Tag Archives: symbolism

“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin was published in 1894 as “The Dream of an Hour” in Vogue magazine. The story is incredibly short and takes places only in the Mallard home over the course of, presumably, an hour. Louise Mallard, who has a heart condition, learns about the untimely death of her husband, Brently. She cries, of course, but then realizes that she will actually be much happier on her own. Armed with this new realization, she descends the stairs, only to see Brently himself walk in the door, just fine, and very much alive. Realizing that he was reported dead on accident, Louise promptly dies, the doctors concluding that happiness was her undoing. Except they were wrong.

Reading about the story online, I was surprised and delighted to find out that Chopin was a fan of Guy de Maupassant. I pair “The Story of an Hour” with Maupassant’s “The Jewelry,” and have found that they go together quite well. They both show the way in which ‘good’ marriages can still be bad; Chopin’s from the wife’s perspective, Maupassant from the husband’s. I know the gentlemen in my classroom appreciated being included; I will write up Maupassant’s story at my earliest convenience (hopefully soon). I also teach this story directly after Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which has worked out well.

A lot of the depth of the story is driven by the way that the elements of literature are used. For the length of the story, the amount of characterization present is a testament to Chopin’s skill as a writer.

Characters

Louise Mallard: Louise is characterized as “young” and is “afflicted with heart trouble,” which will be of no small importance in the story. Upon hearing of Brently’s death she cries uncontrollably, in a “storm of grief,” and retires to her room. As she contemplates life alone, she slowly comes to the realization that she is much happier now that she will not have a husband. The specific reason she gives is that, without Brently around, there will be “no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence” that characterizes marriage. The issue, then, is not with Brently as a person, but with marriage. Some students get bogged down in this subtlety because they assume, incorrectly, that Louise must ‘hate’ Brently to be happy he’s gone. However, she’s not happy that he’s gone, she’s relieved, though it’s complicated, as she admits that she will cry again over his death. Her reasons for relief at the idea of being alone are never made completely clear, nor should they have to be, but are given a darker dimension when it is explained that “She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.” Louise, before the story has started, is unhappy at the thought of living a long life. That should be reason enough to sympathize with her feelings about her newfound “freedom.”

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Symbolism, Characterization, and Themes in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Below is my detailed literary analysis of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” for my students and for me … and for you. I used to review and analyze every story that I studied in graduate school, and later, every story I taught. I’ve decided that I want to do that again to help me with my own teaching. My thoughts from 2003 on this story can be found on the blog here, but I thought it was worth updating. My teaching materials for this story – which are extensive – will be available at some time, too, hopefully in the near future.

History

“The Yellow Wallpaper” (originally the title appeared as “The Yellow Wall-paper”) was first published in 1892 and is based largely on the author’s own experiences. Like many women of her time, including Virginia Woolf (who address this in Mrs. Dalloway), Gilman (then Stetson) was subjected to the “rest cure” a treatment for (generally postpartum) depression. Pioneered by Silas Weir Mitchell – who is called out by name in Gilman’s story – it involved keeping the woman’s mind unstimulated by forbidding reading and writing (aka thinking), and prescribing bed rest that generally included no exercise or socializing. Added to this was a diet heavy in often raw meat, and high fat foods such as butter and milk; this was due to Mitchell’s belief that women’s depression was caused by a lack of “blood and fat,” which the rest cure was meant to remedy. The treatment was worse than the disease for many women, and Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” was considered an indictment of the treatment, and which directly contributed to its discontinuation. Gilman also explained this in her brief essay, “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper,which you can read online here.

Characters

Unnamed Narrator: As tempted as everyone is to call her “Charlotte,” the narrator of the story has no name. She is taken to a house and subjected to the “rest cure,” which gradually drives her insane. She writes the story as a diary or series of letters over the period of her confinement. At the end of the story she has descended completely into madness.

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The Martian Chronicles: “Usher II” by Ray Bradbury, Summary and Analysis

Usher II, Hungarian Graphic Novel

Below is a synopsis and analysis of “Usher II” from The Martian Chronicles for my class and, perhaps more accurately, for myself. I hope you enjoy!

“Usher II (2004-2005)” was originally published as “Carnival of Madness” in 1950 by Standard Magazines. It works as Bradbury’s love letter to Poe and feels like a prequel or alternate timeline for Fahrenheit 451 (1953) as it deals with censorship. It is similar to the 1949 short story “The Exiles” which was reprinted in The Illustrated Man (1951). “The Exiles” deals with authors whose spirits are on Mars, fearfully awaiting the burning of the final copies of their books. “Usher II” like “The Naming of Names” covers a period of time rather than a specific month, which is unusual because it seems to take place over the span of 1-2 days rather than 1-2 years. This chapter is also foreshadowed in the previous chapter, “The Naming of Names.”

Characters

William Stendahl: Millionaire and lover of fiction who concocts the elaborate plan for Usher II (which he calls “The House of Usher,” I am calling it “Usher II” for the sake of clarity). Importantly, he is the only character with a first name. Stendahl is characterized by intense anger and, although not likable, is the protagonist.

Mr. Bigelow: The architect who designed Usher II without knowing or caring what it is. He represents the complacent, unquestioning attitude of people, the “common man” in this story.

Mr. Garrett: Investigator of Moral Climates is his official title, he is in charge of enforcing the laws that regulate fiction and imagination. Like many characters in the story he has a robot double. Lack of imagination is his downfall.

Pikes: Stendahl’s right-hand man, an actor who is not allowed to act, and who is characterized by extreme bitterness. Pikes assists Stendahl in engineering the events in “Usher II.”

The Party Guests: Numbered around three dozen, some of which have names (so the narration flows well). They are portrayed essentially as sheep (like Bigelow) who Stendahl had befriended in the time leading up to the “party.” They, too, represent “the masses.”

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The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, Chapter 1 “Between Timid and Timbuktu”

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt VonnegutBelow is a detailed summary and literary analysis of the first chapter of The Sirens of Titan for my students and for me … and for you. It is very long. As a side note, this post has been more popular than I ever expected, and I suspect people are Googling “summary of Sirens of Titan Chapter 1 that is better than Sparknotes,” because the search results are leading me to feel this way, and I’m flattered. Wayward students: please use my research as a supplement, but don’t rob yourself of the pleasure of reading the novel yourself. Also feel free to ask me questions in the comments, I’m always happy to help.

Chapter 1 of The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut is entitled “Between Timid and Timbuktu.”

Characters

Malachi Constant: “I guess somebody up there likes me.” Described in Ch. 1 as a playboy and depicted as an oaf (complete with clamoring up a fountain and being late for his appointment with someone “unstuck” in space-time) he is dressed as an “Edwardian dandy” and is “not even well-educated.” Malachi is described as a “well-made man” but also with a “Cro-Magnon brow-ridge.” He is thirty-one years old and worth three billion dollars, “most of it inherited.” He is intimidated by Winston Niles Rumfoord the moment they shake hands even through Rumfoord does not exist in any traditional sense of the word.

Beatrice Rumfoord aka Mrs. Winston Niles Rumfoord: She is thirty-four and has seventeen million dollars to her name. She is a “poetess” and the title of the chapter is a reference to her “reasonable well received” poetry collection of the same time. The collection – and arguably the novel – is a reference to time. The first (and only) time she met with her materialized husband he gave her news that was so unpleasant that she now refuses to see him. She is described as “marvelous” looking, but is described in the most unflattering terms, much like Constant, whom she detests. Her name is clearly a reference to Dante and The Divine Comedy, specifically Paradiso.

Winston Niles Rumfoord: While in his “private space ship” he and his mastiff (dog) Kazak intersected with a “chrono-synclastic infundibulum” and are now non-materialized, destined to forever appear on Earth every 59 days. He is described now as a “wave” and is – to use another Vonnegut term – “unstuck” in time, meaning that he can see the future as well as the past, and thus is bored. Rumfoord knows Constant from Titan (a moon of Saturn as Mrs. Rumfoord explains) and has requested his presence during the materialization that launches the novel. Rumfoord is genial and dignified to a degree that humbles Constant completely and Rumfoord is described only in glowing terms in the first chapter. He can read minds but, as he reminds Constant, he cannot “reproduce” (so Freudian), then again, as he explains, “Angels can’t either.”

Chrono: The son of Constant and Mrs. Rumfoord who is born on Mars (in the future) and whose “good-luck piece” is, as Mr. Rumfoord states, “unbelievably important.”

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