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The Necklace vs. the Story of an Hour

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The Necklace vs. The Story of an Hour
Pamela Richard
ENG 125
Lesa Hadley
May 11, 2012

The Necklace vs. The Story of an Hour
A short story, “The Necklace” (“La parure”) written by Guy de Maupassant in 1884 and a poem, ‘The Story of an Hour” written by Kate Chopin in 1894 are literary works that are very comparable yet are different. The two women, Madame Mathilde Loisel and Louise Mallard, portrayed in these literary works are protagonists who have trouble because of conflicting expectations imposed on them by society. Both Mathilde Loisel and Louise Mallard want something more than what their lifestyle offers them. During the time when the authors wrote these pieces, the social behaviors showed gender suppression/oppression. This essay will compare and contrast elements of content, form, and style between two different literary works.
Both authors chose the theme of gender roles in marriage. During the time when the authors wrote theses pieces, the social behaviors showed gender suppression/oppression. The nineteenth century was impacted by the industrial revolution which caused a gap in gender roles, especially in the upper and middle classes (Radek, 2001). Men and women were thought to have completely different natures. Men were considered to be powerful, brave, rational and independent. Women were considered weak, timid, emotional, and dependent. Those differences separated their functions in society. "Men were thought to have natures suited to the public world, women to the private" (Radek, 2001). Independence for women in the nineteenth century was a forbidden pleasure. These feelings led women to fell repressed in their everyday life. Men controlled the marriage; until a woman got control of her own body, she could not enjoy true freedom or physical and mental health (Rosenberg, 1973). It was in the nineteenth century that gender-consciousness and female repression first came to the forefront of the literary imagination. “Gender-consciousness and reform in the nineteenth century became increasingly at odds with social reality” (Bomarito & Hunter, 2005). Through short stories and poems, nineteenth century women were often portrayed with conflicting expectations imposed on them by society. Women, along with some men, expressed sentiments of countless women who were unable to speak. They brought attention and support to their concerns. Analyses focused on the methods used by women to advance their cause while maintaining their delicate balance of propriety and feminine appeal. Guy de Mauspassant and Kate Chopin clearly expressed these concerns in their literary works, “The Necklace” and “The Story of an Hour”.
Gender roles in marriage represented in “The Necklace” and “The Story of an Hour” reveal many aspects of suppression/oppression. These stories show how men played a dominant role in their marriage and the women were the weaker ones. Not only did women not have the same rights as men, they were expected to stay home, do all the housework, and take good care of their families. Women were not encouraged to earn their own money or have bank accounts. Women in the nineteenth century were considered to be half humans not worthy of human rights. The women in these two literary works dream of fantasies because of their unstable marriages. “The Necklace” clearly represents the desire of a repressed woman who wants to have a better life and be accepted by society. Mathilde Loisel believes that fate made a careless mistake and she was accidentally born to a family of artisans. Mathilde Loisel is forced to marry a man who is a clerk in the Ministry of Education because her family has no wealth. Mathilde Loisel feels that she is trapped with no free will because of the fate and misfortune of her marriage. She keeps fantasizing of the society that oppresses her. Mathilde Loisel dreamed of better things than being a menial middle-class woman. “She has no dresses, no jewels, nothing. And she loved nothing else; she felt herself made for that only. She would so much have liked to please, to be envied, to be seductive and sought after” (as cited by Clugston, 2010). Mathilde Loisel feels that it is her husband’s responsibility to provide for and take care of her. “The Story of an hour” clearly represents the desire of a woman who wants to escape the confines of an oppressive marriage. You could clearly see that Louise Mallard is a fragile woman who was controlled by her husband and all she longs for is her freedom. When she thought her husband was dead, the feeling of freedom went through her body and soul. When she went to her room and sat in the armchair, the “physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul” (as cited by Clugston, 2010) was a clear sign that she probably had the feeling of being in prison. Louise Mallard’s grieving was clearly over her lost years of independence and her new found freedom, not over her husband’s death. She knew that “there would be no one to live for during these coming years; she would live for herself” (as cited by Mayer, 2010). She was excited. “Until her moment of illumination, Louise Mallard’s emotions have been stifled and suppressed to fit into the mold of hollow social conventions” (Jamil, 2009). Both women ultimately have the same problem, they are controlled by society. The protagonists in these stories are brought into the pursuits of desires because of the conflicting expectations imposed on them by society. The realities are those set by society and not of their own will. “The Necklace” and “The Story of an Hour” carry a theme that is common amongst women within a society that has repressed women’s identities. They are searching for their own identities within a confining marriage and society.
The authors of “The Necklace” and “The Story of an Hour” use different forms of literary works like a short story and a poem to express gender roles in marriage. Short stories consist of myths, legends, fables, parables, and tales. They usually feature a plot with conflict, setting, a clear time frame, characters, a point of view, theme, and stylistic features. Short stories are usually considered a fictional narrative with a formal design, however; they are tending to resemble more on real-life situations (Clugston, 2010). They are a reflection of our culture. Short stories usually contain some kind of dramatic plot structure like exposition, complication, climax, crisis, falling action, and resolution. Short stories are usually told by a narrator and written in paragraphs. Poetry is a form of literary work that uses beautiful traits of language to evoke meaning. Poetry consist of narrative (epic, ballad, and limerick); lyric (sonnet, ode, and elegy); dramatic monologue, haiku, and free verse. Poetry is evocative, imaginative, concise, expressive, and provocative. Poetry is an expression of the human experience. Through poetry, a poet is able to express their feelings, senses, experiences and images. Robert Frost once said that “poetry is a way of taking life by the throat” (as cited by Clugston, 2010). Poems are known for their sounds and tones. Devices such as alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, and rhythm are often used to express the sounds and tones. Many elements are used in order to leave a poem with many interpretations like symbols, irony, ambiguity and other stylistic elements. Instead of using a rhythmic structure, some poems use prose. Metaphors in poetry are often used to compare one similar thing to another. Poetry is often told by a speaker and is written in lines and stanzas. “The Necklace” is written as a short story because it is a parable that consists of a lesson. It is a brief story that illustrates a moral or life lesson. There are a couple moral/life lessons in this story; thou shall not be greedy and thou shall not lie. “The Necklace” is about a middle-class woman who is not happy with her social status. When she gets a chance to go to a ball she is unhappy because she does not have a pretty dress or jewels to wear to it. Her husband gives her 400 francs that he was saving for a gun to go buy a dress. After purchasing the dress, Mathilde Loisel now needs jewelry to go with it. Her husband suggests that she borrow something from her friend Madame Jeanne Forestier. Jeanne Forestier is more than happy to lend her something. When Mathilde Loisel and her husband get home from the ball, she notices that the necklace that she borrowed was missing. Instead of telling Jeanne Forestier the truth about the necklace, she decides to deceive her friend by lying. Mathilde Loisel tells her friend that it is at the jewelers to get the clasp fixed. Mathilde Loisel and her husband borrow money from everyone they know to replace the lost diamond necklace. For ten years, Mathilde Loisel and her husband work themselves to the bones and live in poverty in order to pay back the debt. As a result of hard work, Mathilde Loisel loses her beauty which at one time was her only asset only to find out the necklace was a fake. For Mathilde Loisels one night of happiness and trying to be something she is not causes her to suffer dearly. If Mathilde Loisel would have just told her friend the truth, they would never have had to suffer so much. The moral lesson is that trying to be part of a society that you are not meant to be in carries risks that may not pay off in the end. Even though “The Story of an Hour” was first considered a short story, it can also be classified as a poem. “The Story of an Hour” can be considered a free verse form of poetry because it has irregular rhythm and lacks rhyme. It can be considered a poem because it is written with stanzas which consist of a few lines. In “The Story of an Hour”, the narrator relates to what is observed in simple prose but her emotions are described in vibrant and powerful words. This shows that Louise Mallard’s outside world is much different than how she feels inside of her. Whether it is a short story or a poem, both can convey a message that can be understood by many. Both of these literary works are written in a way that leaves you in suspense. They have you believing something different than what is actually happening.
The point of view in ‘The Necklace” and “The Story of an Hour” is very important as it lets you know who is telling the story. It is the perspective in which the story is being told. The point of view lets you know the standpoint of the narrator. The angle in which a short story is viewed is important to consider when reading the story. It can be told in first person, omniscient third-person or limited omniscient third-person. In first-person, the narrator is the character. The narrator is limited to only telling the story from the protagonist point of view. However, they can give their opinion of the other characters. Reading a short story from the first-person point of view allows you to get close and personal with the narrator as he or she describes their personal action and thoughts. In omniscient third-person, the narrator knows everything about all the characters. They are able to relate thoughts and feelings about the characters. When writing in omniscient third-person, the narrator usually uses the words he or she. In limited omniscient third-person, the narrator knows some things about the characters but not all. They know the thoughts and feelings of only one of the characters. “The Necklace” is told in an omniscient third-person narration, refraining from judging characters or their actions. The narrator has access to the characters thoughts and mentions that Mathilde Loisel is unhappy because she feels that she married beneath her. However, the narrator does not know the thoughts of the other characters. Through the omniscient third-person, we know that Mathilde Loisel feels that she should have been born to every delicacy and every luxury (Clugston, 2010). The way this story is written, the narrator leaves it up to the reader to fill in the blanks about the other characters. “The Story of an Hour” is told in limited omniscient third-person narration, which allows the narrator to tell a story from the outside looking in. Writing in limited third person allows the narrator to keep Louise Mallard more sympathetic and understandable. She is being excused of her behavior and thought process because the narrator is letting us know what Louise Mallard is thinking but not all the time. Through her thoughts, we are able to understand that she is unhappy with her marriage and desires freedom. Both “The Necklace” and “The Story of an Hour” are written so that you can feel the gender oppression yourself. You are able to get inside the mind of the protagonist and know exactly how they are feeling. Through different points of view, we can consider the life experience of both the writer and the reader based on the social connection, emotion, and ideas of what is happening in the stories.
Both “The Necklace” and “The Story of an Hour” have symbolism that helps to portray the feelings of both protagonists. Symbolism is used in all forms of literary works from short stories to poems for particular effects. Many writers use symbols to represent something else. Symbolism is the very foundation of the thought of the poets and writers. It can stand for something visible or not. Symbolism can be used to illustrate the meaning of several major aspects in a story. It can be used to better illustrate the protagonist’s feelings, desire, character, nature, as well as the world around them. As stated by Schinz (1903), symbolism consists simply of speaking in symbols, instead of employing ordinary terms. The symbolism in these two literary works allows you to look deeper into the conflicting expectations society has imposed on these two women. The symbolism in “The Necklace” is actually the necklace itself. To Mathilde Loisel, the necklace represents wealth, prosperity, and happiness. The necklace may be very beautiful but it is worthless representing the distinction between appearance and reality. Mathilde Loisel borrows the necklace from her friend because she wants everyone to believe that she is wealthy. Mathilde Loisel knew Jeanne Forestier was a wealthy woman, so she never doubted the authenticity of the necklace. As far as she knew the necklace was made of diamonds. Unbeknownst to her, the necklace was a fake. Wearing the necklace to the ball was just as artificial as the necklace itself. To Mathilde Loisel, the necklace symbolized happiness and acceptance into a society she always felt that she belonged. It is amazing how a small thing like the necklace could make or break someone. The necklace should be a symbol of wealth, but for Mathilde it is a symbol of ruin. In “The Story of an Hour” symbolism is strong. The story starts out saying that Louise Mallard “was afflicted with heart trouble” (as cited by Clugston, 2010). The heart is a symbol of one’s emotional core. Louise Mallard’s heart troubles represent both symbolism and physical problems for her emotional state in regards to her marriage and lack of freedom. It represents the danger in which nineteenth century marriages find themselves in on account of gender suppression. It is Louise Mallard’s heart trouble that makes it hard for her sister Josephine to break the news of her husband’s death. Even though it appears that she was upset about her husband’s death, she quickly starts to imagine her life of freedom. She knew there was something exciting waiting for her. Readers are led to believe that her heart trouble is symbolic of a bad lifestyle that she is anxious to get out of immediately. The end of the story says “when the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease – of you that kills”. It was not the overwhelming joy of seeing her husband that killed her, but the sudden loss of her independence. The symbolisms in both stories make the reader take a deeper look into the unhappiness that both women are experiencing.
Guy de Maupassant and Kate Chopin use irony in their literary works to leave their readers in suspense. Irony is the difference from what is said or what happens to what is actually being said or happening. Verbal irony is when you say something that means something totally different. Situational irony is when something happens that is the opposite of what you expect. Dramatic irony is when words and actions have a different meaning for the reader than they do for the character. This is because the reader knows more than the character. According to Smith (1998), irony appears to be an abstract perspective that speaks for itself. Both “The Necklace” and “The Story of an Hour” are rich with a colorful literary style filled with irony. In “The Necklace,” Guy de Maupassant uses irony at the end of the story to advance the theme. In the beginning of the story, we learn that Mathilde Loisel is all about living a luxurious life. She borrows a necklace from a friend to make herself appear wealthier than she was. After losing the necklace, she and her husband worked hard to for ten years to pay it back. They go as far moving to a smaller house, giving up their help and living in poverty to accomplish buying a new necklace. Mathilde Loisel gives up all the luxuries she so desires to find out that the necklace in the end was a fake. In “The Story of an Hour” Kate Chopin exposes us to a different irony. In the beginning of the story, Louise Mallard is in a state of euphoria after finding out that her husband was dead. She goes to her room and begins to imagine her life of freedom. When she comes down the stairs, someone opens the door. When she realizes that it is her husband, Louise Mallard dies. The fact that she was so happy about his death and her new found freedom is ironic because that is what killed her. “It was Brently Mallard who entered, a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella” (as cited by Clugston, 2010) is a perfect example of situational irony. The ironies in both “The Necklace” and “The Story of an Hour” contribute to a surprise ending to both literary works. In both stories, the things that they both wanted so much are what changed their lives forever.
Many writers in the nineteenth century used short stories and poems to portray gender suppression/oppression. After comparing “The Necklace” and “The Story of an Hour”, we can see how these two different literary works used elements of content, form, and style to portray different gender roles in marriage. Both Mathilde Loisel and Louise Mallard had desires for something that they had lacked because of their conflicting restrictions that were put on them by society of the nineteenth century. Mathilde Loisel wanted to be envied, charming and sought after by men. This is what caused her to lose her beauty and the little wealth that she had obtained. Louise Mallard just wanted to have her freedom from her husband and society which ultimately caused her death. Both literary works convey how different women’s roles were in the nineteenth century. All they wanted was one moment of happiness, and all they got was disappointment. The moral of these stories is that you should accept and appreciate what you have because in the end, life is too short.

References:
Bomarito, J. & Hunter, J.W. (2005). “Women in the 19th Centruy-Introduction.” Feminism in Literature. Gale Cengage Vol.2. Retrieved April 28, 2012 from, <http://www.enotes.com/feminism-criticism/women-19th-century/introduction-2>
Clugston, R. W. (2010). Journey into literature. Bridgepoint Education, Inc. Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu/books
Jamil, S. (2009). Emotions in the Story of an Hour. Explicator, 67(3), 215-220
Mayer, G.H. (2010). A MATTER OF BEHAVIOR: A SEMANTIC ANALYSIS OF FIVE KATE CHOPIN STORIES. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 67(1), 94-100
Radek, K. (2001). Women in the Nineteenth Century. Women in Literature. Retrieved April 27, 2012, from http://www2.ivcc.edu/gen2002/women_in_the_nineteenth_century.htm
Rosenberg, C. (1973). Sexuality, Class and Role in 19th-Century America. American Journal, 25(2) 131-153
Schinz, A. (1903). Literary Symbolism in France. PMLA 18(2), 273-307
Smith, R. (1998). Morals and Their Ironies. The Journal of Religious Ethics, 26(2), 367-388

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