Abstract I have chosen to compare the two short stories “The Story of an Hour”, by Kate Chopin and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, by James Thurber. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a short story written in 1937. The main character is an older man that drives his wife to town for beauty parlor visits and weekly shopping. “The Story of an Hour” was published in 1894. The main character, Louise Mallard, thinks that she will find freedom from the death of her husband.
These short stories share a common theme, gender roles within a marriage.
Each of the main characters in these stories has their own ideas about the gender roles that they are supposed to play, according to society and the time that they live in. The secret life of Walter Mitty and The Story of an Hour are based on a man Mr. Walter Mitty and a woman Mrs. Louise Mallard, whom believe that they have become prisoners within their marriages.
They have to abide by the society standards of their era, divorce is not an option because all marriages have issues and the wedding vows need to be honored, “Until Death due us Part”. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Versus The Story of an Hour
In “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Walter is an elderly American man who is retired and has nothing better to do but to follow his wife around. Walter daydreams about a life that he wishes he had. The focus of this story is to represent a fantasy world opposed to a reality. “The Story of the Hour” presents a much more dramatic effect. This story reflects upon a very important hour for Mrs. Mallard. She experiences freedom in this hour. In “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” the main focus is on the desire to escape from an ordinary life; this is also the case with “The Story of the Hour”.
Louise Mallards’ desire is independence. “The story of the hour” covers only one single hour of Louise Mallard’s life. This hour is from the instant that she hears of the death of her husband to the instant that he revives, unexpectedly, “a joy that kills” (Clugston, 2010). Mrs. Mallard is portrayed as a typical housewife of the late 1800s. While her husband is away at work, a friend of her husbands’, Richard, hears the news of an accident that has taken place at his workplace in which he believes Mr. Mallard to have died in. “The Story of an Hour “starts with how the news will be delivered to Mrs.
Mallard because she suffers from a heart condition and the information needs to be told in a delicate fashion, as to not cause her heart condition to worsen. “Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death”(Clugston, 2010). It was believed by, Josephine (Mrs. Mallard’s sister) and Richard that she would take the news bad, which could cause her to become ill and maybe even have a heart attack. The gentleman, Richard, goes with Josephine to give her the dreadful news without breaking her spirit too much.
(Clugston, 2010) Mrs. Mallard’s reaction upon hearing the awful news of her husband’s death was indeed what Josephine and Richard had anticipated and been afraid. Mrs. Mallard is beside herself with sadness upon hearing the news and she collapses into a fit of tears, as any loving wife would do. “She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms” (Clugston, 2010). The paragraph illustrates a response that is similar of most grieving people when they are told of a love one that has died.
Grief and shock of the event of Mr. Mallard’s death consumed her and she needed to let out some of her feelings and her sister embraced her. When she was able to control her emotional outburst, Mrs. Mallard needed time for herself so she could process the event and determine what her next move in this cycle of life would be, so she excuses herself. Full of grief Mrs. Mallard decides that she best grieve in the solace of her own room upstairs without anyone to distract her (Clugston, 2010). Mrs. Mallard begins to discover that her feelings for her husband cannot control these new creeping feelings.
(Clugston, 2010) “When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: ‘free, free, free! ’ The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body. What did it matter! What could love the unsolved mystery, count for in face of this possession of self–assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!
” and for a brief moment she is torn. However, she decides that her own interests may be at the forefront. Clearly illustrated here is the inner excitement and joy that she feels after believing that her husband was dead. This joy stems from her new found independence and relief from an oppressive marriage. “There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, and the color that filled the air.
” (Clugston, 2010) ” She is overcome with joy that she will be able to live her life for herself. She also remembers that her husband was a love to her: “And yet she had loved him—sometimes. Often she had not. (Clugston, 2010) She knows that she will be happy with her husband gone because she doesn’t have to abide by the confinement of her gender role as a housewife. Mrs. Mallard opens herself from her room and greets her sister with a sense of happiness (Clugston, 2010). However, the story ends with an ironic twist, it turns out Mr. Mallard is not dead, but very much alive.
He comes walking in the door after his shift is over, unknowing of the accident taken place at his workplace. This shocks Mrs. Mallard, and the irony is that she dies. The wife’s heart appeared to be oppressed by her lack of adventure, and when opportunity came about it began to race again. The theft of her freedom made Mrs. Mallard overly disappointed and it led to her death. “When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease—of joy that kills. ”(Clugston, 2010). In “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, the story describes a middle-aged man, Walter, who is henpecked by his overbearing wife.
Unhappy with his everyday life, Walter dreams of grand adventure and heroism. ” Walter is a daydreamer. Walter is a character that has had his smallness rubbed in his face (Danforth, 1961). Unhappy with his everyday life, Walter dreams of grand adventure and heroism. ” He spends most of his time daydreaming that he was someone else. According to his imaginations, he is heroic, successful, courageous, and is summoned to save the day. Walter actually plays outside of the normal gender role that is given to males. He is portrayed as a character that is overwhelmed by everyday life.
This is a trait that is generally considered to be weak for males; they are supposed to be “strong”. Walter does exactly what his wife wants, but displays defiance when she is not present and drifts off into his own little world making him the man he so wishes that he could be. This abnormal gender role helps adapt the story’s satire. Walter is not an overpowering or strong protagonist. His wife is seen as the nagging wife that must remind her husband to stay grounded and buy the things they need. She treats him more like a child than a husband.
The reasoning for her treating him this way is his tendencies to daydream to escape living an ordinary life. In the eyes of Walter his wife is a constant reminder of how much he does not enjoy dealing with everyday life. Walter manages to lose himself in several transpiring realities that put him into a strong masculine role. He is able to deal with the world in an awkward sense through his daydreams. This is one of Thurber’s favorite character dilemmas: allowing his character to leave reality lest his reality should overwhelm him (Lass & Tasman, 1969).
The plot of the story in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” started in the first line. “We’re going through! ” The Commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking. ” (Clugston, 2010). Then in the last line “The Old Man’ll get us through”, they said to one another. ” (Clugston, 2010, p. 2). This clearly shows how Walter is the hero and others have confidence in his ability to do something right. However, then Walter’s wife, Mrs. Mitty, interrupted the daydream by yelling at Walter. “You’re driving too fast! ” (Clugston, 2010). This is the beginning of showing how Mrs. Mitty tells her husband what to do.
Mrs. Mitty, then feels that he needs to see a doctor, her feeling that he was stressed showed how a henpecked husband had allowed his wife total control over his life by mentally abusing him at every opportunity. This story showed how Walter had taken back the control his wife had over him, in the form of day dreams. In comparison both stories are satirical in nature. Chopin describes a young lady that cannot deal with the reality of her husband’s death. Thurber describes a man that cannot deal with reality altogether. Reality links both of these stories to humorous outcomes.
Chopin’s character is able to overcome her sadness in a very short time because she will be living for herself. Similarly, Thurber’s character is able to overcome his irritation at dealing with the world through daydreams. The gender roles of each of these stories are very prominent in the analysis of the literature. It is clear that both male and female characters are trying to escape their realities. Although they are from different time periods, their escapes seem to be very similar: married life. Mrs. Mallard is strong, free, and an adventurous individual.
Walter Mitty would like to think that he is a strong, free, and adventurous individual, when in reality it seems like he is somewhat cowardly. Both of these stories are told in a third person limited perspective and they also revolve around the protagonist. Both of these short stories develop the protagonist more than any other character. The antagonists for both stories are the spouses. Oddly enough the female character is the more dominant of the relationship in both stories. Also, there seems to be a sense of defeat from each character as they think or talk about their significant others.
An observable similarity between the two stories is that they are both written using a third person narrative. In James Thurber’s story, readers are informed about Walter Mitty’s desires through the narrator. For instance the narrator clearly illustrates Mrs. Mitty’s desire of “not liking to get to the hotel first, but wanting Mr. Mitty to get there first”. The wish of wanting Walter Mitty to arrive first indicates that Mrs. Mitty wanted to be in control of her husband’s life and routine activities. Readers are given an insight of Mrs. Mitty’s accusatory nature and nagging through a third person narration (Thurber, 2008).
Similarly, Kate Chopin uses a third person narration to immerse the readers into Mrs. Mallard’s world of thought in the brief time period. Readers are given insight on Mrs. Mallard’s inner feeling of freedom and independence following the belief that her husband was dead. Hence, through the use of third person narration, Kate Chopin and James Thurber have added to the understanding of gender roles and marriage as depicted by the main characters, Louise Mallard and Walter Mitty. A feature that adds to the theme of gender roles and marriage in both stories is the inherent oppressiveness of marriage.
Kate Chopin seems to suggest that virtually all marriages, even the seemingly kindest ones, are oppressive in nature. Mrs. Mallard feels an inner sense of elation and joy on learning about her husband’s death. This implies that she greatly longed to be free from an oppressive marriage. The death of her husband is the only thing that could give her the much wanted freedom. James Thurber also presents a similar depiction of inherent oppressive marriage. The main difference comes about in the gender of the oppressed parties. In Kate Chopin’s story, it is a woman who feels oppressed while in James Thurber.
Study, it is a man who feels oppressed. Walter Mitty decides to live in fantasy as a way of escaping his wife’s nagging and controlling nature. Through imagination, Mitty is able to escape realism and enjoy the feeling of autonomy and freedom (Thurber, 2008). The historical context of both stories reinforces the theme of gender roles and marriage. The Story of an Hour was written in the year 1894, when women activism was dominant. This was shortly after the year 1887 when there was enactment of Married Woman’s Property Act. A woman could own no property until the late 19th century in the year 1887.
It is evident that the story was written during a period when women had a great desire to break the societal chains that regarded them inferior to their husbands. Kate Chopin presents a similar case in Louis Mallard, an independent woman longing to be gain autonomy and freedom from an oppressive marriage. Conclusion “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a story by James Thurber that gives a third person narration account of a fantasy life lived by Walter Mitty in order to escape from an ordinary life of a controlling and nagging wife.
“The Story of an Hour” on the other hand is a story by Kate Chopin of a one-hour feeling of joy and freedom from an inherent oppressive marriage. Both stories greatly add to the theme of gender roles and marriage through the use of unique form, style and content. The relationships among the form, style and content of the two stories help in enhancing an understanding of the essence of gender roles and marriage in the society and times in which they lived. Traditionally, the roles of men and women in marriage are predefined by society.
Men played the role of shouldering responsibilities and earning money for the household while women played the role of child care and looking after the home. “The Story of the Hour This story shows how traditional gender roles affect a person’s heart. Bernard (2009) describes Mrs. Mallard’s strong feminine character as being on a quest for freedom. Her story suggests that there is a sort of “male dominance and female submission deeply imbedded” in seemingly all aspects of life (Bernard, 2009). Her husband’s provider role helped him feel strong and asserted his role as a man.
This story has very clear explanations for why the heart may break without freedom. Similarly, in the story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty the protagonist of James Thurber, Walter Mitty, requires a bit of freedom outside of his marriage (Clugston, 2010). This story is very satirical, which is described as “The literary art that calls attention to the difference between what a particular thing should be and what it actually is. Or between the way a particular person should behave and how that person is actually behaving.
The writer of satire exaggerates or criticizes such conditions but blends ridicule with gentle humor–often intending to encourage change or improvement. ” by Clugston (2010). In this satire it is apparent that Walter Mitty is torn between two realities. Although the characters are exact opposites as far as the female being dominant and the male being submissive, it is clear that both stories have prominent heroes. The roles that each of the characters have help them to better survive in their own worlds. Walter Mitty’s character needs to leave reality to be able to deal with everyday life.
Mrs. Mallard leaves reality to deal with a very traumatic event, her husband’s death. These characters are vastly different and so are the events that they encounter. References Hermes, Al, (2012) Married Women and Property Post (Web Log Post) Retrievedfromhttp://www. ehow. com/aboutmarried-womens-property-act Chopin, Kate. “Story of an Hour. Clugston, R. W. (2010). Journey into literature. Lewis, J. (1999) Liberalizing Divorce Laws (Web Log Post) Retrieved from http://womenhistory. about. com/od/marriage20/Liberalizing-Divorce – Law.
htm Diederich, N. (2012). Sharing Chopin: Teaching ‘The Story of an Hour’ to Specialized Populations. Bernard, K. (2009). Southern literary studies: awakenings: the story of the Kate Chopin revival. Danforth, R. (1961). The American short story – American writers 14: University of Minnesota. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press. Lass, A. H. & Tasman, N. L. (1969). 21 Great stories. New York, New York: First Mentor Printing. Thurber, J. (2008) The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: The Creative Company, Jan 1, 2008.
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