Posted: June 20th, 2021
The protagonists of “The Story of an Hour,” by Kate Chopin and “A Rose for Emily,” by William Faulkner long for a freedom withheld by the heavy hand of their surroundings. At the presentation of both these stories, it is easy to see how this could become a classic telling of the Southern condition but the skillful use of foreshadowing and symbolism creates irony in a series of seemingly ordinary events. Both women in these stories were bound by the strict expectations of their society.
Louise and Emily not only feel but also live by the demands that society and their families have placed on them. When they finally realize their sovereignty, they attempt to maintain it in the most unconventional manner. In Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” Emily endures the push and pull of social graces and the strict expectations of a lady well into her life. After her father, and last attachment to pre-war decencies, passes, Emily confines herself to her home.
She eventually begins to date a young man, Homer Baron, a day laborer and heavy drinker who is far from the accepted suitor. Emily seems to have achieved her purpose as a true Southern lady when she marries Baron. For reasons unbeknown to her ever-prying town, she then boards up her home and never leaves again. Upon her death the town realizes that Baron died, or rather had been killed, shortly after the wedding while his corpse lay in the marriage bed ever since.
This absolute preservation of a thriving time was the only way Emily could maintain freedom in her mind. Emily had become so engrossed in the norms of her culture that her world became too small to live in. Caught in the societal transition of Civil War aftermath) and with the constant vigilance of Emily by the townspeople, we can see there is no option for complete fulfillment in her life. Her choice to live in a “snapshot” of her life becomes the only adequate one. Like Emily, the protagonist in “The Story of an Hour,” Louise, feels inhibited in her life.
When Louise Mallard is told of her husband’s death, she rejoices seeing the possibility for a new course in life, free from the obligation of marriage. In the early moments of her new venture, it is discovered her husband is in fact alive. She was imprisoned in her husband’s life, free in his death, and then entombed by the realization of the misinformation. Brently Mallard’s death symbolizes the end of obligatory formalities on Louise; the loss of her new found freedom stops her heart from beating.
It is clear that the expectation of Louise is so overwhelming that her body literally cannot sustain its pressure any longer. In the beginning of the story the reader is warned of Louise’s heart troubles, it is then discovered this “trouble” may have manifested because of her conformation to social practices. This story initially leads the reader to a presumption of a typical reaction by a genteel Southern woman, but with the admission into the true thoughts of Louise, the reader may see what is customary is not always what is natural.
The characters of “The Story of an Hour” and “A Rose for Emily” personify women who have been lost in a world cultured by society, inhibited by its demands and mistaken by its perceptions. These stories force a more critical reading of what could be seen as “typical” behavior. The controversies of the Southern tradition are personified in both characters, representing larger ideas that would perpetuate the downfall of a culture. As these stories employ foreshadowing as a literary tactic, the stories themselves aim to suggest an unfavorable end if reconsideration is not given to the status quo.
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