing. His roommates, Fish and Trigger, keep to their rooms and write, and when they speak, they repeat themselves and appear to always be working on the same papers for long stretches of time. Fish, Trigger, and Duncan are all graduate students in English, which Marian finds intriguing. Duncan, however, tells Marian that he doesn’t like being a graduate student and that it all grows incredibly pointless and esoteric.
Duncan, himself, confesses that he is only able to write one sentence at a time on a “good day.” Marian suggests he work somewhere else, which Duncan scoffs at, telling her that he is unqualified to work anywhere else and can’t afford to leave his apartment. When Marian asks Duncan where he is from, he is elusive and refuses to tell her. Duncan continues to tell her about his frustrations with his studies, explaining further how he feels “bogged down” by it and tried to set fire to the apartment to feel something.
Marian begins to feel sympathy for Duncan. Duncan unexpectedly picks up on this feeling and points it out, telling Marian that he makes women want to take care of him on purpose, comparing these women (and Marian) to Florence Nightingale, a woman who is credited with founding modern nursing during the 19th century. Marian and Duncan leave the laundromat together. Without saying a word, they begin to kiss outside of the laundromat. Marian appears to dissociate once more from her body, stating that she can’t remember any feeling at all from the moment. When they stop kissing, they say nothing and part ways. Marian goes back to her apartment, although she fails to remember anything about her journey home.
In the final chapter of Part One, Marian lists off a series of tasks she must do. It is unclear how much time has passed since the end of the last chapter, although it appears that it has only been a few days. The tasks she lists are menial, including cleaning her room, writing a letter to her family, and revising the beer questionnaire for work. She briefly considers her engagement, stating that it may have been “inconsistent with her true personality” but brushing off this thought by saying that she’s thought about it and decided it was a good decision. Her sentences throughout this chapter, which is delivered entirely as a first-person internal monologue from Marian, are short and simple. She states that Peter is an “ideal choice” and also says that she struggles to remember Duncan, even forgetting his name. The chapter ends with Marian stating that she has a “lot to do.”
Marian’s emotional separation from the people around her, including Len, Ainsley, and Peter, is intensified over the course of these chapters as she once more attempts to physically distance herself from them. She first attempts to run away from the group, but fails at totally leaving them behind and is taken back to Len’s apartment by Peter. At the apartment, she tries, again, to physically leave the space, this time by sliding underneath the bed. When Peter pushes her out from under the bed, she attempts to walk home, and is followed by Peter for a third time, until he eventually convinces her to get in the car.
Peter is the disruptive force that impedes Marian from leaving the social circle that she feels distant from. Every time she tries to leave, Peter is the one to bring her back to the space that caused her to feel alienated. Often, he does so not out of love, but out of a concern for appearances. He accuses Marian of breaking the image of normalcy that he wishes to project, an image in which Marian plays an essential part—not as a real woman with her own thoughts, but as a symbol or purely performative addition to his reputation. Peter is the force that captures and constricts Marian, a process that peaks when he asks her to marry him, thus solidifying himself as the force that she is tied to.
Throughout the novel, alcohol serves as a catalyst for instability, as well as an additional factor that contributes to Marian’s feelings of dissociation and confusion. Marian’s engagement to Peter occurs when both are severely inebriated, as does Ainsley’s attempt to seduce Len. In both cases, alcohol creates a power imbalance, allowing one character—such as Ainsley and Peter—to take advantage of the situation, consciously or subconsciously, and convince others into decisions that they otherwise wouldn’t have agreed to. The engagement, for example, leaves Marian feeling empty and lost, as if her brain were “scooped out,” implying that her memory of the night before is unclear, and possibly hinting that she accepted Peter’s offer without fully understanding the consequences. Alcohol strips power away from Marian. It is an additional force in the myriad of structures, such as her job, that force her into passivity. It is also offered to her by Len, Ainsley, or Peter, three people who she feels disconnected from. In the beginning of the narrative, Marian had explained that she didn’t like drinking. In offering her alcohol repeatedly and pushing her to drink, Len, Ainsley, and Peter reveal that they know little about Marian’s interior desires or wishes. It becomes evident that Marian isn’t valued as an individual, and is rather serving as a passive figure within the lives of her friends and coworkers.
Peter’s reasons for proposing to Marian also further emphasize the lack of romantic feelings between the two. He states that he thought it was time to propose because he was already twenty-six, and that she was “sensible” and would make him appear respectable to other lawyers at the firm he works at. Never does he mention true attraction; instead, he frames Marian as a force that furthers his own career and image. Marian, in turn, begins to transform into someone who she states she “barely recognizes,” a version of herself that she doesn’t understand and is wholly unexpected. This version of Marian buckles to Peter’s wishes, telling him that she wants him to make the “big decisions” about their marriage.
After Marian and Peter part ways, Marian’s encounter with Duncan in the laundromat establishes a juxtaposition between Duncan and Peter. Where Peter is practical, considering his career and ascending in status, Duncan is tethered to a pursuit that he is entirely disenchanted with. Duncan’s dialogue takes up significantly more space than Peter’s; Peter speaks in short sentences, and his speech is punctuated by Marian’s thoughts and internal monologue as she disagrees or questions what he says. Duncan’s speech, on the other hand, is delivered in long paragraphs, with minimal commentary within the narrative from Marian. This division of narrative space establishes that Marian is listening to Duncan without distraction, whereas when Peter speaks, his words fail to captivate her fully. Additionally, unlike Peter, Duncan appears to be highly aware of the emotional effect he has on Marian. When Peter speaks to Marian, she often expresses a desire to retort or explains within her narration how incorrect his statement is. With Duncan, on the other hand, she is surprised that he knows exactly what she is feeling when she pities him, since he compares her to Florence Nightingale—a nurse who took care of British soldiers during the Crimean War, implying that Marian wishes to save him just like Nightingale saved the soldiers by nursing them back to health.
In the laundromat, Duncan further disrupts Marian’s routines. Going to the laundromat is a quotidian, simple activity that she does regularly. Duncan interferes with this routine, not only with conversation, but by kissing her when they leave. Again, Duncan is framed as the opposite of Peter. Peter and Marian’s physical relationship is described as “patronizing.” When Duncan and Marian kiss, they do so without saying anything to each other, not needing to communicate. It is as if they share an unspoken bond. Their moment of intimacy comes after Duncan expresses his frustrations about his career as an English graduate student to Marian. His frustrations mirror the dissatisfaction Marian feels within her own position at Seymour Surveys. He describes that as a graduate student, you “never feel you’re getting anywhere,” which parallels Marian’s confusion about where she is meant to go within her role at Seymour Surveys.
In the final chapter, Marian as the readers have seen her up until this point appears to vanish. Her sentences are short, definitely different from the descriptive, elaborate internal monologue she was defined by as a narrator in previous chapters. Up until this point, Marian has expressed dissatisfaction or disagreed with the events or people around her. However, in this final chapter, her thoughts appear to agree with people or events she has previously resisted, such as her attraction to Peter. In this chapter, she states definitively that she was “more involved” with Peter than she “wanted to admit,” contradicting her repeated earlier claims that she never saw him as a serious partner. She criticizes Clara’s marriage and expresses faith in the success of her marriage with Peter, saying that he’s “attractive,” “successful,” and “neat.” She also plans to throw out all of her old possessions, an action that symbolizes Marian’s loss of self as she enters her engagement with Peter—a loss that is mirrored by the transformation in her narrative style and speech.