The early 1900s was an era where society inflicted standards that suppressed women mentally and physically. From birth, women had to overcome many cultural and societal boundaries because of their gender such as being told how to converse and clothe, and even who to marry. Women in those times lacked many rights such as freedom of speech, the right to an education, and skills that would help them become employed. Every stage of their lives was controlled by a male figure, starting with their fathers from birth to their husbands during marriage. Unfortunately, a woman’s ideal role for men was to perform domestic duties inside the house and other duties such as sexual deeds; a woman’s voice and concerns were never considered priority nor were given respect. The stories of “The Story of an Hour”, by Kate Chopin and “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses”, by Irwin Shaw, expose a dominating attitude towards women and illustrate how they could be trapped in unsatisfying marriages because of their husband’s thoughtlessness, exploitation, and domination. The protagonists in these stories have accepted their roles in their marriages by being passive spouses.
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Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”, is a story regarding a woman, Mrs. Mallard, who is trapped in a suppressing marriage and dreadfully wants to escape. This story describes an hour of freedom that has been given to her. Although a very short story, it seems like every sentence has an intense significance and meaning to it that makes the reader think in depth. Even though her husband’s full name is given to the readers, “Brently Mallard”, she is only referred to as “Mrs. Mallard”, giving the hint of the oppression she had to go through and the degradation society enforced upon women in that time period. Mrs. Mallard, the protagonist of the story is troubled by her heart condition and is oppressed by her husband who loves her and does not want to purposely suppress authority, but sadly, it was the society that built the people’s personality and character, and set the standards in the nineteenth century. Interestingly enough, Chopin uses the technique of foreshadowing in the first sentence of the story indicating the readers that something terrible is bound to happen to Mrs. Mallard, perhaps a heart affiliated problem. The quote,”Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death.”(Chopin 1) misinforms readers in to believing that everything will be fine. Irony could be noticed from the way Mrs. Mallard acts in response to her husband’s death. Normally when a widow is informed about their spouse’s death, they become sad and express their grief; however, when Mrs. Mallard heard the awful news from her sister Josephine, she accepted it and proceeded to her room where she could be alone. This allowed the reader to adopt a similar prospective through her point of view, a new life and a chance to live oppression free. When she proceeds to her room, she sits down on a roomy, comfortable arm chair facing the open window. The reader should instantly inquire the use of the term “Comfortable” (Chopin 1), and question the fact that she is not miserable. While looking outside the window, she observed nature carefully symbolizing her excitement for a new life. The quote, “She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life… the delicious breath of rain was in the air… the notes of distant song… countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves…patches of the blue sky showing here and there through the clouds” (Chopin 1) describes this scene adequately. At this point of the story the reader is puzzled by Chopin’s use of foreshadowing whether she is sad at all due to her observance of all the beautiful aspects of nature. While fantasizing about her new life, it seemed like her conscious was trying to put a stop to her happiness, leading her to realize that she was loved by her husband even though he was suppressive time to time, his intentions were good; however, Chopin was trying to tell the readers she had only loved him time to time and that most of the time she had no love for him, as this quote describes, “And yet she had loved him-sometimes. Often, she had not.” (Chopin 2). Chopin confuses the reader by using another method of foreshadowing making the ending even more surprising, “She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long.” (Chopin 2), and that she considers herself to be a “Goddess of victory” (Chopin 2). Chopin uses an ironic ending for her story when Mrs. Mallard is surprised to death when her husband enters the house looking perfectly healthy without even knowing the accident took place. The paradox prolongs when the readers find out that she dies due to heart disease caused by joy. Earlier when she heard the agonizing news of her husband’s death, she was fairly pleased of the idea of being free, having no authority figure governing her life; however, she was not eager to go through that life again, causing her to die once she saw her husband alive.
Irwin Shaw’s, “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses”, depicts a couple whose marriage is in jeopardy due to the husband’s lack of consideration for his wife’s feelings. The story starts with the protagonist of the story, Frances, and her husband, Michael, enjoying a walk on a Sunday afternoon in New York City, part of Frances’s plans to spend the whole day alone with her husband as deliberated initially. While walking down the street, Frances caught her husband checking out a pretty girl who leads her to protest against it, “She’s not so pretty…Anyway, not pretty enough to take a chance breaking your neck looking at her.”(Shaw 1). When confronted of his actions, Michael carelessly replies, “I look at everything…I look at women and men…I casually inspect the universe.” (Shaw 2). This statement provides the readers with an idea of Michael’s character who is the dominating figure in the story, who is lacking respect for his wife and is exploiting her weakness of not ending their relationship. Divorce was uncommon in the early 1900s even when men commit adultery. Frances’s feelings were depicted well as the author wrote, “She began to cry…someday you’re going to make a move…Michael didn’t say anything. He sat watching the bartender slowly peel a lemon.” (Shaw 4). Irrationally, Michael lets Frances know that “Sometimes I [Michael] would like to be free” (Shaw 4), and that eventually one day he’ll “make a move” (Shaw 4). Unfortunately, Michael treated women as objects who were merely around to perform sexual favours, he even depicted his wife as a sexual object when they arrived at a bar for some drinks, as this quote describes, “She got up from the table and walked across the room…Michael watched her walk, thinking, what a pretty girl, what nice legs.” (Shaw 4). Interestingly enough, Michael turns everything around by stating “It’s a nice day and we both feel good and there’s no reason why we have to break it up.” (Shaw 4), by declaring this, Michael blames the fact that their day is turning out to be unpleasant on Frances, and due to her has low self-esteem and insecurity, she accepts the claim by saying, “All right. I don’t know why I started this. Let’s drop it. Let’s have a good time.” (Shaw 2). By stating this, Frances portrayed herself to be a submissive individual; meanwhile, Michael was careless and disrespectful.
Throughout the nineteenth century, a woman’s purpose was merely based on performing domestic duties in their homes, and they did not contribute to the household income in any way. Women were dishonoured and exploited by men to a point that they were simply degraded to a child’s level in society. Excessive male dominance and authority guided countless women getting the sensation of feeling trapped in their household, incapable to flee from the imprisonment enforced upon them by their spouses. The stories, “The Story of an Hour”, and “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses”, both depict tolerable house wives who are dominated and exploited by their husbands and have acquiesced to their role in their relationship and are submissive individuals who do not rise up and rebel against their husbands. These stories truthfully exemplify how women in the 19th century had to accept their husbands for who they were, and did not have many alternatives other than accepting to live with the repression until death did them apart.
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