To the untrained eye, a story could be viewed one-dimensionally; a tale might only appeal to emotion while logic is left out in the cold. Equally, logic may be forgotten while emotion is heavily focused on. However, through the use of Critical Lenses, readers can begin to see greater depth in literature. As readers find connections through Critical Lenses, they become more educated on various topics, more aware of social, political, and even logical abstractions. Instead of failing to retain the intent and content of the material, they even can remember details of stories more vividly when truly examining literature rather than reading it once for entertainment (or chore). Lenses help readers to focus in on literature in more specific ways, in turn, readers understand more concepts and how they apply to unique areas of life, human emotion, and thought. One such lens is the Marxist lens which focuses mainly on the social, political, and economic aspects which are underlaid beneath many compositions. It might surprise readers to know that, by the use of this lens, traces of these subjects can be found in almost any work despite the original nature and intent of the tale. A prime example demonstrating the power of the Marxist lens can be seen when the lens is applied to Kate Chopin’s short story, “The Story of an Hour”. This short conte depicts the brief sentiment of freedom felt by the fictitious character Mrs. Mallard as she learns that her husband has been killed in a railroad accident. However, her blissful reverie is put to death by death itself when her husband, alive and well, walks through the doors of their home to meet her. On the surface, this would appear to be a tale void of social, political, or economic association; how could such logical themes develop in such an emotional tale? Yet, the Marxist lens can even be applied to this story and reveal revelations in the tale that might not be seen without the lens. The social, political, and economic characteristics of the Marxist lens can clearly be seen in Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”.
The social element of the Marxist lens can be heavily applied to understanding the depth of “The Story of an Hour” in a greater way. While reading the story without a critical lens, readers might only see Mrs. Mallard as odd and misfortunate but with the Marxist lens, it becomes apparent that more social concepts line the character and her tale. An example of a social concept seen in this story is Feminism versus the traditional views of a woman and her “place”. Mrs. Mallard represents a woman trapped by traditional views but is longing to break free from social norms. As Mrs. Mallard declares, “Free! Body and soul free!” (356), the reader can clearly grasp the understanding that her marriage was viewed at as bondage, even though her husband was perceived as kind and gentle. It is almost scandalous that a woman would joy over her kind husband’s death and rejoice over freedom in body and spirit. At this point in the story, Mrs. Mallard is claiming rights over her body, her mind, her thoughts, her decisions, and her actions. In 1894, when this story was published, such a concept was scandalous, to say the least, but Mrs. Mallard doesn’t even stop to consider this; the idea of freedom over herself is so much larger than the fear of society. On the contrary, her sister Josephine portrays the classic woman of the day. By her name, Josephine is given her own identity, whereas Mrs. Mallard tries to break from under her husband’s identity; though Josephine is given this freedom of identity, she is so consumed by traditional views that she behaves just as any other woman of the day. Though the story opens with a line of how fragile Mrs. Mallard is, she is strong, brave and resilient; Josephine is truly the one portrayed as emotional, worrisome, and fragile; she fears this change in her sister, this break from social norms. These two sisters are examples of feminism versus traditionalist views and how they exist to war against each other. Through the Marxist lens, readers can see the uprising of social issues and conversations in literature.
Not only does “The Story of an Hour” help readers to see social issues through the Marxist lens, they can also grasp political concepts as well; in truth, the social issues go hand in hand with political discussions. At the time that Chopin wrote this short story, the women’s rights movement was less than 50 years in the making and relatively new to the western world; the empowering of women was not only social but also political. Though it was over 20 years after this short story was written that women gained the right to vote, it was smaller scale moves, like publishing this story, that sparked an enormous change in how women were approached politically. It was quotes such as this that troubled the waters of traditionalist views of the day, “…she would live for herself” (357). Mrs. Mallard would live to be her own provider, her own decision maker, and her own fulfillment. With the power of free will at her disposal, there would be no limits to the things she could do, but the idea of a woman with such power over herself was outrageous to the social and political culture of the day. Tales such as these would spark a rebellion in women and this social break would, in turn, cause political changes which led to women’s rights to vote, to gain protection from harassment, and to be treated equally with men.
The third part of the Marxist lens is the economic aspect; by this, readers can understand the economic state of a character and how that might relate to real people of that time period. In “The Story of an Hour”, Mrs. Mallard’s dwelling place is described as a house with multiple rooms, two stories, comfortable furniture. Mrs. Mallard does not work and never thinks of an impoverished new life, she only thinks of freedom to go and do as she pleases. All of these elements make it clear that she is at least of middle-class stature, if not high class. When she says, “Free, free, free” (357), perhaps she is referring to social, political, and economic freedom. As a wealthy widow, she would be able to continue a life of grandeur without the strain of a man’s control upon her life. Every financial decision would be hers to make, every purchase, every expense. All that she cared about was freedom to make her own choices in every area of her life.
Through the Marxist lens, readers gain insight into the lives of characters and they see how these characters and their stories relate to their lives as individuals. Equally, they can see how different the characters are from them and their lives. No matter what tale or composition, readers can begin to make new discoveries with the complex, yet simple, Marxist lens. With this lens, readers can begin to comprehend any topic as it relates to the three elements of the Marxist lens; whether it be human emotion or bondages, readers can apply the Marxist lens to these topics. Yet, with Chopin’s tale hand in hand with the Marxist lens, readers can understand what freedom means, not only to characters, but to them in society, in politics, and in economics.
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