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The Story Of An Hour

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Dana Signorile

Professor Mark A. Shultz

English 221X: Writing About Literary Types

March 31, 2005

Essay #2

"The Story of an Hour" & "A Sorrowful Woman"

The authors Kate Chopin and Gail Godwin use literary elements to define more fully a theme or central message. Marriage does not always bring people the happiness that they expect. A countless number of people today feel trapped in their own marriages. Mrs. Mallard in Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" and the unnamed character in Gail Godwin's "A Sorrowful Woman" are among those who experience this. For the character in "The Story of an Hour," at only one point in her marriage did Mrs. Mallard feel truly happy, and that was when she was told about her husband's death. For the female protagonist in "A Sorrowful Woman," her marriage and role as a mother was torture for her.

Both of the women are imprisoned in their own marriages and even more so in their own minds, which eventually lead them to death. Successfully describing their main characters' developments of feelings, Kate Chopin and Gail Godwin, two authors from two different time periods, point out that the conflict between society and individuals is the cause of the sadness and tragedy of marriage.

Through the settings of their stories, both of the authors suggested that social expectations be the real causes of their protagonists' deaths. In "A Sorrowful Woman," the unnamed character seems to have a desirable life. She has a "durable, receptive, gentle" husband and a "tender golden three" son (Godwin, 35). "He was attuned to her; he understood such things" indicates that her husband always understood her (Godwin, 35). He is willing to sacrifice his time for her and their family. Mrs. Mallard, in "The Story of an Hour," is in a similar environment. Knowing that she has a heart trouble, "great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband's death" (Chopin, 12). Her friends and her family care about her. Her husband must be a nice person due to the fact that she didn't marry him because she loves him; "she had loved him - sometimes" (Chopin, 14). By setting up such nice environments where the two characters live, the authors keep readers away from the thought that their deaths are the result of bad treatment. It is the force of social expectations placed upon the women that locked them in the confinement of marriage and that, eventually, lead them to death.

Evidently, both of the female characters in the two stories have extremely unsatisfactory lives. Mrs. Mallard in "The Story of an Hour" feels trapped in her own marriage. The sentence "She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even certain strength" tells us that her marriage has taken the spirit and energy away from the young woman (Chopin, 13). The line "It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long", indicates that she must have never thought that freedom was an option in her life (Chopin, 13). Most happily married women would be absolutely thrilled at the thought that life would be long because that meant that they would spend their lives with their husband, their love.

When Mrs. Mallard was told of her husband's death, "She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance" (Chopin, 13). She just accepted it and went to her room because she realized that her husband's death gave her the freedom that she truly longed for silently inside herself. In a different situation, the unnamed character in "A Sorrowful Woman" is imprisoned in her own mind, yet she is still imprisoned. "The sight of them made her so sad and sick she did not want to see them ever again" (Godwin, 35). Seeing them was just a constant reminder of how unhappy she was. Her life is so harsh for her to live. She feels the burden of love and responsibility. The sentence "She stood naked except for her bra, which hung by one strap down the side of her body; she had not the impetus to shrug it off" indicates how drained she feels about her life (Godwin, 36).

Both of the women in the two stories struggle to live in grief and agony. Innocent readers might wonder why they don't free themselves by asking for a divorce from the husbands. By giving a lot of ironies in their stories, Chopin and Godwin want readers to know that it isn't simple for their characters to break the social expectations that keep them in the boundary of marriage. Divorce is never an option for them. Divorce might have never been defined in their society. They have no way to escape from their despair.

Not only did they have no way to get out of their crisis, but the two characters were also prohibited from being themselves and from doing what they want. In "A Sorrowful Woman," the main character is exhausted from being "a wife and mother one too many times" (Godwin, 35). Her son says, "She's tired of doing all our things again," this tells us what her life was like (Godwin, 39). She has talent in writing, but she does not have many chances to develop her talent. Only once in her life does she have a chance to write "mad and fanciful stories nobody could ever make up again, and a table full of love sonnets addressed to the man" (Godwin, 39); and that is right before her death. Some readers might think she is just self-tormenting. The truth is, however, she is in a really difficult predicament. While the person herself tells her to do whatever she wants to, the person that is affected by social expectations inside her



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