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The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin

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The Story of an hour by Kate Chopin was first published in 1984 in Vogue initially under the title “The Dream of an Hour” which was later changed when it was published in St. Louis Life. This essay briefly discussed two readings that focus on analyzing this essay to explain how the two authors take both a similar as well a conflicting perspective to analyzing Chopin’s essay. While Wang makes a more balanced view and has a neutral stance, Berkove explores the intricacies by providing textual evidence of contradictions.

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The first reading that is to be discussed is Fatal Self-Assertion in Kate Chopin's 'The Story of an Hour” written by Lawrence I. Berkove. In this research essay, amongst several other reservations that have raised, Berkove stresses on how, contrary to what is usually said about Chopin’s essay, the story isn’t about marriage, suppression and struggle for selfhood in a society that is deeply patriarchal but merely about Louise Mallard. All else, the author argues, is merely non-textual assumptions that readers, over the years, have associated with the essay. For Berkove, Louise is an extremely irrational and self-centered character, a person who is not only physically but also emotionally ill. Berkove repeatedly goes over the idea of absolute freedom and firmly argues that it is a phenomenon for divinity, the pursuit of which in real life is not only delusional but also extremely self-centered especially for people who’re committed to friends and family. The heart trouble that Louise goes through, Berkove argues, is both physical and emotional. That being said, Berkove states that the themes followed in the essay do not and should not glorify self-assertion because it is this very trait that ironically leads to the death of Louise Ballard.

Xuding Wang takes a different approach to the story and does not downright condemn feminine self-assertion the way Berkove does. Wang goes into a more symbolic analyses of the story and explains how certain events in the story symbolically represent Louise’s complicated journey towards selfhood. As opposed to Berkove, Wang holds the opinion that Chopin very carefully crafts Louise’s character to depict a woman who has struggled at the hands of the patriarchy and how the death of her husband ushered in change, a new birth for the woman who was only now realizing her becoming. Wang completely disagrees with Berkove on the argument that Louise was an egoist woman. Wang also presses on the idea that Chopin actively symbolizes patriarchal turbulence in the story and makes it evident, metaphorically and literally, that Louise was caught up in the middle of it. This article also argues that Chopin reiterated every now and then that the journey to feminine self-assertion isn’t smooth and more often than not impossible to sustain, a perspective that Berkove is completely blind towards. For Wang, Louise’s death at the end is also symbolic of this argument wherein she dies because the society isn’t ready for feminine autonomy and self-assertion. While for Berkove, Louise’s death is merely a logical outcome of irrational desires clashing with the harsh realities of life.

Both authors, however, acknowledge, albeit differently, that Louise had emotional issues. Both use the analogy of a troubled heart to imply not only physical illness but also an emotional one. Wang and Berkove both acknowledge that Louise suffered, however, both define this suffering very differently. Similarly, both authors agree, for different reasons, that Louise’s desire to be free isn’t one that can be accommodated in the existing structures, although for different reasons. For both the authors, Louise’s death was symbolic, however, differently. Lastly, both the authors base their opinion on the reading on a literary analysis, the latter more so than the former, but see different themes playing out in the story. This leads us to believe that Chopin’s reading is subjective and one can only takeaway what one believes or is willing to see.

Moreover, both the essays summarize and analyze the main text thoroughly in a way that it is understandable even for a layman. Wang’s analysis is more balanced, in the sense that it gives due merit to various perspectives that have been taken on the reading, and perhaps does more justice to the story.

Furthermore, the contrast is presented in the story through the projection of the heroine, who can be viewed as an egoist person as she becomes a victim of self-assertion. However, we cannot add much credibility because of the fact that the social forces are not included in the process of analyzing the character of Louise Mallard. These social forces include the patriarchal set up which is a major factor in the conceptualization of the entire story. What is even more worth noticing is the fact that we as readers have not been provided by much textual evidence and hence much of the analysis is left on to the perspective of the readers to determine the character’s aims and motives. This has also led to a couple of contradictions. Louise Mallard in her opening sentence states that she wants to live for herself; however, this does not end up happening as she sacrifices her life for her beloved husband. Her feelings and actions often stand in stark contradiction in the story and end up giving quite a mixed sense of the story to the readers, who are still in that thought process of adding up the events correctly. The story hence overall talks about the theme of marriage and especially the sort of expectation the society has from this institution. There are many questions that can arise from this story and they cannot be termed as trivial through the detailed examination of their nature. This brings in the concept of whether Mallard’s emotions are valid or not in the first place. For instance, she states that her joy cannot be termed as “monstrous”. The fact that she thinks that her emotions are not valid enough to be recognized alerts the readers who are more actively involved with understanding her emotions throughout the story and how it aids in the channeling process of building up the next event, which is intricately linked with Mallard’s feelings and emotions. Comparing this with Mademoiselle Reisz one can clearly differentiate between the two characters. The latter is clear about her direction in life as well as possess an open mind that is not cluttered.

In conclusion, Wang’s analysis can be viewed as more neutral and the comparison is seen through the above discussion.

Works cited

  1. Berkove, L. I. (1984). Fatal self-assertion in Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour." American Literary Realism, 17(1), 30-34.
  2. Wang, X. (2005). Symbolism in “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 5(4), 733-737.
  3. Chopin, K. (1984). The Story of an Hour. Vogue.
  4. Chopin, K. (1984). The Dream of an Hour. St. Louis Life.
  5. Toth, E. (1990). Unveiling Kate Chopin. University Press of Mississippi.
  6. Arner, R. D. (2015). Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Studies in Short Fiction. Springer.
  7. Stein, A. L. (1996). The Story of an Hour: Sources and Documents. Twayne Publishers.
  8. Papke, M. E. (2000). Verging on the Abyss: The Social Fiction of Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton. Greenwood Publishing Group.
  9. Ostman, H. (1991). The Story of an Hour: A Study in Irony. In K. Chopin (Ed.), The Awakening and Selected Stories (pp. 83-87). Penguin Books.
  10. Evans, R. C. (2011). Coming Out of the Closet: Kate Chopin's The Story of an Hour and the Fiction of Transgender Identity. In H. O. Binns (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the American Modernist Novel (pp. 70-83). Cambridge University Press.

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