Independence: A Right or a Privilege?
Modern society strives to grant everyone equal opportunities, regardless of their race, class, or sex. However, the beliefs embedded in traditional society are significantly different from the notion of equality that is promoted nowadays. For instance, merely a century ago, a family comprising a male breadwinner and a female homemaker was the norm. Married women were encouraged to stay out of the workforce and were expected to loyally remain at home, where they took on the role of a mother. Women were deprived of their independence and freedom to the extent that they could not make their own decisions. Kate Chopin addresses the oppression of the female gender by writing many short stories, in which she conveys the message that the expectations imposed on women as wives and mothers are unjust, stripping them of their independence and femininity. The symbols, imagery, and situational irony that Chopin applies in her pieces effectively help convey her demand for equality.
Chopin’s stories are filled with strong symbols to emphasize the femininity and independence that married women lacked. In her “A Pair of Silk Stockings,” Mrs. Sommers, the protagonist, feels “just as if she [has] been asked to inspect a tiara of diamonds with the ultimate view of purchasing it” (Chopin 2) when she is offered to examine some silk stockings that are on sale. Silk stockings are typically regarded as an attractive garment worn by females, symbolizing femininity. However, in this case, Mrs. Sommers has resorted to wearing dull cotton stockings ever since her marriage, meaning that she has lost all her womanhood due to her devotion to her maternal responsibilities. By dedicating herself to her children as her highest priority, she has no time or money to spend on herself. In another short story titled “The Story of An Hour,” Chopin presents a woman named Mrs. Mallard who becomes mentally weak as a result of her prolonged repressed womanhood. Although she initially mourns the news of her husband’s death, she subsequently stares through the open window in her room and begins to contemplate all the new opportunities that she would get to explore thereafter: “There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence…” (Chopin 2). Hence, this open window symbolizes the freedom and chances that Mrs. Mallard would be able to have. By portraying this surge of ecstasy and lack of grief that she feels, readers can infer that wives are truly given little freedom with their own decision-making. As a result, Chopin conveys her message that women should be able to enjoy independence and freedom after getting married or having children.
Besides symbolism, Chopin applies a lot of imagery in both of these stories to emphasize the deprivation of freedom and womanhood of married women. For instance, in “A Pair of Silk Stockings,” Chopin uses tactile and visual imagery to reveal how confined Mrs. Sommers’s feminine desires are when Mrs. Sommers feels “just as if she had been asked to inspect a tiara of diamonds with the ultimate view of purchasing it” as she “[feels] the soft, sheeny luxurious [silk stockings]” and “[holds] them up to see them glisten” (Chopin 2). The previously “faint and tired” Mrs. Sommers is now relishing feminine apparel that all women should be able to afford. Furthermore, as she continues to fulfill her other cravings and impulsively dines at a restaurant, she marvels at “the damask [being] even more spotless than it had seemed through the window, and the crystal more sparkling” (Chopin 3). With this second application of visual imagery, readers can understand Mrs. Sommers’ great admiration for the stockings and the restaurant. Essentially, this longing portrays how much of her femininity she has lost ever since her marriage. Similarly, in “The Story of An Hour,” Mrs. Mallard spots her shining star of hope when she receives the news of the death of her husband. There are many positive signs of good fortune as she is facing the open window: “she could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air…” (Chopin 1). This visual and olfactory image evokes a sense of freedom after a long period of confinement. Consequently, by portraying the oppression that Mrs. Mallard feels on a daily basis and the freedom that Mrs. Sommers lacks, Chopin evidently urges for reform to occur.
Chopin’s situational irony further emphasizes the drastic consequences of oppressed women. In “The Story of an Hour,” readers would not expect Mrs. Mallard to rejoice at the death of her husband. However, soon after hearing the news of her husband’s death, she reconsiders her love for her husband and thinks, “What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!” (Chopin 2) Because of Mrs. Mallard’s desperation for freedom and self-assertion, she consistently mutters, “Free! Body and soul free!” Similarly, Mrs. Sommers in “A Pair of Silk Stockings” is supposed to add “a dollar or two to the price usually paid for Janie’s shoes” and “get caps for the boys and sailor-hats for the girls” (Chopin 1). However, ironically she goes on a shopping spree and spends her fifteen dollars on what she desires. This ecstasy that she experiences throughout the whole trip shows how deprived she is of her well-being and happiness. By using situational ironies in these stories, Chopin calls for the need for equal liberty of men and women.
Traditional expectations of women are simply unjustified, a message which Chopin effectively delivers through her applications of symbolism, imagery, and situational irony in her short stories. Although the circumstances have greatly improved for women around the world, there are still such societal expectations in many areas of the world. Specifically, many undeveloped countries still have these notions due to religious or traditional beliefs. As a result, it is important that we promote gender equality to allow both sexes to have equal rights and freedoms.