An Investigation into Literary Elements: A Study of Exiles (1914) by James Joyce and “The Story of An Hour” (1894) by Kate Chopin
There is an astonishing relationship between “Exiles” (1914) by James Joyce and “The Story of An Hour” (1894) by Kate Chopin. They indeed share different themes – For the former, themes such as suffering, betrayals and personal freedom are portrayed throughout the text whilst for the latter, themes like death, marriage and aspiration for emancipation through independence are observed. In “Exiles”, there are four characters which include Richard, Robert, Bertha and Beatrice. Richard and Bertha are common-law husband and wife, but Bertha at the same time kept seducing Robert to have a more intimate relationship whilst Beatrice also had extramarital affairs with Richard. On the other hand, in “The Story of an Hour”, it portrays different emotional states especially for joy that Mrs. Mallard had gone through after losing her husband. Thus, one common theme of the two works is the desire for liberty as the female protagonists such as Bertha and Mrs. Mallard are trying to pursue what their hearts simply long for without conforming to the society which is filled with traditional values at that time. Nevertheless, both of the works could imply sexism which includes prejudice or discrimination based on sex or gender as both of the texts include unequal situations of being placed for women in a patriarchal society through means such as by different symbolic motifs, acts of the female protagonists and ironic social phenomenon observed in marriage. Hence in the following essay, I will be analyzing each of the elements of the texts respectively. By comparing for both “Exiles” and “The Story of An Hour”, both of them portray individuals’ yearnings for freedom in conjunction with sexism through different symbolic motifs within the text and I will be focusing on TWO of them. In act one of “Exiles”, Richard and Robert kept discussing their perceptions and attitudes to women and Robert suddenly noticed a stone on the table which Bertha brought from the strand. It is indeed a form of symbol exemplifying Robert’s theory of what qualities of an ideal woman should have. Literally, the stone is a kind of hard solid mineral matter which could be used as building materials. However, when applying “stone” to the text, it could be a form of symbolism consisting of male’s mindsets of what characteristics women are supposed to possess which involved sexism as it includes prejudice to women that men think women are fragile and commandable. In addition, the stone is extremely hard and it represents that women should be perseverant, tough and independent – expected by men. Bertha’s act of bringing it from the strand to home could mean and imply to the men that she would like to have the features similar to that of a stone.
Besides, for “The Story of An Hour”, “the open window” in paragraph 4 is a symbol. Literally, it can be opened windows which can be commonly seen in classrooms or homes for better air circulation. However, when we apply it to the text, Mrs. Mallard gazes for much on the window and it represents the freedom and opportunities that have been awaiting her after her husband passed away. In paragraph 5 & 6, Mrs. Mallard could foresee joy through the sapphire sky, fleecy clouds, and treetops from the window, she could even hear chantings from people or birds. These could make her feel genuinely rapturous and once she entirely wallows in the exhilaration from it, she could recapture vitality in her life. Furthermore, the open window also represents the independence in her new life, which is now unimpeded by the demands from her husband. Two of the symbolism could reflect the dominance of male in a hegemonic society that they take control over women. Men accentuate on their power along with personal freedom and are inconsiderate of women’s emotions. Despite women long for liberty, the ideologies and conformity of the society had spontaneously labelled and constrained them unfortunately. Moreover, by having female protagonists as the common ground for both “Exiles” and “The Story of An Hour”, the rebellious acts done by them could embody such a nature to fulfill their inner desires in the text. In “Exiles”, Bertha did not fulfill her role and obligations as a wife as she did not obey the commands of Richard who is her common-law husband. In fact, she simply followed where her heart takes her by involving in an intimate relationship with Robert. In act one, Robert asked for Bertha’s permission for him to kiss her hand, eyes and even mouth. Surprisingly, Bertha allowed him to do so with pleasure and engagement. They even committed in adultery later on in “Exiles”, although Bertha’s acts are just trying to make Richard feels jealous to accomplish her sense of existence and security in marriage. Besides, for “The Story on An Hour”, in paragraph 11, Mrs. Mallard yelled, “free, free, free!” and paragraph 13 mentioned that “There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself.” Indeed, Mrs. Mallard is longing for individual freedom as she feels determined and contented after her husband “passed away”, believing that she could regain her sense of self and survive with only herself with delight and dignity with no one intruding into her life again. She is confident that she will live well without the accompaniment of her husband as it offers her with torment and constraints. Both the texts could show their aspirations of having personal freedom through the rebellious actions done by them, their situations of being trapped as “wives” in marriage and how they are trying to change their destinies in the male Chauvinist society. Last but not least, both of the stories could imply women’s desire for liberty along with marriage in a patriarchal society with the ironic social phenomenon. In “Exiles”, Bertha possessed the individual freedom and bargaining power to either leave Richard or continue to flirt with Robert. However, she still accepted Richard’s proposal after all the incidents such as quarrels, betrayals and doubts happened and she still wished to possess this man wholeheartedly, it is a kind of situational irony as we expect that Bertha would leave Richard as Richard had devastated her by engaging in dalliance with other girls but in act three, they still chose to be united with each other in body and soul in utter nakedness at last. The result is very absurd as it is contrary to our expected results. On the other hand, Mrs. Mallard was wholly perplexed after being attached to her husband as she suffered from losing her sense of self after the marriage. In paragraph 21, she even died of being too joyful – “of the joy that kills” for being able to live without her husband in order for her to enjoy the utmost independence. This scene is very ironic and subtle because it is not the joy that killed, but instead the form of oppression to her role as a wife that killed. It could be a form of dramatic irony as the characters in the story do not truly comprehend Mrs. Mallard’s death. We as readers could notice that feminism is presented in Mrs. Mallard’s death as she could leave her husband eternally to break the patriarchal curtailment that had been restricting her true meaning of life. The ironies in the text could indeed reflect the unequal social expectations of men and women. It is arduous for women to get rid of the identity of being wives at the cost of their sacrifices to achieve “happy marriage” in a man-centered society.
Both “Exiles” and “The Story of An Hour” could imply sexism which includes prejudice or discrimination based on sex as both of the texts include unequal situations being placed for women in a patriarchal society through means such as by different symbolic motifs, steps done by the female protagonists and ironic social phenomenon which is observed in marriage as mentioned. Feminists sacrificed so much during their pathway for pursuing personal liberty but both of the texts imply their melancholic fates and some elements such as time or even lives must be exchanged in return but the process is still worth it for them to strive for gender equality in the long-term.