The place of women in the society has changed over time; their roles in the 1950s and 1960s differs significantly from their roles today. Unlike the past era when they were homemakers and submissive to their husbands, women have advanced in workplace and have grown in terms of education. Majority of them have gained more equal rights and occupied political seats. Kate Chopin’s Story of an Hour and Gail Godwin’s A Sorrowful Woman uses their protagonist females to illustrate the revolution of a new era, with both authors identifying the changes in the institution of marriage and how women roles have changed in the society. This paper, therefore discusses the two themes in relation to the short stories.
The women in the current society feel confined and oppressed in the institution of marriage. In the past centuries, a woman was expected to be a homemaker who performs all the duties of her husband, children and the house (Enloe 121). This was usually done voluntarily without complaint. In the two stories, however, the women do not feel happy with these roles; instead they feel oppressed and confined in their own homes. In the Story of an Hour, Mrs. Mallard is filled with joy when he realizes that her husband is no longer there. Her reason is that she would not be controlled any more. The narrator states that, “There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature… (Chopin Para. 12). This means that she has been feeling oppressed in the marriage because of the fact that the husband has been controlling her.
The situation is similar in a Sorrowful Woman; the wife is feeling oppressed and finally decides to act against it. She had been doing everything for the husband and the 3 years old son. She has taken clothes to the laundry, cleaning the house, cooking for the family, and reading books for the child (she tells her husband to tell the child the story of a monkey who ate too many bananas). Instead of taking these as her roles, the wife has reached a point in which she feels oppressed and cannot take it anymore. It is stated, “ONE winter evening she looked at them: the husband durable, receptive, gentle; the child a tender golden three. The sight of them made her so sad and sick she did not want to see them ever again” (Godwin Para 1). This wife had gotten tired of her expected roles, and this makes her sick. As the story continues she decides to take a break from all the sadness.
The institution of marriage robs off independence and pleasure from women. A woman is usually forced to leave her past life, norms and beliefs to take that of the husband (Enloe 123). She then becomes confined and ruled by husband without freedom of making choices. Interestingly, both short stories illustrate the lack of freedom and independence for both women in their marriages. When Mrs. Mallard realizes her husband’s death, “There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air…” (Chopin Para. 8). While with her husband, she felt confined and could not be free to live her own life; now the opportunity has arrived. She has all the rights to be happy, no one will control her ever again.
The wife in a Sorrowful Woman also portrays the way independence of women is robbed off in the marriage institution. She is tired of seeing her husband and child; may be because of the obvious routines expected from her by the society. Like Mrs. Mallard, she decides to get away from all the troubles. She locks herself in one of the rooms to finally be free. While in her own world, she decides to explore her femininity, “All day long she stayed in the white room. She was a young queen, a virgin in a tower; she was the previous inhabitant, the girl with all the energies. She tried these personalities on like costumes, then discarded them. The room had a new view of streets she'd never seen that way before” (Godwin Para 21). The wife feels she can finally express herself and be free from her husband’s control. She, therefore, tries on the costumes to see if she fit in them. Both stories, therefore, illustrate the existing lack of freedom among married women.
All patriarchal societies expect men to be superior to their wives, and not get involved in managing the home (Enloe 121). Unlike this belief, the two short stories prove that there is a change in such attitude; men have revolved to love their wives, understand them, and even take up the roles that were initially designed for women. In the Story of an Hour, Mrs. Mallard admits that her husband is a tender man who is loving and caring. The narrator states, “She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead…” (Chopin Para. 11). Amidst the joy she feels because of the ultimate freedom she would achieve, Mrs. Mallard is sad and will weep when she sees her kind husband lying dead. This is clear that Mr. Mallard had revolved from the patriarchal beliefs of seeing a wife as an object of work, and was able to love and be kind to the wife
This revolution is also seen in a Sorrowful Woman; the husband is able to do all the chores expected from his wife. Before bringing in a lady help who does the chores in the house, he cleans and take care of the wife, including cooking. The narrator explains, “The next day was Sunday and the husband brought her breakfast in bed and let her sleep until it grew dark again. He took the child for a walk, and when they returned, red-cheeked and boisterous, the father made supper (Godwin Para. 5). This is an indication of the changes of men roles in the marriage institution. Instead of letting the wife do all the duties, he takes up the roles when he realizes she is not in the moods of doing them. It is not clear whether she is sick; and this proves that the man got involved in the duties voluntarily.
In summary, both stories illustrate how the institution of marriage has revolved as well as the expectation of the society. Women feel oppressed and confined in their marriages. They lose their sense of independence and thus react rebelliously to gain beck the freedom; this is witnessed in both stories when Mrs. Mallard feels happy instead of being sorrowful when the husband is dead. The wife in Godwin’s story also decides to lock herself in her room away from the family just be free once more. It is also clear that the society is changing; men are able to take up the roles of women and be kind to their wives. This is also seen in both the short stories.