How the role of the female protagonist in “The Story of an Hour” are empowering both for men and women in those respective communities.
Written in 1894 by Kate Chopin, “The Story of an Hour” is a story on the one hour that lapses between the times Mrs. Louise Mallard receives news of the death of her husband, Mr. Brently Mallard, and when she finally dies after he comes home alive. The story narrates the emotions that Mallard goes through in this short period of time which are mainly a combination of grief and relief. Grief is brought by the death of her husband while relief is in the freedom that seems to come with his departing from her life.
The Summary of the Story
The story is set in America at a time when many married women were stay-at-home mistresses. Women were denied many rights and were often discriminated against socially, politically and even economically. The then paternalistic nature of the society made women feel they were living in virtual prisons. There was the urge to break free. Free from confining economic, political and social bondages imposed by unfair paternalistic systems.
In the story, we find Mrs. Maillard’s sister trying to break the news of Mr. Maillards death to her. He had apparently died in a railroad disaster. However, Louise is suffering from ‘heart trouble’ and care has to be taken in breaking the horrific news. When this is finally done, Louise immediately bursts in to tears, weeping with abandonment after which she gets into her room and locks herself in. The aim is to mourn the death of her husband. Surprisingly, unlike many other women in her situation, she gets into confusing emotions. It is spring, and through the window, Mrs. Maillard can see the beautiful blue sky and experiences the fresh, cool air gushing in through into the room. The trees are in full life of bloom, color and fresh scent heralding a new season.
When the first initial moments of grief pass, Mrs. Maillard feels some sense of relief and joy and a feeling of new-found personal freedom. The feeling makes her wish herself a longer life. She will no longer have to live under anybody’s grip. "Free! Body and soul free!" she keeps whispering to herself. One hour later, a knock on the door reveals Mr. Maillard coming back home. He was still alive, after all, and had not even heard about the accident in which he supposedly died. Seeing him, Louisa collapses and dies. Though the doctors conclude that Louisa died from ‘the joy that kills’, through the third person narrative, we learn that she died of the reality that she was not free, as yet!
Social injustice on women of this era created a sense of psychological bondage that required deliverance. From the story, marriage is depicted as another means through which individuals lost their freedom. With no means of getting out of it, both men and women lived in this bondage unknowingly or even unwillingly. This is well illustrated by the sudden feeling of relief and freedom by Louisa as she grieves for the death of her husband. She contends that there would be nobody to live for again and no powerful persistence to have a will imposed on her by a fellow human. The freshness of spring heralds a new era and a new lease of life in freedom. Although it was short-lived, Mrs. Maillard’s freedom depicts the human nature of wanting to be free, but which is often suppressed by unjust social rules and expectations that should be done away with.
How might we combine gender and mythological criticism to explain Jackson’s selection of Tessie as the ‘lottery winner’?
The ‘Lottery Winner’ is a story set in an American farming community in mid 20th century. The community still holds onto an ancient ritual called ‘The Lottery’, conducted every June 27 by members of this town of about 300 residents. The ritual is done to ensure a good harvest. During the ritual, heads of families pick lotteries in the form of folded pieces of papers from a black box. The family whose head picks a lottery with a black dot in the middle goes on to have all other family members pick lotteries and, whoever picks one with a black dot is led to a cleared space and stoned to death. There is a rumor in the congregation that certain communities are abandoning the age-old ritual, something that is rebuffed by some participants who claim that those doing that may as well abandon modern-lifestyle and go back to living in caves.
During the lottery, Bill Hutchinson picks the black dotted lottery. Although Mrs. Tessie Hutchinson, his wife bitterly protests about the unfairness of the whole exercise, the family is forced to pick the final lotteries, and it is her who picks the black dotted one. Amid protests, she is led to the open space and stoned to death.
In the story, we find Tessie Hutchinson protesting bitterly about the way the picking of lotteries was conducted. She reiterates how her husband did not get enough time to pick the lottery that he wanted. She goes on to accuse Mr. Summers of rushing Bill. However, her claims are disputed by Summers who claims that everyone was given an equal chance. Surprisingly, her husband does not seem to share the same sentiments. He even shouts at her, ordering her to keep quiet and does not seem moved by the fact that it is one of his family members who would eventually get stoned to death. Even when Summers explains to Bill that the ritual has to be conducted following unfair rules, he does not object. He seems indifferent. This illustrates the unfortunate position of women in most societies where their views are not considered, even if they may be right. Their opinions are often overridden by those of men, even when these may be wrong.
Tessie is finally declared the unlucky winner of the black dotted lottery. However, the way the process is conducted indicates that there may have been deliberate attempts by those overseeing the process to have Tessie pick the unlucky lottery. This may have been due to her initial protests at discrediting the whole exercise. When she is finally placed at the cleared space, she holds her hands desperately saying that it was not fair. From the story, it is evident that certain towns have decided to discard this age-old stoning ritual. Therefore, when Tessie says it was not fair, it may have been the unfairness of the process she was complaining about or the entire ancient ritual. However, she may have been protesting at both. Unfortunately, no one shares her sentiments as they are all too eager to fulfill their part of the ritual which is stoning her to death.
As a potential trouble maker, it seems her fate was sealed when she was declared the lottery winner. Surprisingly, the blood thirsty crowd does not seem to have time to listen to her protests. Among them is Mrs. Delacroix, the warm and friendly woman who Tessie first talked to when she first arrived. Urging everyone on, Mrs. Delacroix took so huge a stone that she had to hold with both hands. According to them, traditions were more important than logic and fairness. Tessie had to die. And even at this moment, Bill never raised a voice of protest. In fact, he seemed happy that it was not him who drew the unlucky slip.
Gender discrimination and mythology has been used to have to highlight the tragedy of this community where just feminine opinions are overridden by outdated rituals and myths which have no place in the modern world. The story is a wake-up call for those still trapped in the ancient mindsets of following blind traditions that, however, much voices of reason are suppressed, they will not be silenced and one day, will triumph. In fact, the feminist movements in America in 1960s are said to have been influenced partly by literatures such as these ones, culminating in gender equality and justice. This indicates the immense power that literature yields towards promoting social good and justice.