Kate Chopins Short Stories
The Death of the Maiden Motif in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” and “The Story of an Hour”
Author Joyce Carol Oates of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” and author Kate Chopin of “The Story of an Hour” use the “death of the maiden” motif effectively to support a theme of unwarranted patriarchy throughout their writing. Both authors use this motif effectively by portraying men as death, who render their women victims as helpless and vulnerable. The connection both these authors make to “death of the maiden” motif does not become clear until the end of each story, however.
Oates in “Where…” begins her story off by characterizing Connie as a relatively independent and rebellious young teenager. Connie often sneaks off with her girlfriends and sometimes goes off to meet young boys. Her summer nights were filled with “[running] across, breathless with daring” (Oates 315). During one of this escapades, Connie comes across a rather peculiar man that tells Connie “Gonna get you, baby” (Oates 316). Connie quickly forgets the encounter. Oates most likely introduced Connie in this way to depict her as someone very innocent and free, and Connie’s disregard of the odd man is another example of her innocence.
In “The Story of an Hour”, the story begins off with Mrs. Mallard discovering that her husband has died. She immediately weeps, yet when alone immediately expresses her magnitude of joy at her newfound freedom. At this point in the story, the reader feels shocked at her reaction of her husband’s death, and then understanding when it is revealed why she is truly happy. She soaks in the feelings of her freedom and realizes that “a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely” (Chopin 654). Chopin introduced Mrs. Mallard in this way to make a special example of the magnitude her husband’s oppression held on Mrs. Mallard and the relief she felt when released from it.
Both Connie and Mrs. Mallard are free from the restraints of men in the beginning of these stories. Connie has not yet been oppressed from men and her youthfulness and rebellion exemplify this. Mrs. Mallard, after being fettered in her prison of marriage and oppressed from her husband, is suddenly free at his death. Both authors portray these women as especially free at the beginning of these stories to show that Connie and Mrs. Mallard are at their best when not chained down by men.
In “Where…” the story moves on to Connie in quite a predicament. A man, Arnold Friend, arrives unexpectedly to Connie’s home. At first Connie is unsure of the man. Arnold Friend is depicted at the beginning of their conversation as very friendly. His own name suggests friendship along with the writing on his car of a grinning face (Oates 318). However, as Connie and Arnold’s conversation goes on and she does not immediately go for a ride with him, he begins to fall apart. Arnold has transformed from a friendly and young man to someone who “stood there so stiffly relaxed, pretending to be relaxed . . . and had no intention of ever moving again” (Oates 320). Once Connie realizes his actions and behavior as odd she finally begins to distrust him. Arnold reacts to Connie’s distrust by suddenly demanding Connie “we ain’t leaving until you come with us” (Oates 321). Arnold continues to pester and threaten Connie to come with her. Oates reveals Arnold’s true self slowly in this way to present Connie as helpless among his lies and threats. Connie continues to repeat useless excuses in response to Arnold saying “I’m your lover… I’ll come inside you where it’s all secret” (Oates 322). Connie remains standing, only able to say “Get out of here!” (Oates 322). At the beginning of the story, the reader feels put off by Connie’s selfish personality. Yet when Connie begins talking to Arnold and does not know the danger he holds, the reader quickly becomes worried about Connie and her safety. Oates invokes this emotion in the reader to make her argument on the patriarchal society more effective.
In the middle of “The Story of an Hour”, Chopin goes into detail of Mrs. Mallard’s reaction to her husband’s death. She is happy at Brently’s death, yet Mrs. Mallard does recall that her husband “had never looked save with love upon her” and that she “would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death” (Chopin 654). Mrs. Mallard is clearly sad at her husband’s death, yet her feelings of her life now “[belonging] to her absolutely” was stronger (Chopin 654). Mrs. Mallard would no longer have to experience “[the] powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature” (Chopin 654). Chopin most likely mentioned that Brently was not cruel to his wife to show that kind men can also hold a cast iron prison over women. During this time in society, Mrs. Mallard could not ask for divorce and she could never leave her husband and their marriage except at either one of their deaths. Brently, however, could apply for divorce at any time. Chopin effectively uses Mrs. Mallard’s exaggerated happiness at her freedom to portray the outrageousness of which men inflict their powerful will over others and women unable to leave it.
Oates and Chopin portray patriarchy in their writings in very different ways that is most noticeable in the middle of their stories. Oates presents Connie as a young girl untouched from the overwhelming power of men, and then introduced to it in the form of Arnold Friend. Connie is unable to resist his threats, and easily gives in despite her many concerns. Connie is rendered helpless despite what seems every opportunity for her to get away. Chopin portrays the patriarchal society in the story of a woman that has already experienced it. Chopin describes the extent to which the power of men hold over women by describing Mrs. Mallard’s exaggerated reaction to becoming free from it. Both Oates and Chopin use perfect and striking examples of oppression on women. In regard to “the death of the maiden” motif, both stories are at the point where both women are defenseless to death, or men. Connie is helpless to Arnold, and Mrs. Mallard was helpless in her marriage before her husband’s death.
At the end of “Where…” Connie begins to realize the power men can hold over her. Arnold repeatedly threatens that he can always get to her and that “this place you are now- inside your daddy’s house- is nothing but a cardboard box I can knock down anytime” (Oates 325). Connie continues to try to find a way out of this situation, but she is unable to. She suddenly realizes that “her pounding heart… for the first time in her life that it was nothing that was hers… this body that wasn’t really hers either” (Oates 325). The reader feels angry that Connie is not trying to do more to get away. She is inside her house safe and with a telephone, yet seems unable to do anything but bend to the will of Arnold. Oates does this to exaggerate and draw attention to the overall significance of the oppression Connie is experiencing. She is helpless to the will of Arnold. Connie goes out of the house and joins Arnold, and most likely to face her death. The “death of the maiden” motif becomes most clear here. Connie “belongs to a tradition of domesticated Eves; for them Satan’s entrance into the garden… is the approach of… Arnold Friend” (Gillis 66). Connie finally succumbs to death and probable rape at the hands of a man.
At the end of “The Story of an Hour,” Mrs. Mallard goes downstairs with her sister. Brently Mallard then walks inside and despite Richard attempting to block him from view, Mrs. Mallard dies at the sight of him. (Chopin 654). It is not explicitly said, but Mrs. Mallard most likely died at the sight of her husband because she realized that her life as a free woman was abruptly taken away from her. Mrs. Mallard could not taste freedom and have it snatched away and still live with it. Chopin does this to instill the fact that “… the position of women in the late nineteenth-century American society as so bleak that the attempt to break from the life-denying limitations of patriarchal society is itself self-destructive (Cunningham 51). The reader at this point feels nothing but shock and anger that Mrs. Mallard must end her life because she can no longer withstand the oppression her husband and her marriage held over her.
Both stories parallel the “death of the maiden motif” most clearly at their end. The death of both Connie and Mrs. Mallard has ultimately shown that men will always deliver women to their ultimate sacrifice. Whether that sacrifice be their freedom, their life, or their strength in themselves, men will always bring them to their weakest point in this patriarchal society.
Feminism in Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of An Hour’ – A New Critical Reading
As a famous feminist writer, Kate Chopin’s writings have been thoroughly studied by scholars for long; however an in-depth analysis of how her text brings the concept of feminism in different perspectives is still rare in the study of feminist literary criticism. In this paper, I would like to argue that how one of her works, The Story of an Hour, reflects its feminist nature by analyzing the interrelation between the text; the background of the story and author; and the expected readers responses. When deciding whether a text centralizes on feminism or not, feminist Literary Critics Lisa Tuttle (184) has defined the goals of a feminist text and its criticism as follows: 1. To develop and uncover a female tradition of writing, 2. To interpret symbolism of women’s writing so that it will not be lost or ignored by the male point of view, 3. To rediscover old texts, 4. To analyze women writers and their writings from a female perspective, 5. To resist sexism in literature, and 6. To increase awareness of the sexual politics of language and style. In analyzing this text as a feminist literary work, we will have in depth analysis of it through different perspectives aforementioned. Before we go into an in-depth analysis, the background of the text chosen for this paper, The Story of an Hour, will first be introduced. It is regarded as the best-known short fiction of famous American writer Kate Chopin (1851-1904) (Bender 459). As a forerunner of American feminist authors of the late 19th century, she had written a lot of works which have gained worldwide reputation. The story illustrates the author beliefs in regard to women’s roles in marriage and feminine identity during the period of time (Bender 364) by describing a woman’s emotional change to the news that her husband died of an accident; and the events that follows
We will begin by discussing the centralizing of female characters in the text, which is often regarded as a tradition of feminist writing. This idea is best explained by analyzing the text itself. A contrast in number and choices of words in describing Mrs. Mallard emotions as she oscillated between numbness and extreme joy is found. First, in the initial stage, she was shocked when she heard about the death of her husband. Kate illustrated this event by only using a narrative sentence in simply prose; but regarding the surprising ongoing scenes which described her happiness about her husband’s death, Kate used a number of vibrant and powerful words; some was even said by Mrs. Mallard herself. A big contrast in balance and choice of wordings is observed here telling us that Kate would like to emphasize on Mrs. Mallard’s feeling after her acknowledgement of her husband’s ‘death’; rather than focusing on telling us more about the old story between her and her husband. Second, it could be judged from the setting of scenes in the text. The underlying psyche of Mrs. Mallard is regarded as never disclosed to the outside world. This is explained and illustrated by the place where she expressed her emotions. They are found only happened in the room but not outside the room, further telling us that Mrs. Mallard could only cloister herself in her room to discover her real important feelings without obstruction by the others. The windows outside of her room are also described as alive and vibrant like her mind, while everything about her physically is cloistered. It suggests us that the death of her husband is the only moment when the discovery of her real feeling, referring to one’s psyche but not physical, is initiated. Both the windows and rooms play a role as archetypes further suggesting the message of feminine freedom; and exploration of females’ real thinking. Expression using this method is a typical approach in feminist writings as direct expressions during the period were not encouraged. (Foy 222-224) Third, besides use of certain words indicating her inner-world of detail and life, ironic or playful uses of some words and phrases are occasionally observed which further suggests the constraining nature of their marriage. An example is Kate’s illustration of the relationship between her and her husband. Unlike expressions used in describing her emotions, a simple and direct language is used here to describe situations (that Mrs. Mallard is not emotional about), which further suggested that she did not have any strong feelings towards her husband. If her husband’s death did matter, Kate would not choose only to use just a sentence to describe her feelings. The choice of words have reflected the relationship in between men and women which is a significant element in a feminist text.
Other than apparent acknowledgement and telling, Kate also tried to emphasize inequality of women by making use of some invisible clues, which serve as symbolic effects. The text was initially titled as ‘The Dream of an Hour’. But in a revision published later, the text was re-titled as ‘The Story of an Hour’. Suggested by Edmund (6), the change of the word ‘dream’ to ‘story’ further suggested the validity of the text. It also told us that what had been illustrated in this story is not an isolated case; but rather it is commonly observed. The protagonist’s first name, Louise, also gave an extra clue. The delayed revealing of her given name suggested that Mrs. Mallard is indeed lack of self-individuality and identity until her husband’s ‘death’ which allowed her real psyche to appear. Before that, Kate named her Mrs. Mallard, a name which indicates obvious relation and subordination with her husband. Her real name Louise is only first described when she first regained herself in the room. But sadly still, the name is indeed the feminine form of the masculine Louis. So even when Mrs. Mallard took back her identity, it is still in part a male identity in which she could never get off. The surname Mallard also suggested that the identity and social status of Mrs. Mallard are not concerned as Mallard is a synonym for wild ducks, an animal which has long been regarded as dirty and cheap. The significance of this argument is highly regarded as the first sentence of the text already has the name mentioned. Mr. Mallard, however, was not even mentioned in the text.
Judging from the aforementioned texts, the nature of it as a feminist text is clearly revealed in regard to its context and language. But what was the underlying reason of Kate writing this story? And if the text is proved to be a feminist text, what is the significance of the publishing of the text during her days? Before giving an answer, we shall first have a brief understanding of Kate’s life and the history during the time when the text was written. Throughout Kate’s life, she experienced different and difficult lifestyles, including the early death of her father and husband. Without the support of her families and being a woman alone, she was isolated much by the community. This is not an isolated case as indeed; women in the late nineteenth century in America were treated as slaves. They were expected to do everything and they worked for their men. Marriage could never be decided by women; but rather men are the ones who selected and families were deciding marriages for their daughters. Women were living under inequalities. Rights of females were neglected much by the general public and this text has reflected the said social phenomenon. (William 258) For example, in the text, there suggested the personality of Mr. Mallard, no doubt a typical husband of his day who dominated his wife. Bad relationship is observed in between Mr. and Mrs. Mallard; further reflecting the real world. Another clue which suggested this could be the opening sentence of the story which foreshadowing the ending. Mrs. Mallard was found to suffer from heart-disease; and it could be seen as highly related to her marriage. This suggested that she had suffered much constant stress that might have caused her heart trouble; and has no doubt made the entire story logical enough for her death at the end. Literary Critic Seyersted (107) even suggested that Mrs. Mallard indeed reflected the life of Kate Chopin to a certain extent. The significance of the text in reflecting history and promotion of feminism is clearly supported by the aforementioned examples.
In relating the said phenomenon and principles, the significance of the text to promote feminism could be further proved through another aspect. And when we take an in-depth consideration between the text itself and the real-life scenario, what interests us will be the existence of a conflict between the scenario in the story and real life. As quite a compelling aspect, Mrs. Mallard felt excitement after learning that her husband has been killed in an accident, quite an unaccepted feeling during the period of time. Together with the inevitable but ironic death at the last scene, these would further emphasize the situation of Mrs. Mallard, and in another sense shorten the psychical distance in between the reader and the text. Readers were encouraged to empathize with Mrs. Mallard for such an emotion. Readers found themselves guilty of expressing their empathy; but the guilt indeed was one that readers would like to commit in collective unconscious. (Le-Marquand, 161-193) Everything, however, could be expressed through words only at that time, and still, Kate had to make it indirect to avoid criticism. The concept of narrowing psychical distance was not only illustrated by the previous example. Kate Chopin has obviously examined the roles of the readers in the text while drafting. The text indeed does not allow the reader to have other opinions or indifferent about its events. They are forced to ignore the outside world as the descriptions have offered nothing remarkable. Solely focusing on her inner-life, the text forces the reader having a reaction of one extreme or another. Readers are given only two choices, either feeling extreme recrimination for Mrs. Mallard; or profound empathy for her.  The reader of this story must become engaged and must take a moral stance, which somehow creates and shocks the readers’ making this piece of story memorable in readers’ mind. Far more than that, with the said features it will become a topic of discussion thus creating an echo effect; further achieving the ultimate goal of a feminist text. And what Kate would like to achieve has been achieved – History has proven this text as a successful one in regard to the promotional effect of feminism. (Toth 243)
This book has become an important member in the development and progression of feminism. The interconnection of the said three arguments shall be able to play the most important role of a feminist test, ‘A feminist text is to promote feminism’ (Bender 473); as illustrated by the following graph. But sadly still, the concept is seen being ignored in this day and age as people are too selfish to concern it. Feminism is still not a hot topic while scenes in the story are seen being repeated each and every day. Though Mrs. Mallard has scarified herself, is the death worth her life if she knows that females are still being treated unequally today; and ‘The Story of an Hour’ is still repeating in many hours, continuously? And this, will remain a good question.
 Extract 1 illustrates this example.  Extract 2 illustrates this example.  In an archetypal literary criticism approach, the room represents heart; or the underlying psyche of a person.; and windows represent freedom.  Extract 3 illustrates this example.  Extract 4 illustrates this example.  Extract 5 illustrates this idea.  The change of the term from ‘dream’ to ‘story’ suggests that the text is telling a real story rather than an imaginative dream.  The word ‘hour’ suggests this idea. Kate probably would like to bring out the meaning that this is just a story ‘of an hour’, a relatively short period of time which keeps repeating.  Extract 6 illustrates this idea.  Extract 7 illustrates this idea.  Extract 7 illustrates this idea.  Though the context is highly related to the world during the time when it was written.  Probably for men during the period of time  Probably for women during the period of time
Protagonists’ Responses to Social Constructs of Gender
The social constructs of gender are manifested through the forced institution of marriage in Kate Chopin’s “La Belle Zoraïde” and “The Story of an Hour.” The protagonists in each story experience suppressed emotions in response to the social institution of marriage, which limits their female individuality. When either protagonist attempts to challenge these social constructs, they are afflicted with an internal turmoil that manifests itself physically and externally. Male minor characters in each story incite the protagonist to challenge social constructs, whereas female minor characters deter the protagonists’ challenges of these social constructs. Chopin employs symbolism to illustrate the constraints of the protagonist and additionally employs imagery to establish an atmosphere that conveys the influence of social constructs. Kate Chopin develops the internal turmoil of the protagonist as a response to social limitations of gender.By challenging the social constructs of gender, the protagonists’ attempts to relieve themselves of suppressed emotions are futile. Chopin employs the symbolism of bodily disease to demonstrate the effect of expressing formerly suppressed emotions. To illustrate, Chopin foreshadows physical exhibition of bodily ailment when, in dialogue with Zoraïde, Madame Delarivière states, “You deserve to have the lash laid upon you like any other slave” (36). The physical maltreatment of slaves that Madame alludes to progresses to Zoraïde’s dementia at the story’s conclusion. This is symbolised by the “senseless bundle of rags . . . [over which] she [draws] the mosquito bar. . . and [beside which] she [sits] contentedly” (39). This mental instability results from Zoraïde’s decision to express her emotions and relieve herself of society’s oppression by pursuing her love for Mézor. Mézor’s physical displacement from Zoraïde encourages her to challenge the social constructs of gender. Chopin uses symbolism to contrast the rags, which symbolise Zoraïde’s submission to social conformity, with Zoraïde’s child, who symbolizes her assertion of her female identity. Zoraïde’s rejection of the child at the story’s conclusion signifies her dismissal of her female individuality. This is an inconclusiveness of her internal turmoil that is impelled by her attempt to express her formerly suppressed emotions.Chopin introduces Louise Mallard as being physically afflicted “with a heart trouble” (1). This progresses to death at the story’s conclusion and is induced when her husband physically triumphs over his alleged death to return healthy and wholesome to the story. Mrs. Mallard’s death is impelled by her attempt to express her suppressed emotions by challenging the social institution of marriage. She almost recuperates from this physical affliction when confined in the locked room. The locked room symbolises her assertion of her female individuality as she escapes the social institution of marriage to pursue her female identity. This contrasts with the opened door at the story’s denouement, which symbolises Louise’s return to society. This signifies the irresolute ending to her internal turmoil as Louis encounters the social constructs from which she had attempted to escape during her confinement in the locked room.The minor characters in each story introduce disturbances that incite the characters’ internal conflicts. The physical displacement of Mézor results in Zoraïde’s mental harm, whereas Brently’s replacement incites Louise’s death. The similarity in the role of the minor characters to impel the character’s physical ailments is attributed to the protagonists’ internal conflicts with suppressed emotions. Chopin’s objective is to emphasize that the protagonists are limited to their female bodies and cannot satiate their desires; however, she treats the two minor characters in different ways as the protagonists experience different circumstances.Through visual imagery, Chopin establishes the mood of longing and yearning as the protagonists attempt to resolve their internal turmoil. Chopin establishes this mood through visual imagery that conveys Zoraïde’s deprivation. To demonstrate, in witnessing Mézor dance the Bamboula in Congo Square, Chopin states, “Poor Zoraïde’s heart grew sick in her bosom with love for le beau Mézor form the moment she saw the fierce gleam of his eye, lighted by the inspiring strains of the Bamboula . . .” (35). The epithet that Chopin uses to describe Zoraïde contrasts with the visual imagery of Mézor’s dance and conveys the yearning with which Zoraïde responds to the dance. Due to social constructs, she is deprived of pursuing her love for him, but attempts to resolve this internal turmoil by watching him dance the Bamboula in Congo Square. This deprivation is further developed through the physical displacement of Mézor, “who was sold away into Georgia, or the Carolinas, . . . where he would no longer hear his Creole tongue spoken, nor dance Calinda, nor hold la belle Zoraïde in his arms” (37). The mood of longing and yearning is also established when Zoraïde is deprived of her baby. This minor character is introduced to temporarily disturb this atmosphere, as following Mézor’s physical displacement, Zoraïde “took comfort . . . in the thought of her baby” (37). The atmosphere returns to one of longing and yearning when the narrator asserts that “there is no agony that a mother will not forget when she holds her first-born to her heart, and presses her lips upon the baby flesh . . .” (37-38). The fluctuating atmosphere signifies the futility of the protagonist’s attempt to resolve her internal conflict. Zoraïde’s deprivation is a response to the social constructs of gender.Zoraïde experiences mental seclusion from society when she attempts to assert her female individuality by pursuing her love for Mézor. The atmosphere of longing and yearning is incited by Madame Delarivière’s decision to deprive Zoraïde of her child. Madame Delarivière intends to suppress Zoraïde’s emotions and discourage her from expressing those emotions. Evidently, the atmosphere of mental instability that pervades the story’s denouement is disturbed by Madame Delarivière when she introduces the child to Zoraïde and states that, “No one will ever take her from you again” (39). This demonstrates the effect of a minor character, who reconciles with social constructs, on the atmosphere in which the female protagonist is situated.Chopin establishes the mood of longing and yearning through visual imagery that invigorates Louise. To exemplify, after hearing of her husband’s death, Louise confines herself to a room in order to physically seclude herself from society. Visual imagery is employed to describe the trees outside the window as being “aquiver with the new spring life” (13) and to attribute to the rain in the air “the delicious breath” (14). Both instances of visual imagery metaphorically allude to the invigoration that Louise feels as she attempts to free herself from the institution of marriage. The narrator also asserts that there “were patches of blue sky showing here and there” (17) which signifies the hopefulness that surrounds Louise’s invigoration and foreshadows her assertion of female individuality when she accepts her emotions. This invigoration is physically referred to when Louise’s “pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood [warms] and [relaxes] . . . her body” (34). These assertions of Louise’s physical invigoration result from her submission to her emotions, which she can freely express when in the confines of the room. The atmosphere of longing and yearning relates to the reader the influence of social constructs as they have limited Louise’s physical invigoration by inciting her physical ailment. The atmosphere of invigoration that Chopin establishes through visual imagery is disturbed by the introduction of Louise’s sister, Josephine, when she interjects, “. . . open the door – you will make yourself ill” (51). The locked room invigorates Louise by isolating her from the social constructs of marriage; however, Chopin introduces a minor character who has emerged from the external world to discourage Louise from asserting her emotions. Josephine’s assertion that Louise “will make [herself] ill” is ironic as the illness with which Louise was afflicted was induced by social restrictions as imposed by the institution of marriage. Josephine’s disturbance of the atmosphere intends to relieve Louise of her internal turmoil by encouraging the suppression of her emotions.The seclusion of each protagonist from society in an effort to pursue her female individuality is interrupted by a female minor character who convinces the protagonist to suppress those emotions. Chopin accomplishes this by establishing atmosphere in each story, then introducing the female minor character as an atmospheric disturbance. Her objective is to demonstrate how minor characters, who reconcile with social constructs, affect the atmosphere in which the protagonists are situated. In each story, the protagonist is afflicted with an internal turmoil that is incited when the protagonist attempts to challenge the social restrictions of gender. Zoraïde and Louise both exhibit the physical detriment of challenging these social constructs as is evinced through Chopin’s use of symbolism. Furthermore, Chopin situates each protagonist in an atmosphere which conveys the influence of the social construct of gender on each protagonist. Minor characters also play an important role. Evidently, in both short stories, Chopin develops the internal turmoil of the female protagonist due to the constraints of gender that society imposes upon her.
Exploring Feminist Identities: Empowerment Through Duality
Female writers constantly try to negotiate their identities in a society that exalts male opinion. That the protagonists of Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Chopin’s “A Pair of Silk Stockings” are married women places both discourses within a patriarchal, institutional framework. Immediately, a critique of marriage arises, and we are forced to examine how women are oppressed, either by patriarchy or by stereotypes placed on them as mothers and nurturers. It is evident that both stories serve to highlight the plight of women, though it remains arguable whether a solution is proposed. Gilman’s nameless protagonist goes mad, while Chopin’s “Little Mrs. Sommers” dreads going back to the boring routine of a housewife. The conclusions, as such, do not seem to empower women, but suggests a futility of fighting against patriarchy. Even if the madness of Gilman’s nameless protagonist is seen as a form of transcendental sanity as suggested by some critics, how empowering is it for females to be represented as mad? Besides, her transcendence – if it is interpreted as such – is temporary, for she might be placed in an asylum for further treatment. Consumerism too, is only a temporary relief for Mrs. Sommers’ mundane existence, for her money will run out eventually. The fact that both women are married is an important consideration in this analysis. Marriage inscribes patriarchy into the narrative, because it forces the identity of wife and husband onto the characters. Immediately, stereotypes of each label are being invoked: the wife is submissive, caring and sacrificial while the husband is aggressive, clinical and egocentric. In both stories, the women are silenced and powerless in their marriage. Gilman’s protagonist does not have a name, and is mollycoddled like an infant while it is clear that Mrs. Sommers’ life revolves around taking care of her children’s needs, with little regard for her own. By not giving her protagonist a name and emphasizing that her husband and brother were both physicians “of high standing” (115), Gilman locates the story within a patriarchal structure. As Karen Ford notes, “John is identified in relation to the patriarchy first and in relation to his wife only afterwards” (310), and the physician is the “quintessential man” (310), therefore “the epitome of male discourse” (310). For Mrs. Sommers, her desires are usually repressed, and the story describes what happens when she succumbs to her desire. Mrs. Sommers is the embodiment of the perfect wife, with her children as her source of pride and excitement. Her life also exemplifies the life of all women who become housewives and devote their lives to their family because that is expected of them. Both stories are not that different in the sense that they depict marriage in chronological order: Gilman’s protagonist, should she “recover”, would end up living the life of Mrs. Sommers. Through marriage, both stories reveal the oppressive force of patriarchy that reduces them to what Paula Treichler terms, “domestic slavery” (64). In both stories, the protagonists devise their own ways of escaping patriarchy. For Gilman, we are immediately introduced to the protagonist’s private thoughts and become complicit with her writing in her “dead paper” (115) that she calls her journal. We are offered insight of her struggles to construct an identity that is not imposed by society. Elaine Showalter recognizes that writing is a powerful tool of expression for the feminists, even if they continue to do so within a patriarchal culture (Belsey and Moore 6), and this is exactly what Gilman tries to show in her short story. The language of patriarchy as epitomized by the language of medicine has, as Treichler observes, “considerable power over what […] reality is now to be” (65). Once John has pronounced that she is suffering from “temporary nervous depression” (115), she is confined to imprisonment in the room with the yellow wallpaper. Through her writing, we are confronted with wallpaper that is hideous with “sparkling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin” (117). Through her journal, the wallpaper comes to life, and takes on human features – “broken neck and two bulbous eyes” (119). It slowly becomes clear to her that the pattern is “like a woman stooping down and creeping about” (122). At this point, it is crucial to note that as John’s voice becomes more absent when he leaves the protagonist alone, the woman behind the wallpaper takes on a more prominent form, and Treichler notes that at this junction “the figure grows clearer to her, to the point where she can join her from behind the paper and literally act within it” (67). The figure’s visibility is a measure of her empowerment through her writing. As the figure becomes clearer, she becomes quieter and her husband sees this reticence as an indication of her improved wellbeing. This suggests a fallacy of the privileged male, medical observation and potentially undermines it as the patriarchal voice is revealed as disempowering for females. Despite the revelational potential that writing has, Carol Neely warns that “when women’s language is reduced to the level of style alone, attempts to isolate or prescribe stylistic features which are or should be peculiar to women’s discourse fail […]” (315). For Gilman’s protagonist, her writing is atypical of patriarchy. While John advocates “self-control” (116), she states that “it makes me very tired” (116). While John condemns “imaginative power” and “fancy” (118), she deciphers “great many women” (126) climbing through the wallpaper pattern. Identifying a specific women’s language has the danger of taking the women out of typical patriarchal discourse and placing them in the category of “Other”, thus reinforcing the binary opposition that is set up by patriarchy in the first place. Females are sentenced to a perpetual “otherness” (319) as males continue to be logical and level-headed, while females continue to be the opposite: illogical. For Mrs. Sommers, she experiences momentary respite as she indulges in consumerism. Whilst Chopin seems to exalt her as “one who knew the value of bargains” (153), she also mockingly implies that she is wasting her time by “stand[ing] for hours making her way inch by inch toward the desired object that was selling below cost” (153). When the story sees Mrs. Sommers pampering herself on “soft, sheeny, luxurious things” (153), and then further treating herself to a proper meal and a comedy before culminating with her in a cable car making her way home and experiencing a “powerful longing” (156) that the ride would “go on and on with her forever” (156), we immediately interpret Chopin’s consumerist approach as temporary reprieve. However, I opine that she is suggesting that financial independence is the key to freedom. The story starts by painting a picture of Mrs. Sommers’ financial prudence as “the question of investment was one that occupied her greatly” (152) and “it was during the still hours of the night when she lay awake revolving plans in her mind that she seemed to see her way clearly toward a proper and judicious use of the money” (152); the narrator then hints of “‘better days’ that Mrs. Sommers had known before she had ever thought of being Mrs. Sommers” (152). Unlike the females of Jane Austen who saw marriage as a solution to future stability and happiness, Gilman and Chopin foreground marriage as stifling and regressive. Neely offers reconciliation for Gilman’s solution of an alternative women’s discourse by quoting Virginia Woolf- “In order to create this alternate discourse […] they must have 500 pounds and a room of their own – that is, financial, social, and psychological independence” (318). Her approach merges the solutions of Chopin and Gilman, and implies that women have to be sufficient, thus not depending on the patriarch, before their writing can be taken seriously as a collective female voice. Whilst Neely’s approach echoes some contemporary feminists, it is too idealistic and parochial. Woolf’s postulation places females in a one-dimensional construction that mirrors the males. Essentially, her underlying statement is that females have to appropriate the male’s definition of success in order to be seen as successful. Her suggestion reminds me of a quote by American writer Timothy Leary, who postulates that, “Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.” The fact that John’s insistence that his wife should not write, an activity that promotes thought and intellect, suggests that he has to continually render his wife weak-minded so that he will remain unchallenged. Mary Jacobus further expounds that “otherness is domesticated [and] made safe, through narcissism” (69). John fainting in the end is evidence of the vulnerability of his ego. Treichler interprets this as the “unflappable husband” fainting because he is taken aback by “the dramatic power of her own freedom” (67). She expands further the protagonist’s triumph since “she has followed her own logic, her own perceptions, [and] her own projects to this final scene in which madness is seen as a kind of transcendent sanity” (67). I am inclined to agree with Treichler’s reading of language as Gilman’s protagonist “changes the terms in which women are represented in language and extends the conditions under which women will speak” (74). That both stories end inconclusively connotes the ability for women to embody contradictions and ambiguity. This, in my opinion, is what makes women different from men. While the male identity is stable and fixed, the female identity can be negotiated and renegotiated, just like how Gilman’s protagonist constantly tries to interpret the wallpaper, first as an “artistic sin” (117), then as a face with “unblinking eyes” (119), “fungus” (123) and finally as women trying to escape (126). Mrs. Sommers embodies contradictions too when she is a poor woman surrounded by wealthy people, yet creating “no surprise” (155) with her appearance. As Treichler astutely observes,” Woman is both passive and active, subject and object, sane and mad” (74). It is impractical to compete with males on their platform, because it only supports the binaries that patriarchy upholds. Instead, it will be more productive to engage in a discourse that accepts the female’s inherent duality, because by doing so, gender lines are blurred and patriarchy is displaced. “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “A Pair of Silk Stockings” essentially protest against male exclusivity. Both stories highlight the oppression of women through the male institution as epitomized by marriage. The inconclusive resolution of both stories hints at possibilities for change. Both stories criticize marriage, and portray it as oppressive and disempowering for the female. For the texts to be interpreted correctly as a critique of marriage and patriarchy, it is crucial to examine the seemingly arbitrary endings that hint at the futility of resistance. The central difference that celebrates women is her ability to embody the binaries that patriarchy asserts. By embodying it, not only does she appropriate it, she displaces patriarchy and exposes its vulnerability. Works CitedBelsey, Catharine, and Jane Moore, eds. “Introduction: The Story So Far”. The Feminist Reader. London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1997. Ford, Karen. “‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and Women’s Discourse”. Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. Vol. 4, No. 2, pp 309-314. JSTOR. 29 Oct. 2007. < http://links.jstor.org/sici? sici=0732- 7730%28198523%294%3A2%3C309%3A%22YWAWD%3E2.0.CO%3 B2 -D> Jacobus, Mary. “The Difference of View”. The Feminist Reader. Eds. Catharine Belsey and Jane Moore. London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1997. Neely, Carol Thomas. “Alternative Women’s Discourse”. Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. Vol. 4, No. 2, pp 315-322. JSTOR. 29 Oct. 2007. < http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0732-7730%28198523%294%3A2%3C315%3AAWD%3E2.0.CO%3B2-9> Treichler, Paula. “Escaping the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper'”. Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. Vol. 3, No. 1/2, pp 61-77. JSTOR. 29 Oct. 2007. < http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0732-7730%28198421%2F23%293%3A1%2F2%3C61% 3AETSDAD%3E2.0.CO%3B2-1>
Setting in Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”
Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour is a feminist parable criticizing the romantic ideal of “true love” and the benefits of marriage. Chopin presents her critique of marriage by using the final hour in the life of Louise Mallard, whose joyful response to her husband’s supposed death conveys the idea that freedom is more important than love. Chopin expresses this theme in the narrative when Louise realizes that she will be freed in the absence of her husband: “what could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being” (175). Chopin uses her story’s setting to reinforce the direct characterization of Louise as a woman who desperately wants to be free, suggesting that marriage is a kind of prison, and that a married person is not unlike a prisoner. The story’s symbolic setting conveys the absence of freedom in Louise’s marriage, her intense feelings of emotional rebirth, and her sudden shock at her husband’s return. The story’s extremely confined setting helps to convey Louise’s restricted life in her marriage with her husband, Brently. The entire story takes place within Louise’s home, suggesting the traditional belief that the home is the “proper” place for a woman. Furthermore, most of the story takes place in Louise’s bedroom, suggesting her entrapment. During the last hour of her life, her only major physical movements are to enter her room after the story begins, and to leave her room just before the story ends. In neither case does Louise move very far, and her final movement before death takes her just a few feet from her room, to the staircase. These limited movements reflect her equally limited life as a married woman. Louise’s husband had “never looked save with love upon her” (174-175), but like many spouses, he believed that he had “a right to impose a private will upon a fellow creature” (175). Louise does not care about Brently’s motivation; what concerns her is that he denied her the freedom to make her own choices: “A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act [of imposing his will on her] seem no less a crime in that belief moment of illumination” (175). The limited life that Louise has led under her husband’s control has turned her into his prisoner rather than his equal partner, and, like most prisoners, she is closely watched. Although her room seems to be the only place where she can be alone, her sister Josephine does not allow Louise even this small space for herself. Instead, Josephine kneels before Louise’s “closed door with her lips to the keyhole, imploring for admission” (175). Josephine’s actions suggest how closely Louise’s family has always watched her, with “the blind persistence” (175) of people who believe that they have a right to control others. Other details of the setting help to convey Louise’s joyful feeling of freedom after learning of her husband’s death. The “comfortable, roomy armchair” (174) suggests that her room is her own, private place where she can relax and be “herself”. This chair faces an “open window” (174), symbolizing the new possibilities that Louise believes are awaiting her, and the scene outside this open window reinforces this symbolism while further suggesting that Louise is experiencing an emotional rebirth. Outside her window, she can see “in the open square before her house the tops of trees that [are] all aquiver with the new spring life” (174). Spring, of course, is the season when all nature is “reborn”. Moreover, the quivering trees with fresh sap running through their branches are likened to Louise herself: “Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body” (174). Similarly, the “delicious breath of rain” (174) in the air recalls the joyful feeling of freedom within Louise as she looks towards her future. However, two details in the scene outside Louise’s open window foreshadow the death that awaits her. In a separate paragraph that sets these details apart from the rest of the description, the narrator states, “There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled above the other in the west facing her window” (174). Like the open window and the open square, the “patches of blue sky” suggest freedom. However, the clouds are a negative image, and foreshadow the “cloud” of depression that overwhelms Louise when she realizes that her husband is still alive and that she is still his prisoner. Furthermore, although Louise’s window is “open”, it faces the west – the direction of the sunset, not the sunrise. A sunset is a conventional symbol of death and dying, so this detail hints that Louise’s belief in her new freedom and in “all sorts of days that [will] be her own” (175) is only an illusion. The ending of the story confirms this hint when Brently unexpectedly returns home. Once again, the details of the setting are important in characterizing Louise and suggesting the story’s theme. After Louise leaves her room and begins to descend the stairs – like a prisoner, she is escorted by a “guard”, Josephine – her front door opens and Brently appears in the doorway “at the bottom” (175) of the stairs. Within a fraction of a second, Louise sinks from the height of joy (symbolized by her husband’s position at the bottom of the staircase). Thus, her physical descent down the stairs symbolizes her emotional descent from her joyful fantasy of freedom into her depressing awareness of entrapment. Her doctors, who are most likely male, assume that she is a happily married woman who dies “of the joy that kills” (175), but the reader knows the truth: Louise dies of the shock and despair that overwhelm her when she realizes she will never experience her dream of freedom. As long as her husband is alive, she will have no “open window” or “blue sky” in her life, experiencing only obedience to his will and the “repression” (Chopin 174) of her true feelings. Chopin uses the setting in The Story of an Hour to characterize Louise as a woman who feels trapped by her marriage and who, like a condemned prisoner, longs for her freedom. The setting’s limited nature reflects Louise’s limited life as a married woman, while the beautiful spring day outside her open window symbolizes her desire for rebirth. The fact that her open window faces west, however, foreshadows the illusory nature of her joy, and her sudden death dramatically reinforces this suggestion by emphasizing the story’s theme: for women, marriage without freedom is an inescapable prison.
Kate Chopin’s Liberated Women
Twenty-first century domestic statistics scream with divorce. Although the relationship between husband and wife is far more equal since the days of Kate Chopin’s “The Dream of an Hour,” rampant divorce and single-parent families still make it difficult for today’s children and teenagers to trust they will marry happily. While cases of marital infidelity, alcoholism, and abuse are all leading causes for separation, divorced women everywhere, to some extent, share the cry of Mrs. Mallard: “Free! Body and soul free!” In her novella The Awakening and short story “The Dream of an Hour,” Chopin advocates not only that the oppressed wives’ escape from marriage, but also the further removal from any potentially constraining influence.While Edna Pontellier’s affections for Robert and Arobin magnify the lack of spousal loyalty today, Chopin’s works condemn marriage more for the sake of preserving individual liberty than for sexual freedom. Mrs. Mallard delights in this newfound understanding; grasping the future, she embraces her own self rather than the prospect of new relationships: “There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature”(2). Similarly, Mrs. Pontellier shares this somewhat cynical realization about the triviality of human coexistence: “I’ll not be forced into doing things. I don’t want to go abroad. I want to be left alone” (111).Kate Chopin’s “The Dream of an Hour” and The Awakening are not only demonstrations of independence from marriage, but declarations of superiority to all human connection. Although Mrs. Pontellier’s passion for Robert speaks warmly of love outside a constraining marriage, the leading women in both works share in perceiving its extreme insignificance. In debating her love for her “deceased” husband, Mrs. Mallard resolves, “What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being” (2). Likewise, Edna Pontellier too easily exempts herself from the power of love and loss: “Today it is Arobin; tomorrow it will be someone else. It makes no difference to me…”(115).Edna Pontellier and Mrs. Mallard each become the epitome of the transcendentalist philosophy. From the confines of stifling marriages, each woman emerges with an overpowering sense of self-worth. Ironically, however, their transcendence of societal conformity yields as much radical aloofness as introspective thought. While their personal revelations are intense and inspiring, the characters underestimate life’s shared joys, particularly love. By misconceiving emotions as mere “impulses,” they reduce the complexity of life to one level – the soul. The reader must question: Are these women doomed in their cynicism? Their new transcendentalist ideals foster physical isolation as well as emotional freedom. Kate Chopin’s works beautifully illustrate the value of independence; her folly is in trivializing the embrace of a loved one.
A Heart Wrenching Tale of Irony: An Analysis of Third Person Narration
In The Story of An Hour, Kate Chopin uses a variety of literary devices ranging from third person narration, juxtaposition and irony to vividly illustrate the dramatic process of grievance, and alternately liberation, that Mrs. Mallard experiences under the impression that her husband has died. In the beginning of the short story, Chopin attempts to extend inklings to the reader of what is later to come in the story through the assertion that “Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble,” and that the other characters, her sister Josephine specifically, would “break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death.” It might be perceived that Chopin’s intentions were to foreshadow Mrs. Mallard having a heart failure in response to the traumatic news if it were not delivered delicately. Chopin depicts Mrs. Mallard as a fragile being whom would be shattered both physically and emotionally when given the news of her husband’s death.
Chopin then toys along with this predictable reaction describing Mrs. Mallard as to have “wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment,” similar to how a “child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams.” The use of such kinetic word composition and the comparison of Mrs. Mallard to that of a sobbing child portrays her as an emotionally obliterated, feeble woman – entirely devastated, the exact reaction Chopin had foreshadowed early on. Chopin then implements juxtaposition and irony when describing Mrs. Mallard’s feelings subsequent of her devastation.
Up until this point in the story, all of Mrs. Mallard’s actions are seemingly natural. The reader would think it reasonable for a woman to be emotionally rattled at the news of her husband’s death, however Chopin twists this seemingly predictable narrative on its head by now revealing a sense of liberation in Mrs. Mallard. To initiate this shift in mood, Chopin describes Mrs. Mallard gazing at the sky not in “a glance of reflection,” however a glance which “indicated a suspension of intelligent thought,” and this described “suspension of intelligent thought” puts a pause on Mrs. Mallard’s remorseful thoughts and serves as a gateway into her newfound freedom.
Chopin further describes the positive ascension of Mrs. Mallard’s thoughts through the phrases “her bosom rose and fell tumultuously,” while whispering, “free, free, free,” “over and over under her breath.” Through this description, Chopin seems to reinvent Mrs. Mallard in an almost evil way as she is finding peace within her husband’s death. A reader might associate Mrs. Mallard’s “tumultuous” chest movements and repetition of a single word with the cliché, evil, methodical laugh of a villainous character that rises in richness at the expense of another (the laugh then commensurate to Mrs. Mallard’s happiness at the expense of her husband’s life). Chopin has recreated Mrs. Mallard in a way that makes her seemingly selfish in that she has achieved contentment through the death of her husband when the orthodox reaction should be a sense of remorse. Chopin therefore creates irony in two ways: one through the juxtaposition of how Mrs. Mallard should feel and how she actually feels and the other being how Mrs. Mallard achieves emotional uplift through an inherently wrong (according to societal expectation) response to the situation.
Referring back to the potential foreshadowing in the beginning of story, Chopin seems to create a full circle effect at the end of the story. The very last line of Chopin’s short story proclaims that “she (Mrs. Mallard) had died of heart disease – of the joy that kills.” This ending serves as a full circle ending as it ties Chopin’s beginning statement, “Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble,” to the end of the story: Mrs. Mallard’s death via heart failure. The irony then amounts from the cause of Mrs. Mallard’s heart failure. Chopin has illustrated the story so that the reader knows Mrs. Mallard’s heart failure is from the negative shock of knowing her husband is alive while the characters in the story believe Mrs. Mallard’s heart failure is from positive shock, hence “the joy that kills.” This irony and juxtaposition of what actually happened and what is perceived to have happened (by the characters in the story) is made entirely possible through Chopin’s choice of third person narration.
Through third person narration, Chopin exposes both sides of the situation: Mrs. Mallard’s internal thoughts, her feelings of liberation and freedom, and the external thoughts of the other characters, the feelings that Mrs. Mallard is desolate. By divulging the juxtaposing views to the reader, Chopin creates an ironic dichotomy. Through this ironic dichotomy, the reader gleans the unadulterated truth of Mrs. Mallard’s reaction to her husband’s death thus establishing a personal relationship between the reader and the character of Mrs. Mallard, all of which Chopin uses as a strategy to effectively illustrate Mrs. Mallard’s emotional development throughout the story.
The Exposed Woman in Kate Chopin’s “The Storm”
The narration in Kate Chopin’s “The Storm” is delivered in third person omniscient and is a key element in the story. The role of the narrator is more than simply communicating the story to the readers; in this case, the narrator provides an unadulterated depiction of the events. This is extremely important when considering the historical context of the story in conjunction with the plot. While the characters Calixta and Clarisse are both notably devout wives and mothers, they also display a yearning for more. Calixta lusts after Alcée, a married man, demonstrating a completely normal sexual desire during a time when this is simply abnormal and wrong. Meanwhile, Clarisse is the complete opposite; she longs to be separated and independent from her husband, an ambitious and ludicrous action. In Kate Chopin’s “The Storm,” the two women represent sexual desire as well as independence, traits that are commonly frowned upon within the culture of the 1890s; however, through the narrator, these actions are completely normalized.
It is important to note the time in which Chopin writes this story. Although it is composed in 1898, it is “not published until 1969 as part of Per Seyersted’s edition of The Complete Works of Kate Chopin” (Norton Anthology 551). The reasoning for Chopin refusing to publish this story during her lifetime is related to “[her] awareness of a disconnect between her work and American culture” (551). Calixta in “The Storm” embodies a sexual desire which, in its historical context, is completely shameful. Chopin is aware that female desire is something to be written about in the form of a cautionary tale; however, the narrator’s voice in “The Storm” begs to differ and instead, offers a much more open-minded and judgement-free approach. Although Calixta is married and has a child, she still has the desire to be with Alcée, a married man, during the storm. Not only is this vivid description of them together very unusual and scandalous for the time it is written, but the lack of judgment in the narrator’s voice is what is most noteworthy. Instead of accusing Calixta of sinning or ridiculing her for having sexual desires, the narrator merely tells it how it is, stating that “[the] generous abundance of her passion, without guile or trickery, [is] like a white flame which [penetrates] and [finds] response in depths of his own sensuous nature that [has] never yet been reached” (560). The narrator also describes “[her] mouth [as] a fountain of delight” (560). The abundance of positive words used by the narrator to describe Calixta and Alcée’s relationship such as “generous,” “passion,” “sensuous nature,” and “delight,” normalizes Calixta’s sexual desire in a world where women are ostracized for displaying such feelings, let alone acting on them as Calixta does. In addition, no harm comes to Calixta, mentally or physically, following her affair with Alcée.
If readers are not struck by the scandal that is the relationship between Calixta and Alcée, the fact that life proceeds normally for both parties after their affair would definitely come as a shock. For some, this story may seem meaningless as it does not appear to have a conflict amongst the characters; however, the lack of struggle is the most important aspect of Chopin’s “The Storm.” As the storm passes, Calixta’s husband returns home with their son. Calixta is described as “preparing supper” and proceeding as normal (560). In fact, the entire family “[seats] themselves at [the] table [and laughs] much and so loud that anyone might… [hear] them,” painting a surprising picture of a happy family (561). Traditionally speaking, affairs result in some kind of consequence for the participants, for example Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, published less than fifty years prior to Chopin’s The Storm. Hester’s punishment after having an affair is considered normal whereas Calixta is never mentioned to suffer any consequences, nor does the narrator give any indication of an internal struggle. Both characters simply proceed with their lives as per usual. Calixta is a major character in terms of rejecting the social norms surrounding women and sex; however, the brief description of Clarisse offers an entirely new perspective on women that has nothing to do with sexuality and focuses more on individuality.
The differences between the characters of Calixta and Clarisse, as told through the third person omniscient narrator, only serves to prove that not all women are the same. While Calixta displays a sexual desire central to her character, Clarisse feels empowered by the lack of this desire in herself. Clarisse displays a nostalgia for her single days, stating that by being away from Alcée she experiences her “first free breath since her marriage [which] seemed to restore the pleasant liberty of her maiden days” (561). Again, the narrator provides a non-judgemental tone and merely explains Clarisse’s valid feelings towards her marriage. Although Clarisse is “[devoted]… to her husband, their intimate conjugal life [is] something which she [is] more than willing to forego for a while” (561). Here, the narrator allows for Clarisse’s need to be without her husband and seek out her individuality as a normal and appropriate feeling, a controversial notion during the time Chopin writes this. The two female characters, though extremely different in terms of their needs, both prove that a woman cannot be characterized into a single group; through this third person omniscient it is clear that all women are individuals and their differing needs and feelings are all valid. Perhaps this is proved most clearly in the last line of the story.
Throughout this story, the narrator remains indifferent towards each situation, not allowing any biased opinions. The narrator merely observes what is happening and tells the story as it plays out while also providing the private, and therefore true, feelings of each character. The final line states that “the storm [passes] and every one [is] happy” (561). Again, readers are more than likely expecting something bad to happen to the characters, more specifically, Calixta; however, that is not the case, nor the point of this story. The point of this story which the narrator undoubtedly gets across to the readers is that a woman who does not fit into the mold in which the society makes for her is not wrong for being different from it. The story not only celebrates one woman for going against the social and cultural norms but recognizes two. The message that this last line, and this story in general, presents to readers is that a woman’s sexual desire is normal as well as a woman’s lack thereof. What readers expect of this story is something as destructive as a violent storm; however, what they are given are the normal outcomes of a storm: nothing notably different. The storm, or the controversial event of the story, occurs and life proceeds as normal for all parties involved.
It is safe to say that Kate Chopin’s “The Storm” is ahead of its time. Written before the twentieth-century feminist movement, this story goes against the socio-cultural norms of the society limiting women’s roles within the world. Not only are all women expected to be wives and mothers, they are also expected to be content with these positions and act appropriately by remaining faithful and fulfilling the expected duties. The third person omniscient narration in this story acts as a window into the everyday woman’s mind, exposing her true wants and feelings. While Calixta portrays a typical woman – a dedicated mother and wife – she also encompasses the unspoken sexual desire which this story attempts to validate. On the other hand, Clarisse – also a dedicated mother and wife – expresses her eagerness to be away from her husband and be on her own – another legitimate request. In “The Storm,” Chopin communicates primarily to her female readers that to have desires other than being a devout mother and wife is not only normal but should also be expected. Through this unbiased narrator, women feel accepted and empowered in a society where they are so often oppressed and pushed aside.
Baym, Nina, and Levine, Robert S., editors. The Norton Anthology of American Literature.C.W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012, pp. 550-551.
Chopin, Kate. “The Storm.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Edited by Nina Baym. 8th ed., vol. C. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012, pp. 557-661.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Scarlet Letter.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Edited by Nina Baym. 8th ed., vol. B. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012, pp. 476-594.
The Joy that Kills
Historically, during the late nineteenth century, there was a high importance set on women to fulfill their roles of motherhood and housewife. Society set ideals into place where a woman had to provide her husband with a “happy home,” so that her husband had a place to rest after doing his noblest duties of fatherhood and manhood. In “The Story of an Hour,” Louise clearly shows that this lifestyle is not for her. Her self-centeredness shows that she is looking forward to experiencing the zest that life has to offer her. She is, however, conflicted with herself at the same time and struggles to identify if she has feelings for her husband. Due to Louise’s disbelief of her husband’s death, she ends up being her own demise because of the internal issues she struggles with, the cultural norms she has to live by, and the overwhelming toll on her heart when she saw her husband.
When the news of Mr. Mallard’s death came back to Louise, she was in disbelief. She had trouble identifying how to feel, at first, until reality sank in. Her abnormal response to receiving the news of her husband’s death and the lack of emotions suggests she struggled with the news. At one point in the story, the narrator exclaims, “Free! Body and soul free!” (129) From Lawrence Berkove’s perspective, this implies that “there is a significance with Louise and that she wants to ‘live for herself.’ It could also be commonly interpreted that she had to sacrifice her own freedom to her husband” (234). The reaction Louise had at the news of her husband’s death revealed that she likely had been subjected to the oppression of her husband’s authority. Her undiagnosed mental health disorder exacerbates Louise’s struggle with her internal issues, which demonstrates her indecisiveness to not leave her husband contributes to her own demise.
“Legally and culturally, however, the lives of women were still much constrained when compared with those of men, and Chopin’s story reflects both these constraints and the growing desire of many women for ‘liberation’ of various kinds” (“Introduction”). In “The Story of an Hour,” Chopin thoroughly explains these ideals that women had to live by during the nineteenth century by stating, “There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself” (Chopin 129). The severity of the restraint that Louise experienced while she was married to Mr. Mallard was evident by the enthusiasm she expressed in the minutes following the news of her husband’s death. In the nineteenth century, many women were trying to escape the social norms that were imposed upon them during the time. According to Michael O’Malley, “Some argued that women should concentrate on the home and domesticity—that women had an especially loving and gentle nature, and that they were naturally suited to child care and to the ‘domestic arts’ of decoration and nurture.” O’Malley continues by stating, “The man’s world was understood as tough, rational, self-advancing, competitive, and harsh, and the woman’s world was soft, irrational, emotional, self-sacrificing and loving.” The stigma women faced during the nineteenth century contributed to why Louise felt like she had no control during the duration of her marriage to Mr. Mallard. Because the nineteenth century was viewed as a “man’s world,” the lack of worth that a woman’s role played in society led to the death of Louise.
Near the end of the story, Chopin reveals that Louise’s husband all along was not dead. Chopin mentions, “[Someone] was opening the front door with a latch key. It was Brently Mallard who entered, a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his gripsack and umbrella. He had been far from the scene of the accident, and did not even know there had been one” (Chopin 130). When Brently Mallard walked in the door, Richard tried to shield him from Louise. Unfortunately, Richard was too late. According to the doctors, Louise had passed away “of heart disease—of joy that kills” (130). Chopin’s description of the moment that Louise finds out her husband is not dead after all implies how serious Louise had taken the news. During the duration of Louise’s marriage to Mr. Mallard, Louise dealt with a lot of emotional highs and lows, which likely led to her development of heart disease.
The oppression Louise experienced during the nineteenth century played a role in her inability to speak up for herself. Louise likely dealt with an undiagnosed mental health disorder because of the stigma that women faced during the time period. Louise’s underlying heart disorder added to the shock she experienced when she saw her husband. The contributing factors that ultimately led to Louise’s own demise are: the internalization of her personal issues, the cultural standards, the development of her heart disease, the overwhelming news of her husband’s supposed death, and the shock she experienced when she saw him alive led to her experiencing a heart attack.
Berkove, Lawrence L. “Fatal Self-Assertion in Kate Chopin’s the Story of an Hour.” American Literary Realism 32.2 (Winter 2000): 152-158. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Janet Witalec. Vol. 127. Detroit: Gale, 2002. 20th Century Literature Criticism Online. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” Portable Literature Reading, Reacting, Writing. Ed. Kirszner and Mandell. 9th ed. Massachusetts: Cengage Learning, 2015. 128-130. Print.
“Introduction to Literary Context: American Short Fiction.” Literary Reference Center Plus. N.p., 1 Nov. 2014. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
O’Malley, Michael. “Women and Equality.” Exploring US History. George Mason University, Apr. 2004. Web. 16 November 2016.
Springtime Imagery in The Story of an Hour
In “The Story of an Hour”, Kate Chopin uses powerful imagery to allow the reader to feel Mrs. Mallard’s true emotions. Visuals in a story can provide an enormous amount of information about a character. What the character sees out a window can tell us their perspective on how they view the world. Imagery helps the reader put themselves in that character’s shoes. The descriptive details allow us to fully experience the story being told. By experiencing what the character feels, important themes can be revealed. One of the main themes in “The Story of an Hour” is the theme of freedom. This is clear through Mrs. Mallard’s repetition of “Free, free, free” under her breath but is also seen through Chopin’s use of imagery in a less direct way. In Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”, the image of the “delicious rain” and “quivering trees with new spring life” both work together to bring out the theme of a new beginning.
After hearing the news of her husband’s death, Mrs. Mallard weeps uncontrollably and proceeds to lock herself in her room. Although she is quite emotional, this is the type of reaction you would expect from a new widow. She sits down in her chair and was “pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach her soul”(Paragraph 3). Then she decides to look out her window and, “She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life”(Paragraph 4). This line is very important as spring is associated with a new beginning. Rather than feeling her life is over after the passing of her husband, she feels it is just beginning. Spring represents renewal and birth. Mrs.Mallard is beginning to feel this sense of freedom and realizes what her husband’s death means for her life. Winter has now died, and spring has finally arrived. Winter is normally associated with isolation or sadness, which are feelings that Mrs. Mallard most likely felt in her marriage. After a long and dreadful winter, Mrs. Mallard is finally seeing the beauty within the world as she looks out the window and sees her new life ahead of her. The open window provides a clear, bright view into the distance and Mrs. Mallard’s bright future, which is now unobstructed by the demands of another person. As Mrs. Mallard begins to finally see the world as it is, losing her husband is not a great loss so much as an opportunity to move beyond the “blind persistence” of the bondage of marriages back then. Mrs. Mallard reaches her conclusions of independence through the environment, the imagery of which symbolically associates Mrs. Mallard’s private awakening with the beginning of life in the spring season.
The next line in the story reinforces the theme of a new beginning. After looking at the “quivering trees”, Mrs. Mallard says that “The delicious breath of rain was in the air.” Because Chopin mixes senses by using a word normally associated with taste to describe living (“breath”), her word choice is also an example of synesthesia, which mixes sensory images. More importantly, rain is normally seen as a symbol of sadness or grief. By giving Mrs. Mallard a positive reaction to the “delicious breath of rain”, it changes the reader’s point of view on the story. Mrs. Mallard’s moment of grief quickly passes as her outlook on life changes as she sits in her room and thinks about her future. When she realizes her newly found independence and all that it entails, she feels as if she is beginning life anew. Instead of rain being a symbol of sadness and mourning for her husband, it serves as a cleansing. A cleansing that washes away her past life and gives her a fresh start. She is now free, free to live her life the way she pleases without having to answer to anyone not even her husband.
These lines together serve as the first clues to the reader to show that there is more going on in the story than just someone who has lost their husband. Although they are two short sentences, the imagery they produce helps the reader feel the experience that Mrs. Mallard is going through. They are pivotal sentences where the mood shifts from mourning death to the prospect of a new beginning. As she sits in her comfortable chair, gazing out her window, dark clouds part to show the blue sky, and the promise of rain also brings the “new spring life” that she sees in the trees. Springtime imagery gives a sense of renewal that underlines Chopin’s idea that Mrs. Mallard is on a journey to a new life.