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American Lit 1865-1900
Transcript of American Lit 1865-1900
"The Story of an Hour"
by Kate Chopin
"The Story of an Hour" addresses the social conventions of Mrs. Mallard's actions upon hearing that her husband has died. Chopin leaves the reader wondering if Mrs. Mallard is secretly happy to be free of her husband. Is she going through the motions and grieving as society would require, or is she truly saddened by his tragic death? Perhaps, she is a little bit of both.
Mrs. Mallard did not respond to her husband's death as many, other women would have, "with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance." (18) Yet, "she wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment." (18) When it comes to grief, all people respond differently. However, there are still some "normal actions" that society expects from us.
I am sure it is possible to suffer an intense grief as she did, to the point of "physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul," (18) and to also feel a sweet relief of freedom. However, Mrs. Mallard knew that normal social conventions would never condone her joy at being free. That is why she "was striving to beat it back with her will." (18)
by Rebecca Harding Davis
Rebecca Harding Davis portrays Marcia as a fighter. Marcia knew what was expected of her as a woman in those days, yet she fought against adapting to those norms with all that was in her. She would rather spend what little money she had sending out her manuscripts, and "she would not take a penny of aid." (22) As a result, she "very nearly reached starvation" (22)
She even avoided Zack Biron, when he came to "bring Marcia home and marry her." (23) Strangely, she would rather continue in her current plight, than conform to social conventions and marry a good man who truly "wanted her." (23) A man who is as "faithful as a dog." (24)
Marcia did not agree with her father's views, "that women are like mares--only useful to bring forth children." (21) His views were shaped by society and shared by most men. These views were also accepted by most women as well. Most women saw no other alternative and were not willing to suffer and fight for change like Marcia.
Social Conventions, as defined by the Princeton University Press:
"The arbitrary rules and norms governing the countless behaviors all of us engage in every day without necessarily thinking about them."
Social Conventions is a topic addressed around the world. Not only is it seen in literature, but many other areas as well, including advertisements, as can be seen in the following clip.
"The Coup de Grâce"
by Ambrose Bierce
While "The Coup de Grâce" is nothing like the previous stories of women challenging social norms, it approaches the effects of social conventions from a different angle. Ambrose Bierce examines how war affects social conventions.
Rules, they must be followed. There are no exceptions. That would be the consensus of normal social conventions. However, Ambrose Bierce chose to challenge the rules, by bringing attention to the results of breaking them. Bierce is right, on certain occasions, some rules need to be broken.
Bierce also brought attention to the horrific side of war. He used "all the senses" to describe it. (8) The government tries to convince society that war produces positive results, and that we need to accept war. Bierce also brings to light that we are expected to put a dying animal out of its misery, as the officer "drew his revolver and shot the poor beast between the eyes" (10) Yet moments before, he would not do the same for his friend, even though his friend implored him to show the "uttermost compassion, the coup de grâce." (10) He refused his friend of, "that which we accord to even the meanest creature." (10) Why did he refuse him? Because he was following the rules. "It is an army regulation that the wounded must wait." (8)
In the readings from Unit One, several of the author's write in such a way as to question the social conventions during that time. Rebecca Harding Davis and Kate Chopin, both tackle the norms and expectations of women in those days. Ambrose Bierce challenges the rules and regulations that are expected during a time of war.
By Renee Ward
"The Yellow Wallpaper"
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
"The Yellow Wallpaper" explores the social conventions of that time. It addresses the superiority of males over women. This was a problem that men may not have even noticed, as it had become second nature to them. Gilman's main character struggles to find equality in a male dominated society. Her husband, brother, and male doctor, all seem to control her and not give any concern to the views and ideas she has. She is expected to do as they request and not question their authority. She realizes that doing so would be futile anyway, "You see he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do?" (54). She silently disagrees with their ideas, "Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good" (54).
In the 19th century, most readers would have seen John as a truly caring husband with the best of intentions. "He is very caring and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction" (55). Perhaps, even John himself, did not know the difference either. However, his restrictive and controlling behavior is clear to readers today. His dismissal of her thoughts and views and controlling behavior are slowing driving her mad. "He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures" (54).
Our heroine does not go down easy. She will not go against her husband face-to-face, and her attempts to communicate with him are shut down. Therefore, she tries to fight back against these social expectations the only way she knows how, with her mind. When doing what she is told to do, does not work, she tries other avenues of escape. "I did write for while in spite of them; but it DOES exhaust me a good deal--having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition" (54).
"Under the Lion's Paw"
by Hamlin Garland
While Garland's "Under the Lion's Paw" does displays women dealing with the social conventions of marriage, like the wife in "The Yellow Wallpaper," it mainly deals with the struggles of a much different type of societal expectation. Farmers during those times were expected to cave in to the pressures of the land owners. Many of those pressures were unexpected, but when they did arrive, the farmers were expected to not question them or fight against them.
Haskins, however, did decide to fight back against the unfair treatment of the land speculators. He knew Butler was only out for money and was not treating him fair. Haskins believed he should be rewarded for his hard work, but to Butler it was all a business deal that the law supported, "Don't take me for a thief. It's the law. the reg'lar thing. Everybody does it" (53). Everybody should not do it! They do not need to line their already full pockets. They would do better by considering what it best for society as a whole.
The many improvements Haskins had done to the land did not count for anything. As a matter of fact, they only hurt him more, "I'm kickin' about payin' you twice f'r my own things, my own fences, my own kitchen, my own garden" (53). There was not a thing Haskins could do about the unfairness, but to cave to it as society demanded.
Butler's attitude certainly was not helping matters, his "cool, mocking, insinuating voice" only served to add fuel to the fire (53). As much as Haskins wished to avenge the injustice, he decided to follow the social conventions of not committing murder. Although he did put the fear in Butler and leave him with a threat, "don't ye never cross my line agin; if y' do, I'll kill ye" (53).
"The Revolt of 'Mother'"
by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Sarah, in "The Revolt of 'Mother'" was a good wife. For forty years, she followed the social conventions expected of a wife. She cooked his favorite meals and kept an impeccably clean house, "like an artist so perfect that he has apparently no art" (37). She even took up for her husband around the children, "you hadn't ought to judge father" (37). Even though her husband, Adoniram, had long since forgotten his promise to build her a new house, Sarah made-do in their "infinitesimal" house (35).
Over the years, Sarah watched her husband build many a new building on their land, yet "Nobody's ever heard me complain" (37) However, when Adoniram decided to build a second barn on the exact spot they had discussed building the new house, Sarah could remain quiet no longer. Still she would not complain, but she had to "talk real plain" so get her point across (39). His mind must have been on getting "that load of gravel" (39) because it was as if, he did not hear a word she said.
It was only then that Sarah decided to go against the social conventions of the day and take matters into her own hands. While Adoniram was away, she moved everything from the little house into the new barn. She was standing up for what she deserved. She was helping him keep him promise. The community "held her to be insane; some, of a lawless and rebellious spirit" (42). When the minister went to see her, "her eyes showed the spirit that her meek front had covered for a lifetime" (42).
Upon Adoniram's return, he finally realized how much she really wanted the new house. When he saw the home she made of the new barn, she found him "weeping" (44). "I hadn't no idee you was so set on't as all this comes to" (44). Even Sarah "was overcome by her own triumph" (44). I guess it was true, what she told Nanny about men-folks, "we know only what men-folks think we do" (37).
In the readings from Unit Two, social conventions are again brought to light. Freeman, Garland and Gilman, all wrote these stories in such a manner that one cannot question the role of men in society and the expectations of women. These conventions were the same whether you were living in poverty or high society.
"A White Heron"
by Sarah Orne Jewett
"A White Heron" addresses social conventions in several ways. Beginning when Sylvia meets a young man in the woods, while looking for her cow who has wandered off. When she first hears him, she tries to hide, "stepped discreetly aside in the bushes" (87). Except it is too late, he has already seen her. Even though she is "trembling," she is expected to respond to his "persuasive tone" (87).
Social conventions during those times were such that if a wandering stranger passed your way, you were expected to feed and house the individual. It did not matter if you wanted to or not, nor did it matter if you barely had enough food to feed your own family. Such is the case with the hunter that came home with Sylvia. He made it very clear that he expected a meal and lodging, when he said, "I am very hungry indeed. You can give me milk at any rate, that's plain" (87).
Once he learns of Sylvia's connection with the animals in the area, he offers to pay her for directing him to the nest of the white heron. He never suspects that she will not help him. By now, she is becoming enamored with him herself "having lost her first fear of the friendly lad" (89) and she also has no doubts that she will assist him. After all, society would expect her to do as she is told.
Sylvia decides at the last minute, to break social conventions, even though her grandmother "fretfully rebukes her" (91). She decides to not tell of the heron's location. She must remain loyal to the animals and the woods that have made her part of their home.
by Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton's story, "A Journey" deals with breaking social conventions. The unnamed woman tried to remain calm and do as society required regarding her marriage and life as a married woman. However, her husband's ailing health made it difficult to do so. Their roles had been reversed in some ways, "now it was she who was the protector, he who must be shielded" (100). No matter how difficult the task, society demanded it of her.
Upon her husband's death is when her rebellion escalates. Her selfish desires to not "be put off the train at the next station" spurred her on (102). "At all costs she must conceal the fact that he was dead" (102). However, this proves to be a struggle for her. She goes against what society deems proper and fights to conceal his condition.
Ironically, near the end, when she is overcome by stress, she falls back into what is expected of a woman. Although she has lied and hidden his death by drinking his milk, she begins to falter in her grief. She is confused and questions whether, "she fainted or slept" (105). Then fate intervenes when she is spared from having to follow through with her plan to feign surprise and horror that he is suddenly deceased.
"The Lady of Little Fishing"
by Constance Fenimore Woolson
Woolson approached social conventions in "The Lady of Little Fishing." One way she does this, is by exploring gender conventions. By writing this work from a male perspective, she shows how women are truly not understood by men. "there wasn't any nonsense at Little Fishing,--until she came" (108). Woolson was aware of the fact that society's expectations stopped women from expressing their true feelings.
Woolson has turned the table on gender norms in this story by portraying the men in a negative light. She shows them as the weak individuals who will do anything for The Lady in the story. She takes this to the extreme when she shows these "forty evil-minded, lawless men" (110) "neglecting the hunting and trapping" (112). Without the bounty from hunting and trapping, they would all be in trouble. This is certainly an attack on the social norms of that time. But did these men stop building houses to get back to the business at hand? Certainly not, they came up with a plan to "build at night" (112). These men were willing to go without sleep to fulfill her desire that they live in civilized houses.
Catering to The Lady's every beckon call became the norm for these men. They all loved her and changed their evil ways, until she changed and her beauty faded. Then they when back to the lifestyle they had enjoyed before her arrival.
In the readings from Unit Three, several of the author's write in such a way as to question the social conventions during that time. Sarah Orne Jewett and Edith Wharton , both write about individuals who challenge the norms and expectations of women in those days. Constance Fenimore Woolson turns the table on gender norms in her work,
The Lady of Little Fishing