Comparative Analysis “The Story of an Hour”
“The Story of an Hour” is a brief sketch about a middle-aged wife who experiences an exhilarating release when she hears that her husband has died, an intense thrill of regained freedom that ends with a heart attack when the report proves untrue. Unveiling Kate Chopin uncovers the inner life of a courageous woman who, a century ago, was a solitary soul, a tough and resilient character who had opinions and who dared and defied. In a new millennium, we need to know about that kind of woman, and how she cast off the veils of Victorian convention. We need to create — as she did — new and distinctive ways of awakening, living, thinking, and growing. (Ashmore and Starr 107-128)
The Story of An Hour is a biting short story, is suggestive of ambiguity, pain, and danger in a woman’s liberation from her marriage. Kate Chopin qualified as the boldest challenger of the culture’s view of women in the late nineteenth century. While she had a reputation as a local colourist whose short stories about Creoles and Cajun society were well regarded, it was in her women’s stories that Kate Chopin broke new ground. 22 Her fiction dealt openly with the sensuous needs and unspoken passion of women, a subject never discussed publicly in Catholic New Orleans or Puritan New England. Her contemporaries did not admit to the fact that women had sexual natures, and they surely did not read fiction that described female passion.
Thus, Kate Chopin attacked social norms head-on. She believed that the emotional life of women was their most important resource and that her interior explorations of self provided a rich area for fiction. At the same time, she portrayed women who sought social roles for themselves as well as those who performed good deeds for those less able. All of Chopin’s women appeared, however, as restless, questing people, unhappy with society’s definition of them. Chopin questioned marriage, wifehood, and motherhood, the essential trilogy for women.
In “The Story of an Hour,” one of the most powerful three-page stories ever written, Mrs. Mallard, a young, frail wife, learned that her husband had been killed in a railroad accident. After retiring to her room, her grief was followed by a sense of liberation: “There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending her in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.” 23 Mrs. Mallard’s sudden widowhood produced a surge of new energy and hope for a self-fulfilled life, one in which she could satisfy her own desires. But her blissful moment was interrupted with the discovery that her husband was not on the train. As he appeared in the hallway, she fainted and died, her death called heart failure. This story flew in the face of conventional literature. A widow felt joy on her personal liberation; she expressed these feelings to herself without a sense of guilt or revulsion, and she stopped living when this new hope died.
However the “the veil” discussed the inner and outer life of a woman. It explored the usually unspoken sexual feelings of a woman at the same time that she described women who rejected the wifely and motherly roles. Her women wanted to strip themselves of social definitions and to examine anew what their natures were. The unconventional subject matter, the frank discussions of female sexuality, and the absolute lack of guilt in her heroines all marked them for doom in the traditionalUnited States. Women readers were simply not prepared for overt resistance to social norms; they could not exhibit anything but disgust and shock at stories that described widows rejoicing over their sudden emancipation or heroines who were unhappy with their status as upper-class women occupying a home with a considerate, well-providing husband.
The story lines and women characters of in “The Story of an Hour” and “the veil” was so different, so atypical, that they literally shocked her readers. Editors were startled with her sensuous descriptions of sexual experience; moralists were outraged by women kissing other women or seamstresses boldly having children out of wedlock and then criticizing their employers’ conduct. Chopin questioned both the culture’s definition of women as well as the conspiratorial silence over the emotional needs and experiences of women. She glorified the ecstasy of good sexual experiences and viewed intercourse between loving people as one important form of self-fulfilment as well as transcendence of self.
She wondered what the nature of woman was after her social roles were stripped away. Surely, Chopin believed, sexuality existed for women. But what were the other dimensions of women’s personality? What were their other possible pleasures in life? In “The Story of an Hour” Kate Chopin tried asking these questions in her fiction, but she found no readers for such an exploration. Her failure to win an audience is dramatic testimony to my claim that female writers had to operate within cultural norms, at least until recently, in order to be published and read. On the surface, Kate Chopin led a rather conventional life, but in her fiction, she opened up doors into rooms that most people wanted shut tightly.
Chopin ranks as the most daring of the female writers of the last century. “The Story of an Hour” prose faced forbidden subjects and portrayed women sympathetically as they rejected traditional behaviour. While the women depicted in “The veil” sometimes showed spunk and ingenuity, they always remained within social boundaries. Neither their emotional lives nor their social roles were explored in detail, and though they sometimes acted independently of men, they did not defy society in any fundamental way. They were covert resisters and questioners of cultural values, while Kate Chopin openly attacked society. Her frankness doomed her, but it provided later generations of readers with exciting examples of overt resistance to the role of women in society.
The central theme in “The Story of an Hour” and “the veil” is how the culture could incorporate aspects of the Eve and the in dependent woman into her personality and actions without suffering social disapproval. Most of the fictional women were, on the surface, respectable wives and mothers, but all of them wished for something more. They wanted to break out of the dominant image and explore multiple avenues to selfhood, avenues that allowed expression of sexuality and independence. The excitement of their collective fiction was in their presentation of heroines who searched, however unsuccessfully, for ways to achieve that new, unusual synthesis.
The most hackneyed novels, like their counterparts in the movies and on television, saw women in only one, predictable image. But even the writers who created complex, interesting women ultimately had them return to the fold. The cultural rules might bend temporarily, but they also sprung back into their previous form. Rarely in popular cultural formula fiction or movies have we seen women abandon their families. After the restless and unhappy woman expressed her difference, she returned home.
Women writers often faced the challenge of creating distinct female personalities. Since the identity of a woman, until recently, was more closely attuned to cultural role definitions than that of a man, the challenge often went unmet. This fact also explained the conspicuous lack of great heroines in fiction, created by either men or women. Women in real life in most cultures and in most time periods lived predictable lives; they could not fulfil the writer’s wish for adventurous types or unusual life experiences.
It is really only in the psychologically oriented twentieth century that heroines became fashionable and frequent. The interior novel, the introspective searching’s within the mind, became landscapes congenial to female character development. Women knew about thinking and reflecting; they were used to assessing dialogues and examining interpersonal relationships. Their social roles demanded it. In a century that valued the inward look, women were suddenly acceptable as heroines. Women writers, sensitive to the changing tastes of their readers, responded with novels featuring the inner searchings of a desperate housewife or the internal monologue of a woman going mad. (Gelfant and Graver 246-258)
The brilliant way that the popular nineteenth century women writers synthesized acceptable and subversive themes in their writing was absent in most current women’s fiction. In “the veil” it is believed that society existed, its rules had to be obeyed to insure social stability, and that women’s lives, though strained by those rules, had to live within them. The tension, strain, and struggle between individual will and social necessity were portrayed and respected, though ultimately society had to win the struggle. The independent woman images appeared, but usually in socially acceptable ways.
In “the story of an hour” Kate Chopin often faced the challenge of creating distinct female personalities. Since the identity of a woman, until recently, was more closely attuned to cultural role definitions than that of a man, the challenge often went unmet. This fact also explained the conspicuous lack of great heroines in fiction, created by either men or women. Women in real life in most cultures and in most time periods lived predictable lives; they could not fulfil the writer’s wish for adventurous types or unusual life experiences.
It is really only in the psychologically oriented twentieth century that heroines became fashionable and frequent. The interior novel, the introspective searching’s within the mind, became landscapes congenial to female character development. Women knew about thinking and reflecting; they were used to assessing dialogues and examining interpersonal relationships. Their social roles demanded it. In a century that valued the inward look, women were suddenly acceptable as heroines. Kate Chopin, sensitive to the changing tastes of their readers, responded with this novel featuring the inner searchings of a desperate housewife or the internal monologue of a woman going mad.
While “the veil” disguised the discontent of her heroines and accentuated their strength and moral certitude, emphasized the weaknesses of heroines, proclaimed their complaints, and described their longings. Self-sacrificing heroines and stoical women who endured and prevailed have been replaced with loud sufferers. The greater the failings, the surer the success. Especially in the 1970s, women’s fiction exposed vulnerability and no longer defined or defended strength. In 1980s popular romance, on the other hand, long-suffering heroines endured as they do on television melodramas. Indeed, there is no identifiable group of women novelists in the late 1980s that addresses any of these issues. Sociofiction has been replaced by individualistic expressions. It is in other parts of popular culture that one can find resilient heroines and socially conscious ones as well. While popular fiction in recent years has created neither overt nor covert resisters, the movies, television, and popular music have been arenas in which women have experimented with, and experienced, new role possibilities. (Csicsila 21-33)
Ashmore, Robert B., and Starr, William C. Teaching Ethics: An Interdisciplinary Approach; Marquette University Press, 1994
Csicsila, Joseph. Canons by Consensus: Critical Trends and American Literature Anthologies;University ofAlabama Press, 2004
Gelfant, Blanche H., and Graver, Lawrence. The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story;ColumbiaUniversity Press, 2000
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