Unjust Classification of Literature
Length: 1714 words (4.9 double-spaced pages)
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The Unjust Classification of Literature
The content of literature has been criticized and classified throughout history. Occasionally, stories become known as immoral literature in the eyes of society. This can be damaging both to sales of the book and the reputation of the author. Kate Chopin wrote two stories that are examples of literature deemed immoral by society. “The storm” and “The Story of an Hour” were written and the end of the nineteenth century. A time without many liberal opinions towards literature, as well as civil rights. Often critics judge a piece of literature only on the literal meaning of the phrases inside, while ignoring the actual message from the author. Chopin’s two stories were criticized for the impression she gave of woman’s attitudes towards their husbands and marriage. Although her stories seem to contain women that do not respect marriage, the women actually have total love and respect for their husbands The misinterpretation of stories leads to the unjust classification of literature as immoral.
“The story of an Hour” and “The Storm” have different plots, but both convey a similar message from Chopin. “The Story of an Hour” was written about a wife ,Mrs. Mallard, who receives the sad news of her husbands death. She is flushed with conflicting emotions of sadness from the death, but also joy for the freedom from marriage that his death brings. A twist in the story takes place when she is confronted with her still living husband and she dies from the shock. Chopin wrote of a woman so caught up in married life, she forgot all of the liberties that she had sacrificed for the marriage. “The storm” tells of another wife, Calixta, living what was a normal life for a woman in the late nineteenth century. While her husband and son are kept inside a store by a passing storm, Calixta is greeted unexpectedly by an old boyfriend, Alcee. Spending time with Alcee releases feelings from Calixta that had been building up throughout her marriage. Calixta and Alcee give in to temptation, but never lose their sight of love for their families. Both stories suggest women in marriages sometimes feel imprisoned by the relationship and seek an outlet for their emotions.
Marriage is a sacred bond and should always be honored. Infidelity is the worst act that can be perpetrated on a significant other. The wife, Calixta, betrayed her family and the church by cheating on them.
Also, Mrs. Mallard experiences joy at the suffering and death of her husband. Both women commit acts that are both dishonorable and disrespectful to marriage and their families.
Chopin suggests Calixta and Alcee enjoyed and took pleasure in dishonoring their marriage vows. “The generous abundance of her passion, without guile or trickery, was like a white flame which penetrated and found response in depths of his sensuous nature that had never yet been reached.” The emotions felt during their love making overwhelmed Calixta and gave her an orgasm, which her husband had not. The passion created by Calixta and Alcee created conflicting feelings like a separate storm inside the house. Moments of weakness do not excuse infidelity in a marriage. Calixta shared something with Alcee, something that should only be shared by married woman with her husband.
Understanding the stifling feelings that marriage can bring is essential to understand what conjures up feelings of confinement. The story could also be interpreted with another point of view. Alcee and Calixta may have shared a physical connection, but never really shared their love with each other. Calixta was living her life in times of tension. Calixta was in a situation that figuratively, left her gasping for air. The marriage life for a woman did not offer many options. Women did not have a choice to find a well paying job and support a family. Women were often confined to housework such as cooking, cleaning, and other house maintenance. Being restricted to only house work may have reduce the level of self-esteem of the women. Alcee found Calixta at a vulnerable time in her life. However, the isolated incident she had with Alcee did not drive her away from her husband , but reminded her of her love and commitment for her family.
Chopin displays Calixta’s love for her son. “She had clasped Bibi and was kissing him effusively.” Calixta held her son tightly and poured out her love for her son. In addition, Chopin reveals Calixta’s lasting love for her husband. “Bobinot’s explanations and apologies which he had been composing all along the way, died on his lips as Calixta felt him to see if he were dry, and seemed to express nothing but satisfaction at their safe return. All of Bobinot’s worries melted away, as Calixta embraced his return with open arms. Calixta’s love for her family never hesitated or ceased to exist.
Finding pleasure in the pain and suffering of others is unimaginable and cruel. In “The Story of an Hour” Mrs. Mallard acts completely selfish when faced with the news of her husband’s death. Instead of mourning his death, Mrs. Mallard envisioned her freedom from the marriage. The immoral behavior displayed by Mrs. Mallard is shocking. Most people faced with the death of others, especially family members would find it disturbing. Mrs. Mallard was a cruel woman with little concern and appreciation for the well being of those around her.
Mrs. Mallard’s selfish tendencies are implied by Chopin. “But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely.” She looked ahead of the sad time to a point in her life that nobody could claim. Mrs. Mallard was able to disregard the fact that her husband had just died. She was easily able to move on from his death as if she has no cares for him. Often widows wonder how they will ever be able to move on from their husband’s death. Mrs. Mallard cold heartedly was able to surpass any mourning process.
Again Chopin emphasized Mrs. Mallard’s pleasure from Mr. Mallard’s death. “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.” Nobody would oversee her actions and control her as people think it is their duty to enforce their own beliefs on others. Mrs. Mallard was not concerned with the death of another, but rather considered how it benefitted her. However, I have a different outlook on this quote and the story. Mr. Mallard may have been an over controlling husband in another stifling marriage. The words “powerful will bending her” suggests to me that the marriage was more like an institution or prison. Mrs. Mallard was a prisoner of the marriage. People unite in marriage to share their love with each other in the eyes of God. Nobody wants to commit to a situation where someone else imposes their will and controls them.
Men and women must both make sacrifices and compromise in order to make a marriage joyful and successful. Calixta and Mrs. Mallard were starved of the liberties that all people deserve. Yet they both loved their husbands so dearly, they remained silent even with a “powerful will” controlling them for years.
Mrs. Mallard was not as cold hearted as she has been perceived. She was deeply saddened and troubled by the news of her husband’s death. Yes, she looked ahead to better times during a time for mourning. But it is human nature to try our best to manage everything in our lives. Mrs. Mallard was so burdened by his death, her only escape was to slip out of that moment and look ahead to easier times. Mrs. Mallard, only for a brief period wondered what life would be like now without her husband.
Chopin suggests Mrs. Mallard was saddened by 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.” Mrs. Mallard heard the news differently than anyone else, in the sense that she could not begin to comprehend its meaning. The news had shocked her into a state of disbelief. She was so disturbed as to be paralyzed by the news. These are not the responses and actions of a woman with no concern for another’s well being.
Chopin also points out Mrs. Mallard was not entirely experiencing joy. “A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.” Neither intention made her actions look less devious during her transitory thought of freedom. Her fleeting thoughts did not remain with her, but lasted only a short period. It is not inhuman to try and think positively during times of doubt and tremendous sadness. Literature functions as a source of education and entertainment, not as lessons of reality. Francoise Sagan discusses the contrasts among life and literature. “Of course the illusion of art is to make one believe that great literature is very close to life, but exactly the opposite is true. Life is amorphous, literature is formal.” The false impression of art causes one to think that literature is similar to life, but this contradicts the reality. Life does not take on a form, in which the outcome can be predicted. However, life is not just a series of events without significance, but can be given direction and meaning. Literature has a structure to the events and certain relationships among occurrences.
Kate Chopin’s life was changed by the effect her literature had on the society. Her controversial literature was the reason for her being ostracized from the community. In fact, she never attempted to have “The Storm” published, perhaps out of fear of persecution. Chopin’s main intention was to scrutinize marriage and enlighten people to the oppression of women in marriage. Instead, “The Storm” and “The Story of an Hour” were scrutinized for their questionable content. In reading literature it is important not just to read the story, but to note the author’s comment about the topic. The most interesting and profound literature is that which is controversial because it’s ability to challenge people’s beliefs and values.