A very important tool on interpreting and understanding literature is to identify themes on a literary work. Among those the theme of freedom is a classic one, which can be found on one way or another, in each of the literary pieces we have read so far in our English class, namely: Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour,” Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing,” John Updike’s “A&P,” and Edgar Alan Poe’s ” The Cask of Amontillado.”
Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” is a short story which covers only one hour in Louise Mallard’s life, comprising the moment she learns of her husband’s death on a railroad accident to the moment he unexpectedly returns alive. Louise Mallard has heart trouble, so everybody around her is aware that she must be informed carefully about the sad news. After Ms. Mallard’s initial shock and sobbing, she retreats to be alone in her room upstairs, raising concern among her beloved ones. Contrary to anyone’s belief she feels a sense of relief and freedom. She sits down and looks out an open window gazing into the distance and experiencing a lot of emotions that convey her relief when she keeps repeating to herself: “Free, free !.” Although she talks of her husband as a tender and loving one, she feels oppressed, suggesting this way that all marriages, even the kindest ones, are inherently oppressive. The theme of freedom is exemplified in this story by the usage of many imagery elements like an open window, a blue sky, fluffy clouds, birds singing, and smells of a coming rainstorm, which are clues that suggest Ms. Mallard’s mood at that particular moment. Independence, joy, relief and the sense of oncoming opportunities after her husband’s death are MS. Mallard’s ways to express freedom.
Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing” is the story of a young lady named Emily, told by her mother who acts as an unnamed narrator and who is probably talking on the phone with somebody presumably from Emily’s school. A subtle, yet important detail is that the mother is having this conversation while ironing, scene from which the title of this piece of literature is derived. The person at the other end of the line asks the narrator for help in understanding Emily and seems to be concerned about Emily’s difficulties at school. Emily’s mother is reluctant on providing any help since she thinks Emily’s personality has been forged by the harsh circumstances in which the child was raised and perhaps there is not much to do in helping her, she admits. Next, Emily’s mother goes on a litany of calamities she endured on raising her daughter. Despite self criticism as when she admits being an immature single mother, the narrator finds justification to her negligence in many external circumstances like the burden that social, economic and politic events inflicted upon her and which impeded her to provide Emily the well-being, attention and affection devoted later on to her other children. Emily’s restrained temperament, sickly nature, lack of popularity, poor academic performance and low self-esteem, are labeled as inevitable consequences on Emily’s personality according to her mother. Despite the long list of drawbacks that might foresee Emily’s future as hopeless, she, however, seems to have found something in which she flourishes and shines: becoming a extraordinary actress at school particularly by being good at imitations and comic performances. Thru this channel of expression, Emily relieves herself from the traumas gotten in her childhood and releases her real personality and talent. Although the theme of freedom can be inferred in many passages throughout this literary piece as when Emily’s mother confessions perhaps relieves her from a heavy remorseful weight, it is better to think that the character who really deserves freedom is Emily, whose histrionic talent serves as an escape window from her ordeal.
John Updike’s A&P portrays the story of Sammy, a young man working the checkout line at an A&P grocery store in a small New England town. He spots three teenage girls, wearing only their bathing suits, who walk into the store and to whom he appraises even in minute details. He goes on to speculating about their personalities and motivation in getting the store. Among the three girls, one in particular catches Sammy’s attention. He dubs her “Queenie,” because of her beauty and noticeable leadership among the girls. As the girls roam the aisles of the A&P, an uncomfortable atmosphere begins to rise because the girl’s clothing is inappropriate for a place that is by no means close to the beach. Sammy jokes around with his contemporary co-worker about the girls while at the same time begins to compare himself with him. Stokesie is seen by Sammy as a man resigned to the mediocrity of a non promising job for the solely purpose of having to nourish a family while still being a very young man. This situation terrifies Sammy, who sees himself stuck in despair if keeping his job at this store. Sammy praises his freedom and dreams not ending up like his co-worker. When the girls are about to leave, they approach Sammy’s checkout line and are noticed by the store’s manager who reproaches their attires and publicly embarrasses them. This action outrages Sammy who sees an opportunity to evade himself, once for all from this place, and decides to quit on the spot. Theme of freedom is noticed here as Sammy’s desire of not being constrained to mediocrity and stagnation. Likewise, he does not want to assume responsibilities he is not prepared to.
In Edgar Alan Poe’s ” The Cask of amontillado”, the narrator, Montresor starts declaring that he has been irreparably insulted by his acquaintance, Fortunato, and that he seeks revenge. Defending himself’s honor is a high-esteemed prerogative that Montresor accounts because of his Italian cultural background. He puts his plan in motion during the carnival season by taking advantage of Fortunato’s fondness to wine to whom Montresor deceives inviting him to judge the quality of a wine he has just gotten. Wearing a mask, Montresor leads Fortunato into the catacombs where the wine is suppose to be at. After playing clever reverse psychology on Fortunato, Montresor conducts his prey on to a death trap. Not knowing Montresor’s true intentions, Fortunato keeps going enthusiastically deeper into the burial chambers where Montresor family lies as if they were going to be witnesses of their honor reparations. Montresor has strategically planned every single detail in achieving the consummation of his revenge for he had prepared tools and materials in advance to bury Fortunato alive. At the end of the story, Montresor confesses his sense of relieve and cynic proud by having secretly murdered Fortunato fifty years ago. Although a little awkward to be seen and judged from our cultural and moral point of view, Montresor’s perspective of the matter is that of a sense of freedom of his anger and humiliation through his actions because that way he could vindicate his family and his own besmirched honor.
Freedom is a powerful feeling and an inherent need to human nature. In seeking it, most conflicts have arisen and most wars have been fought. It certainly has shaped the history of mankind. In Literature, as an account of human issues, the theme of freedom is a powerful tool which we can find very frequently in literary works such as the latter mentioned in this essay. In the “Story of an Hour,” the theme of freedom is portrayed as liberation from marriage oppression. In “I Stand Here Ironing,” Emily finds freedom thru an artistic display. Likewise, “A&P,” theme of freedom is exhibited by Sammy’s reluctance to stagnation and mediocrity. Last but not least, Montressor frees from the oppression of Fortunato’s offenses by committing murder in ” The Cask of amontillado.”
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