The Struggles of Women in the Story of an Hour

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In the three literary periods discussed in this course, one concept used repeatedly in every volume of the Norton is the acknowledgement of an oppressed group and its struggles, revealing them to an unseeing world. In the first volume, Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” reflects the feelings of women in a patriarchal society. In the second volume, Gertrude Stein’s introduction to The Making of Americans gives voice to a hidden minority, the lesbian community. In the third volume, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire displays the plight of the woman bound by gender roles. “The Story of an Hour” does not deal with abuse so much as the restriction on freedoms that women have.

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Louis Mallard’s discovery of her husband’s death does not have the effect on her that one might expect. Overjoyed and thrilled, Mallard finds herself in a position of new power. Chopin uses this story as a way to show the kind of effect that societal entrapment has on a woman. “She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long” (Chopin), Louise feels that with her husband dead, she can fully enjoy her life by her own accord. Chopin takes the perspective of the oppressed woman who does not face any sort of immediate abuse, merely the abuse of the society that surrounds her. Chopin uses this tactic to reach out to her readers, both male and female, so that they can further understand the systemic issue. By using the perspective of an oppressed person, Chopin illustrates the real world that so many people attempt to ignore. She shatters the glass in order to make her point clear. I don’t think that any person could read this story and not understand how severe the situation must be for American women if a wife is happy that her husband died despite having suffered no abuse by his hand. Gertrude Stein also shatters this glass, but by only making the oppressed people known.

In the introduction to “The Making of Americans”. Stein makes references to her sexuality, which would be picked up due to her openness, uncommon for her time. She discusses her classifications of men and women, and referring to her lesbianism, discusses her love for women and calls out to people like herself. “I write for myself and strangers … for the sake of those who know I know it that they look like other ones, that they are separate and yet always repeated” (Stein). Common interpretation would say that Stein is simply speaking to the individualism that she sees in all of mankind, that despite all similarities, people are not all one. As a bisexual, I took this quote to be a call out for all those who would be labeled as queer. These oppressed people are just like all others, yet somehow separated and different. This acknowledgement of the difference caused by the societal creation of the “other” gives a voice to the queer community, very hidden at this time. This is a step higher than Chopin’s work, as it kives a voice not only to a demographic that is oppressed, but to one that is nearly denied its existence. A Streetcar Named Desire acknowledges the actual violent abuse suffered by women While this abuse is more visible, society still turns a blind eye to this other form of oppression.

Tennessee Williams’ work is similar to a pot of water boiling over. Throughout the play, Blanche’s and Stanley’s tension grows. As it begins, it is incredibly clear that the two dislike one another. The reason for this appears to be due to the gender roles that they each succeed and fail to perform. Stanley is a mans man, he does not show much emotion, but is a very strong and stubborn fellow, and Blanche seems to resent him for this. Stanley seems to be much more furious with Blanche’s behavior. He seems to see her as a failed woman who needed to be taken by a man and showed how to be proper. She appears to be strong and independent, which irks him. She plays poker, jokes with his friends, and sees herself above her current situation. If the point of the story is not clear at first, at the end it is thrown directly into the face of the audience and readers. Stanley displays his dominance as a man in the most savage way, by raping Blanche, scarring her mentally and sending her to a mental home (Williams), Williams makes clear to the reader the systemic issues already apparent during the time of the realists, by displaying them in a situation that is impossible to ignore or accept. He shows the struggle of the oppressed woman in a more active rather than passive way, and shows the failure of men in society to take responsibility for their actions.

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