Various literary works can be closely examined with the help of feminist interpretation, which lays stress on gender and sexuality. This framework is particularly useful if it is necessary to explore the way in which males and females are portrayed by different authors. This paper is aimed at discussing two short stories, namely The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin and Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway.
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To a great extent, they throw light on the experiences of women who are supposed to accept the gender norms which are embedded in the value system of a patriarchal society. In many cases, these norms can completely dehumanize an individual. This is one of the themes explored by both writers. So, by looking at this literary works through the lens of feminism, one can better understand the main message that the writers intend to convey to the readers.
Although these short stories differ significantly in terms of style, narrative mode, and plot development, one can argue that the authors depict female protagonists who are deprived of the right to their own feelings, desires, and even bodies. In their turn, these women cannot accept the idea that they have to reject their own self for the sake of men. This is the main thesis that should be elaborated more closely.
It should be mentioned that the feminist approach to literary studies has often been adopted by critics because by focusing on gender and sexuality, readers can better understand the peculiarities of relations between the various characters, their moral choices, and motivation (Goodman 12). Moreover, this approach is helpful for explaining the attitudes of the writers who may have different opinions about gender norms or the roles that males and females should play in society (Goodman 12).
To a great extent, this method is suitable for analyzing the way in which gender norms restrict the identity of the individuality and how they impact his/her outward behavior. These are the main peculiarities of this approach. This method can be applicable to the analysis of the chosen short stories because the authors describe situations when women are forced to accept the wishes of males or their moral standards.
At first, it is necessary to show how Kate Chopin describes the behavior of the main character, Louise Mallard. This woman learns the news about the alleged death of her husband, who perished in the railroad disaster (Chopin 52). Contrary to the readers’ expectations, she feels enormous relief or even joy. The author describes the experiences of the main character in the following way, “There would be no one to live for her during those coming year; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending her” (Chopin 52).
The main character says that she will be “body and soul free” (Chopin 54). These are the first thoughts that come to her mind. Many of the readers can be profoundly shocked by this response. Nevertheless, her joy is interrupted by the news that her husband is actually alive. At this point, she realizes that her aspirations will not come true. This is one of the reasons why she dies of the heart attack.
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There are several questions that remain unanswered. For example, Kate Chopin does not describe Louise Mallard’s husband in great detail. These are the main elements of the narrative, and it can pose many thought-provoking questions to the readers.
It is possible to apply a feminist approach to literary interpretation in order to analyze this short story. In particular, Kate Chopin shows that women are expected to show selfless devotion to males. In turn, any deviation from this norm can be perceived as immoral behavior. In turn, this short story came under criticism because the readers could not accept the idea that a woman could feel relief at learning that her husband had died. This is one of the details that should not be overlooked.
One should keep in mind that other characters assume that Louise would be delighted to see her spouse alive (Mayer 95). Moreover, it does not occur to these people that the protagonist was not always happy in her marriage. Louise describes her relations with her husband in the following way, “And yet she had loved him – sometimes. Often she had not”. One can argue that this person lives in the society in which a woman does not have a right to privacy and independence.
Moreover, such a character trait as selfishness is not permissible to them, even though it is totally permissible to males. This hypocrisy can be the underlying cause of emotional suffering. In turn, Kate Chopin challenges this worldview and shows that it leads to the discrimination of women.
In turn, the author prompts the readers to feel empathy for the female protagonist who should not be viewed as a callous person. It is possible to say that Kate Chopin describes Louise’s first moments of happiness. The main issue is that other people fail to understand Louise Mallard’s behavior. These are the main elements that can be singled out.
It is also possible to speak about the short story Hills life Elephants by Ernest Hemingway. This author does not evaluate the behavior of the main characters or their intentions. The writer describes the conversation between a man and his girlfriend; so, the narrative mostly takes the form of a dialogue. Moreover, Hemingway attempts to remain very ambiguous about the topic of their conversation. Evidently, the man encourages the girl to undergo some form of surgery. Some literary critics believe that the author refers to abortion (O’Brien, 19).
To some degree, this assumption is justified because the man insistently assures the girl that he will always love her (Hemingway 52). Nonetheless, it is only a conjecture that cannot be fully verified. The male character says that this surgery is an “awfully simple operation” (Hemingway 50). Moreover, he argues that it is “perfectly natural” (Hemingway 50). The man avoids speaking about the physical and emotional pain that the go will have to go through. Instead, he attempts to discuss this issue in a business-like manner.
This is one of the aspects that can attract the attention of the readers. Moreover, it does not occur to him that the girl may actually want to have this child. In turn, parenthood seems to be completely out of the question to this man. These are some of the details that are important for the analysis of this short story. Again, feminist interpretation can also be applied to this literary work. In particular, Hemingway may show that in some cases, women can be denied the right to their own bodies.
More importantly, very often, males are reluctant to put themselves in the position of women. In particular, they prefer to turn a blind eye to their suffering. Hemingway eloquently demonstrates the callosity of such individuals. As a rule, they are not willing to accept the idea that females may have their own desires and needs. This is one of the main messages that Ernest Hemingway tries to convey. Apart from that, this author shows that the man tries to shift the responsibility onto the girl.
For example, he says, “But I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to” (Hemingway 52). Thus, one can argue that this behavior can be compared to cowardice since the male character does not admit that he relies on coercion.
So, the supporters of the feminist interpretation may argue that women usually have to carry a heavier burden which can be attributed to a set of behavioral norms that imply the inequality of men and women. The author does not speak about the future relations between these people; yet, one can assume that they turn out to be destructive for both of them. This is one of the points that can be made.
Therefore, it is possible to say that feminist critique can be useful for the analysis of literary works. In both cases, the authors throw light on the gender norms that women have to comply with. In particular, they are supposed to be selfless individuals who are ready to accept every demand set by the society governed by patriarchal values. However, men are not always ready to adhere to this principle of selflessness. Admittedly, these short stories differ dramatically in terms of the narrative mode and style.
For example, Kate Chopin depicts the feelings of the main character in a more explicit way, especially in comparison with Earnest Hemingway’s minimalistic descriptions that prompt readers to make conjectures about the motives of the major characters. Additionally, Earnest Hemingway does not give readers any hints about the future life of the girl who considers the idea of abortion.
This is one of the distinctions that should not be disregarded by the readers. Nevertheless, these authors show that many of the gender norms can be very dehumanizing since they legitimize inequality and suffering. These are the main aspects that can be singled out.
Thus, one can argue that Kate Chopin and Ernest Hemingway explore the experiences of women are forced to follow the behavior standards which are imposed on them. Very often, the refusal to accept these norms can often lead to the alienation of a person who may eventually become an outcast. Public condemnation can be the main response to such behavior. Overall, these authors show that women are not allowed to speak about their needs or feelings.
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In many cases, males prefer them to be silenced. In the patriarchal community, the inner world of women does not require any attention. The main problem is that this value system can eventually lead to destructive effects. This statement is particularly relevant if one speaks about the main character of Kate Chopin’s short story since this person dies because of the internal conflict that she cannot resolve. These are the main arguments that can be put forward.
Chopin Kate. “The Story of An Hour.” The Broadview Anthology of Short Fiction. Ed. Julia Gaunce. New York: Broadview Press, 2012. 52-54. Print.
Goodman, Lisbeth. Literature and Gender, New York: Routledge, 2013. Print
Hemingway, Ernest. The Complete Short Stories Of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigia Edition, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2007. Print.
Mayer, Gary. “A Matter Of Behavior: A Semantic Analysis Of Five Kate Chopin Stories.” ETC: A Review Of General Semantics 67.1 (2010): 94-100. Print.
O’Brien, Timothy. “Allusion, Word-Play, And The Central Conflict In Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” Hemingway Review 12.1 (1992): 19-25. Print.