Society, the Gender Terrorist, in “The Necklace” and “The Story of an Hour” Essay
One of the functions of a patriarchal society is gender terrorism. De Maupassant’s (1907) “The Necklace” and Chopin’s (1894) “The Story of an Hour” describe how society serves to terrorize the female gender through patriarchy-designated gender norms and roles. Terrorism takes away the capability of women to go beyond these social gender boxes that the patriarchal system created for them. These literary works have the same short story form that captures quick-paced plots, develops dynamic characters, and depicts symbolisms about gender norms and roles, and, at the same time, their writing styles are similar because of the use of short, simple paragraphs, conversational approach, and the ability to demonstrate situational irony. All of these elements support the theme on the oppressive, terrorizing control that society imposes on women’s lives through gender roles and expectations.
These works are both in short story form that maximizes quick-paced plots. De Maupassant tells the tale of a woman’s story of fall to disgrace. Mathilde is a vain woman who is trapped inside a society that values materialism and teaches girls to desire materialism over independence. De Maupassant’s story is centered on Mathilde’s dissatisfaction with her life after being married to another commoner like her, when she feels that she was “born for every delicacy and every luxury” (de Maupassant, 1907, para.3). Instead of relying on herself to attain the life that she feels she deserves, she pressures her husband to give her the life she desires. Kleine-Ahlbrandt (2004) focused on the social-class analysis of “The Necklace,” where he asserted that the story is about the “price to be paid for crass materialism and false pride” (p.2). He does not include gender analysis, however, which can connect Mathilde’s pride and shallowness to the pressures of gender expectations. Materialism and pride are argued as social products too, and, in the case of Mathilde, she also has a vain and materialistic personality because of the materialistic French culture she belongs to (Kleine-Ahlbrandt, 2004, p.2) that conditions women to value things over more important aspects of their lives, including freedom and independence. The short story form allows de Maupassant to capture a plot that depicts the effects of social norms on gender expectations. Chopin did not need to write a novel to also explore the plot of social terrorism in “The Story of an Hour.” Instead, Chopin developed a quick-paced plot to describe how a woman can change in an hour, from someone having a “dull stare in her eyes” (Chopin, 1894, para.8) because of being a slave to a man’s will to “drinking in [the] very elixir of life” (Chopin, 1894, para.18) because with her husband dead, she is free at last. Like “The Necklace,” Chopin’s short story condenses the theme of gender oppression that society produces. Short stories are quick and to the point in encapsulating society-shaking views about gender inequalities.
Aside from having quick plots, the short story form allows both stories to focus on developing dynamic, rounded characters. Mathilde begins with the perception that she has been wronged because she is born poor. She is sad because she is not well-off: “…she was unhappy as though kept out of her own class” (de Maupassant, 1907, para.2). Her pride, however, drives the story because she drowns in her short-term popularity enough to be careless about her necklace. As the story goes, she was “…intoxicated with pleasure, thinking of nothing, in the triumph of her beauty, in the glory of her success…” (de Maupassant, 1907, para.54). Brackett (2010) describes Mathilde’s descent to further poverty: “Ironically, the Loisels do descend to the working class as a result of Mathilde’s pride” (p.2). Though the Loisels became poorer, Mathilde has turned into a sober practical woman where she became a “robust woman, hard and rough, of a poor household” (de Maupassant, 1907, para.104). She is now far from the irritable woman who is unconcerned of real life. Louise is also a dynamic character who changes from someone who accepts her social status to someone who embraces the end of that social status. Before, she sees nothing wrong in her husband who has “kind, tender hands” and a “face that had never looked save with love upon her” (Chopin, 1894, para.13). In spite of her husband’s kindness and love, she becomes aware that he is an authoritarian person too because he uses his “powerful will [in] bending hers in… blind persistence” (Chopin, 1894, para.14). Her self-awareness provides her an insight on her “past” being and her becoming toward a new, free woman: “Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own” (Chopin, 1894, para.19). Rosenblum (2004) described Louise as a “woman ahead of her time, for by the standards of the 1890’s she should be happy” (p.1). But she is not happy because she is not free as a human being; thus, when her husband dies, she plans ahead for a free life because she has become “like a goddess of Victory” (Chopin, 1894, para.20). Jamil (2009) underscores the emotions involved in freedom that gives Louise a “clear and exalted perception” (p.215) of her new self as a free human being. Like Mathilde, an event in her life changes Louise into someone better. These short stories have the form that enables them to focus on characterization of people within the patriarchal society.
These short stories are also capable of depicting ironies in life. “The Necklace” describes the irony of fulfilling gender roles in marriage. Mathilde wants to be famous and rich because she believes that as a beautiful woman, she has earned this right. Her low social status is such a great concern for her: “She suffered intensely, feeling herself born for every delicacy and every luxury” (de Maupassant, 1907, para.3). She would not have felt such intense desires for material things, however, if not for her materialistic society. Society feeds her with social expectations, and, as a result, Mathilde becomes a woman who fulfils the gender stereotype of a vain, materialistic woman. Because of her fulfillment of her gender roles, however, one night of prominence brings her whole palace of dreams down. She loses her beauty and dreaminess when she is forced to pay for the lost necklace, which, ironically, is false to begin with. The impact of the situational irony is that the audience realizes that social norms, including its gender roles, are all false aspirations in life that can never bring happiness. May (2009) asserted that the short story format is perfect in generating a “tight ironic structure…[where] the unified tone dominates every single word” (p.1). The unified tone is the tone of wrongness that is present in patriarchal codes of femininity. “The Story of an Hour” depicts the irony of death in its short story form. Louise should be grieving as a widow, but instead, she develops a “feverish triumph in her eyes” (Chopin, 1894, para.20). Deneau (2003) asserted that her turning into a “goddess of Victory” demonstrates intense forces, including “rape” through possession of her free will, “a visitation by the Holy Spirit, and a sexual union” (p.212). He magnifies the importance of freedom to a long-imprisoned woman like Louise. Seeing Brent again, Louise realizes that she will no longer be free, but will go back to being a Mrs. Mallard once more. Verbal irony is in the words of the doctors who said that Louise died because of “joy that kills” (Chopin, 1894, para.23). A possible reading is that Louise did feel joyful because she would rather die than be a slave to a man’s will again, and by dying, she dies happily. Or, Louise died, not because of joy, but because of deep sorrow for her lost freedom. Either way, the joy that kills is not the literal joy from seeing her husband being alive, but joy for herself. The short story form is an effective way of expressing deep ironies about women’s curtailed lives.
Besides having ironies in the short story form, these stories have symbolisms that depict gender norms and roles, although these symbols are different in expressing the implications of societal terrorism. The mirror in “The Necklace” signifies Mathilde’s admiration of her beauty (Brackett, 2010, p.2). It is interpreted that this admiration, however, like the mirror, is socially-produced. Mathilde would not have been so conscious of physical appearance without the social norms that bind women to social expectations regarding beauty and success. Furthermore, the necklace stands for something that is beautiful, but only outwardly, and it also stands for the yoke around women’s neck. Brackett (2010) underlined that because she is a woman, Mathilde is born already as poor in human opportunities: “Because women cannot work for success, they must depend upon the confines of marriage to advance their social standing, as Madame Forestier does” (p.2). The necklace stands for something that society makes people want- social status and beauty- and yet, it does not provide means and opportunities for women to achieve these on their own. The setting, which is Mr. Mallard’s house, stands for domesticity (Rosenblum, 2004, p.1). Everything in “The Story of an Hour” happens inside the house, which signifies the social isolation and imprisonment of Louise. By being inside the house, the house signifies her slavery to her marriage. In addition, the “open window” is a symbol for freedom, for outside it, she can see the “tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life” (Chopin, 1894, para.4-5). The window is the symbolism for a free life, while the trees and spring reinforce the sense of freedom that Louise feels. Spring itself is symbolic, where Chopin must have chosen it to signify new life. The point of sparing time is that, in the death of Louise’s oppressor, her husband, she has been literally and figuratively freed from her bondage- bondage inside his house as a wife and bondage to the general will of society that expects her to be a dutiful wife. The main difference in these stories’ symbolisms is the materialism in “The Necklace” that is not as prevalent in “The Story of an Hour.” Louise is not like Mathilde who wants to be rich. She wants to free from domestic controls instead. These symbols depict the harsh realities of being a woman in patriarchal times.
Besides somewhat similar symbols, these stories exhibit similar writing styles in using short paragraphs that have a conversational appeal. De Maupassant uses short paragraphs that are enough to attain different functions, while leaving the audience the ability to fill in the missing gaps. The first sentence, for instance, says something sufficient about the protagonist: “She was one of those pretty and charming girls, born by a blunder of destiny in a family of employees” (de Maupassant para.1). De Maupassant does not provide more details about the girl’s family, but the paragraph is enough to show how much the woman is displeased because of her poor social status in life. He also uses short paragraphs that are quick to read. Brackett (2010) illustrated de Maupassant’s oral writing style as “resembl[ing] conversation” (p.2). These brief paragraphs appear like pauses in an interesting oral story. Chopin also uses short paragraphs that capture a specific idea or event. An example is the fourth paragraph that says: “There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul” (Chopin, 1894, para.4). The window, chair, and how Louise interacts with these things depict the story of her repression as a woman. She would not appreciate the open window and armchair so much if she is used to doing as she pleases. Instead, she sees beauty in these things because someone took it away from her, which is society through marriage. These writing styles emphasize ideas that support the theme of gender oppression.
Their difference in writing styles is that de Maupassant uses alliteration and detailed descriptions more than Chopin, which has effects on their main points about gender norms. Brackett (2010) underlines that de Maupassant uses “playful alliteration…to frame Mathilde’s fantasies (p.2). Some examples are phrases that are alliterative in French too, such as “dainty dinner,” “shining silverware,” “fairy forest,” “delicious dishes,” and “sphinxlike smile” (qtd. in Brackett, 2010, p.2). The impact of alliteration is to create a fantastic appeal, which underlines that Mathilde’s vanity is wrong for her social stature, but as a woman, society has conditioned her to value objects and social status over the need for building a strong, independent character. In addition, some paragraphs are actually longer because of the detailed descriptions of things. Mathilde dreams about “large parlors, decked with old silk, with their delicate furniture, supporting precious bric-a-brac, and on the coquettish little rooms, perfumed, prepared for the five o’clock chat with the most intimate friends…” (de Maupassant, 1907, para.3). De Maupassant does this probably because it reflects how much Mathilde values things over more important matters in a woman’s life, particularly freedom to control her destiny. These styles are not present in Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour.”
Altogether, the main similarities in these two stories are their use of short story format and writing style to support the theme of societal gender terrorism. Their ironic endings are climaxes to the lessons on freedom and independence that these protagonists did not have because of their gender. Mathilde and Louise are both women wanting something more, something that society took from them- the freedom to dream and to act on their dreams as free human beings. Their stories are intertwined in persuading readers into thinking of how hard life is for women- who have no life of their own at all.
Brackett, V. (2010). The necklace. Masterplots, 1-3. Retrieved from Literary Reference Center.
Chopin, K. (1894). The story of an hour. Retrieved from http://wps.ablongman.com/wps/media/objects/11566/11843712/ch02/2.2.The_Story_of_an_Hour.pdf
de Maupassant, G. (1907). The necklace. Retrieved from http://www.bartleby.com/195/20.html
Deneau, D.P. (2003). Chopin’s ‘The story of an hour.’ Explicator, 61(4), 210-213. Retrieved from Literary Reference Center.
Jamil, S.S. (2009). Emotions in the ‘Story of an hour.’ Explicator, 67(3), 215-220. Retrieved from Literary Reference Center.
Kleine-Ahlbrandt, W.L. (2004). The necklace. Masterplots II: Short Story Series, 1-3. Retrieved from Literary Reference Center.
May, C.E. (2009). The necklace. Magill’s Survey of World Literature, 1. Retrieved from Literary Reference Center.
Rosenblum, J. (2004). The story of an hour. Masterplots II: Short Story Series, 1-2. Retrieved from Literary Reference Center.