Gonzales, Analysa M Composition II Tsacalis July 06, 2010 When the Lost Realist Finds Light

A common argument after reading two of Chopin¶s short stories, ³The Story of An Hour´ or ³The Storm,´ is that her characters -though ahead of their time- often prove to be extremely weak by the conclusions of their respective stories. After all, the features of her heroines that tend to be most memorable are those which are comparable to other seemingly weak characters in her writings. Yet, most if not all of her characters maintain a truly striking vivacity throughout most of their tragic lives. To most, that could hardly be perceived as signs of weakness. More often than not, a shallow understanding of Chopin¶s writings is the culprit; ultimately leading to a misunderstanding of her and her characters¶ intentions. Though easy to claim that her works were controversial merely due to the lack of censoring and the otherwise extreme detail she employed, the true cause of the upheaval her writings induced lies deep within the implications her works incited. Perhaps the most significant motif that Chopin tends to draw back upon throughout her works is that which stems from the question: Will you allow society to drive your behavior ±your very life- simply by what they deem proper; or will you be the ultimate deciding factor is what road you take? Living in time periods where the female roles were so distinctly pronounced and limited, both Mrs. Mallard and Calixta ±two relatively radical thinkers for their time-definitely give their own interesting twists to the question and, consequently, prove to be much more tenacious when faced with adversity than they initially seem. Take, for example, Louise in ³The Story of an Hour,´ who has suffered the grievous wound of heartache after learning of her husbands supposed death. She certainly weeps immediately after her husband¶s friend expresses his condolences, but in a remarkable instance not soon after, she experiences an epiphany that seems to revitalize her after such a loss. In a stream of liberating emotion, Louise realizes, ³there would be no one to live for during those coming years,´ (2). Instead, ³she would live for herself.´ Such a statement easily explains why
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Gonzales, Analysa M Composition II Tsacalis July 06, 2010 When the Lost Realist Finds Light

Kate Chopin¶s writing was considered so controversial during her time. Women didn¶t have a choice in society. It was up to their male dominated community to decide her role. But of course, Louise¶s radical behavior doesn¶t stop after simply one drastic comment. Still further in the story, she seems to debate the value of love in her relationship with her husband. Its worth apparently held little value in the face of her newly found ³possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being,´ (2). Her ability to turn such a tragic occasion into one of glimmering hope suggests that this newly found freedom is a hallmark of the strength it takes to carry on without a loved one. Of course, numerous statements that Louise makes throughout the course of the story suggest that her life when her husband was alive was no mere picnic either. When read alongside the context of history, this freedom that captivates Mrs. Mallard takes on a whole new life in the perspective of Chopin¶s readers. "¶Free, free, free!¶"(2) She cries almost in desperation. If any element of life were lacking in the lives of women like Mrs. Mallard, it was freedom. And as she points out, regardless of whether or not she ever loved her husband, her whole being was now focused on the one thing she never had in marriage that was coming to possess her in that very instant. No longer would there be a ³powerful will bending hers´ (3). No longer would she have to live solely for the purpose of making one man happy. The most tragic part of the story is, of course, the story¶s conclusion. After experiencing such strain to gain her freedom and after witnessing her growth into a strong and resolute being, Louise simply dies moments after the climax of the struggle. Initially, many would view her death as an obvious indication of the general weakness of her character as a whole. What one should remember, however, is that Louise Mallard did not waltz or drag herself down the stairs. She marched down, ³a feverish
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Gonzales, Analysa M Composition II Tsacalis July 06, 2010 When the Lost Realist Finds Light

triumph in her eyes, [while] she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory,´ (3). Such a statement was clearly intentional; as if to imply that her death was, rather, a sign of her strength: her absolute resolution to pick death over a live of control and captivity.

What one must ultimately ask themselves is whether Louise Mallard¶s strength was one that was merely temporary in the remnants of her discovery, or whether her strength was evident in her character throughout the course of the story. It is quite easy to simply believe what the narrator first implies at the beginning of the story, when it is stated that ³great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband's death,´ (1). Constantly giving ³veiled hints´ to Louise in order to lessen the shock they feared may reciprocate from their tragic news, the others make Louise Mallard out to be the typical woman: weak. Yet, by the end of the story, it becomes highly apparent that the narrator ±though clearly omniscient- has proven to a great degree to be somewhat unreliable due to the fact that they are anything but all-revealing. The meaning of strength, as Chopin defines it, is not merely confined to the masculine persepective as so many in her time believed. After all, Chopin writes, ³[Mrs. Mallard] was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength,´ (1). Even the grief that Louise feels betrays the feelings of resentment she more than likely felt. It is often said that the greatest of grief occurs in solitude. If that were the case, then Mrs. Mallard¶s arguably over-dramatic reaction to the news of her husband¶s death when in front of others would serve to emphasize her lack of mourning when she was by herself. That isn¶t to say she was a liar, nor that she hated her husband; however, it does serve to articulate the idea that, like so many of the radical thinking women of her time, playing the part was crucial in maintaining their defense to the adversity society faced them with.
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Gonzales, Analysa M Composition II Tsacalis July 06, 2010 When the Lost Realist Finds Light

In Chopin¶s ³The Storm,´ the same idea surfaces: that things are not quite how they seem. From the introductory lines, Calixta is described as a cowardly woman. ³¶Mama'll be 'fraid,¶´ (1) Bibi states to his father, as the storm draws nearer and nearer. Such a statement would not normally be anything to get flustered about. ±That is, until the last line of the first segment of the story when it is stated that Bibi ³was not afraid.´ One might disregard this as a form of sarcasm in which the narrator makes an obvious attempt to emphasize Bibi¶s childish nature. Sure, Bibi has an air of inexperience; however, due to the statement¶s juxtaposition to that of Calixta made previously, the sentence seems to give the masculine impression that even a little boy is more courageous than the typical, frightened female. Then in a highly ironic twist, Chopin states in the first line of the preceding segment that ³Calixta, at home, felt no uneasiness for their safety,´ (1). This statement isn¶t mere eye-candy; the constant contrasting of Calixta¶s apparent cowardice to her bravery continues throughout the course of the story as if to point out that it, too, is an act. For example, when Alcee first appears, she is extremely dramatic and jumpy at every sound. Yet, later in a seemingly dangerous situation, ³when the harsh ³rain beats upon the low, shingled roof with a force and clatter that threatened to break an entrance and deluge them there,´ (2) all she and Alcee can think about are their desires for one another. Suddenly the storm outside, and ³the roar of the elements, make her laugh,´ (3) rather than cry. If it indeed were the case that Calixta was, like Mrs. Mallard, merely playing the part, then her courage proves an undeniable strength all its own.

Of course, some would argue braving the storm does not necessarily mean one is strong enough to withstand its force. Calixta, however, displays her strengths in numerous manners and even the smallest details greatly emphasize the power she has over the males in her life. In the
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Gonzales, Analysa M Composition II Tsacalis July 06, 2010 When the Lost Realist Finds Light

context of Victorian society, women were not completely powerless. Throughout history, woman ±regardless of the amount of rights or power they held at the time- maintained a constant sphere of influence within their societies. These influences proved apparent in everything from politics to more meager things like basic family decision making. Though Calixta is by no means considered a man¶s equal, it would be foolish to suggest that women like her never realized the considerable power they had over the males in their lives. The mere tone used by Bobinot when discussing his wife never even hints that he is superior. In fact just the opposite: Bobinot worries greatly on their trek home, ³composing [apologies] all along the way´ (5), and is ³prepared for the worst²the meeting with an over-scrupulous housewife,´ as if it is he who should be bending to his spouse¶s will. Alcee, too, shows the same lack of control. When he arrives at the home, ³he expresses an intention to remain outside,´ (2) giving the reader the impression that his intentions were ±at least initially- pure. Yet as soon as Calixta and he touch, he recognizes this undeniable desire for her in which there is ³nothing for him to do but to gather her lips in a kiss,´ (3). While the fierce battle for control is waged, Chopin delicately places the final and, likely, the most radical idea yet, by redefining possession with respect to pleasure.

Traditionally, it was believed that sexual desire was experienced only by males, and females were strictly confined to their marriages. There was no freedom for them to choose for themselves. Chopin, however, incorporated into her writing the notion that women should have that freedom. The idea of control extends far beyond the scope of maintaining a power over others; the greatest amount of control that may be exemplified is that in which a human being exerts upon themselves. Calixta is a prime example of the able woman who has the courage and the strength to go against society¶s norms and what it deems respectable. It was her flesh that
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Gonzales, Analysa M Composition II Tsacalis July 06, 2010 When the Lost Realist Finds Light

³was knowing for the first time its birthright´ (3); it was she who ³gave [herself] up in quivering ecstasy.´ Just as easily as she accepted Alcee, she could have denied him as well. This idea isn¶t limited to only Calixta. Even Clarisse, Alcee¶s unsuspecting wife, seems to be experiencing the paradise found in freedom ±her ³first free breath since her marriage that seems to restore the pleasant liberty of her maiden days,´ (5). The sheer irony in the last segment was probably the most contentious idea in all of Chopin¶s writing: ³Devoted as [Clarisse] was to her husband, their intimate conjugal life was something which she was more than willing to forego for a while,´ (5). Going against society never proved an easy task, as other characters of Chopin often pointed out; but those women who did ±regardless of whether they found success or failure- all proved to be gallant forces to be reckoned with.

Though clearly taking a feminist route, Chopin¶s interpretation of strength and the ability to follow one¶s heart certainly provokes insight that extends far beyond the realm of mere feminism. Characters like Louise Mallard and Calixta live through the idea that all beings have been endowed with meaning and purpose. While women like them weren¶t recognized as significant power holders in the world so clearly defined by males, Chopin reminds her readers constantly that strength goes far beyond the male concept of big muscles. Ultimately, it is undeniable that each of these female roles contained weaknesses ±after all, they were modeled after humans who are greatly imperfect. However, when one looks close enough, they are likely to find that it is those same characteristics that empower those women who stand alone, ahead of the rest of society.

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