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Naturalism in Literature
Naturalism and realism was a literary movement in the late 1800s and early 1900s which focused on trying to recreate the real world in works of fiction. Many works from the period tried to reflect the attitudes and the psychology of their society through fictional characters. During this period, women were treated very poorly by male domination and were not allowed to have power outside of their homes. The cult of domesticity was the predominant idea of the day, forcing women to stay in the home and out of the public sphere. They were not allowed to hold positions of power or to attend higher education and if they chose to do so were considered unladylike and avoided by higher society. In both Ernest Hemingway's "Hills like White Elephants" and Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" show how repressed women of the Victorian period were by creating women who are oppressed and dominated by the men in their lives.
Ernest Hemingway's "Hills like White Elephants" is about a despondent woman who cannot escape her oppressive relationship because the period in which she lives is dominated by men. A man and a woman are in a foreign land, stopping at a small cafe while they wait for a train to pick them up and take them to their next destination. It is evident from their realistic dialogue that the two are not getting along and are in fact in disagreement over something serious. When the young woman says that the hills look like the elephants, the man responds that he wouldn't know. "I might have,' the man said. 'Just because you say I wouldn't have doesn't prove anything" (Hemingway). Immediately the girl changes the subject, unwilling or unable to disagree with him about anything because she does not have the right as a woman to challenge the man.
It is later made clear that the woman is pregnant and the young man is eager for her to abort the fetus, although that is never explicitly stated. He boyfriend tries to get her to abort by saying, "It's really an awfully simple operation, Jig…It's not really an operation at all" (Hemingway). The desires of the young man are more important to their dynamic than her wants and he presses her on the topic. Later, he assures her that the procedure is natural and that they will "just let the air in and then it's all perfectly natural" (Hemingway). From Jig's demeanor, it is obvious that she is very reluctant to abort the child and in fact may want to keep it. She stares at the hills, she sips her drink, and she does everything else she possibly can to distract the man from his harassment. Jig knows that having the abortion would drive them apart but the man assures her that everything will be good once she does this and is unable to hear her. The way he states his request is designed to cause Jig guilt and enforce his domination and her socially-imposed submission. He says, "If you don't want to you don't have to. I wouldn't have you do it if you didn't want to. But I know it's perfectly simple" (Hemingway). It is obvious that the girl does not want to have an abortion but instead has become changed by this pregnancy from the type of woman she was before. Travelling and drinking no longer holds the same wonder for her, but she feels conflicted. By having the abortion, she can keep the man in her life and he promises things will return how their relationship was before. Although she knows this to be false, it is apparent from the girl's last words what she will do. She says, "I feel fine…There's nothing wrong with me. I'm fine." As a woman in the Victorian period, she has no voice and so whatever her partner decides for her is what she will ultimately do. Jig will have the abortion because the decision has been made for her.
Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" begins with a woman who is told by family and friends that her husband has been killed in a horrible train accident. Her family worries that the news will destroy her because she has a weak heart, which was considered very becoming in a Victorian woman because it showed her as weak and more dependent on men. Louise had once believed that she would always be stuck in an unhappy marriage, married to a man who she never loved but was forced to marry because becoming a wife and mother was the job of every lady of the period. The author states, "It was only yesterday [Mrs. Mallard] had thought with a shudder that life might be long" (Chopin 35). These are the first words that the reader sees which indicates that the marriage between Mrs. Mallard and her husband was not happy. Rather than seeing her marriage as happy and viewing life with her husband with joy, the thought of potentially having a long life with her husband makes her feel miserable.
Louise Mallard is trapped in a marriage, she does not mourn as a proper Victorian wife should but instead shows the real attitudes that many Victorian women might have felt in private. After excusing herself from her guests, she goes to her room and Chopin writes, "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!" (36). When she found out that her husband was no longer alive, it allowed Louise to see that she could now live as she wanted. She would no more have to be subservient or submissive, either in public or in private spheres, to her dominating husband. As a widow, she would be entitled to make decisions for herself and to choose her own life's course without being prevented by her husband. When, of course, it turns out that Mr. Mallard is not dead; the experience in her bedroom makes it impossible for her to resubmit herself to her husband. For Louise Mallard, the only course she now had was to die herself. The witnesses in the home mistakenly believed it was a heart attack brought on by joy, showing the difference between appearance and reality. The narrator states that "when the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease -- of joy that kills" (Chopin 37). Of course it is not joy which has caused Louise Mallard's death but the knowledge that she must once again a wife and nothing more.
Louise's husband destroyed her individuality until she felt she no longer had a self, as would be the likely fate of every upper class Victorian wife who was supposed to be defined by her marriage. His death gives Louise Mallard her individuality back and once she had allowed herself to admit her unhappiness, she simply could not return to the emotional and social place she once held. When that freedom is taken away again by the return of Mr. Mallard, she simply collapses under the weight of her metaphorical ball and chain, knowing that with his continued existence will inevitably mean her future incarceration in the marriage to this now most odious man.
In that bedroom scene, Louise even questions to herself whether she ever loved her husband at all or whether she only claimed to love him because of the responsibility she had from her society to marry well and to be a proper submissive wife. The narrator explains, "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 being" (Chopin 36). Mrs. Mallard comes to the conclusion that her…[continue]
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