Comparative Textual Analysis of “Desiree’s Baby” and “The Story of an Hour”
What is hidden behind a seemingly happy marriage and what cost a woman has to pay for being a wife in a patriarchal society are the themes which unite the short stories written by the same author, Kate Chopin. Deeply concerned about the vulnerability of women, she uses her literary tools to convey her message through different plots based on the same concept. The author’s use of symbolism, metaphors and an unexpected ending characterizes the style of both stories.
When analyzing the two stories it has to be noted that each of them has its own focus, even though the concept of femininity is of an interest to both of them. “The Story of an Hour” explores mostly the theme of freedom and its absence for a woman in a society and marriage, as well as existential problems and conflicts that arise from this situation. In its turn, “Desiree’s Baby” also considers other issues, such as racism. Besides, Chopin also investigates the theme of identity search, which is quite a concern for women of the time.
In terms of its symbolism, “The Story of an Hour” is quite rich despite its concise length. The author’s purpose is to demonstrate how saturated life of a soul can be for a woman in contrast to joyless existence in social reality. One of the symbols is the heart and heart decease that Mrs. Mallard has in particular. Traditionally, heart embodies home for feelings and emotions, as well as for love and human spirit. The fact that Mrs Mallard has heart trouble symbolizes the idea that her emotions and her spirit are oppressed, that they cannot function healthily. Such kind of emotional illness is caused by unhappy marriage, which confines the woman instead of letting her grow. Another important symbol in the story is the window, which embodies the woman’s hope, her chance to escape from her prison into the larger and brighter world. It is also a boundary that separates her from what she could be, a happy and realized woman. Besides, it is her resource that feeds her: “she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window”(Chopin).
The use of metaphors and simile in “The Story of an Hour” is also worth attention. It is important to note that the author’s aim is to contrast Mrs. Mallard’s dull existence to the brightness of the large world that is behind her window. This is why, when describing nature, she often resorts to making it appear alive: “The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares”(Chopin). At the same time, as the author primarily focuses on description of the character’s inner life, she uses simile and metaphor to make this description vivid and impressive. For example, she does not use exact words that denote emotions or state but rather characterizes them indirectly, allowing the readers elicit what the heroine feels, thus the following simile reveals that: “a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams”( Chopin). The transformation of her emotions is evident throughout the text, when she discovers the potential of her freedom, so this is put metaphorically in the following way: “Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her” (Chopin).
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The unexpected ending of the story is worth a separate discussion. If it is described in one phrase, the finale could be named “the break of hopes”. It is quite unexpected for Mrs. Mallard to feel joy and relief after finding out that her husband is dead but it takes her just an hour to plunge into a new state of freedom. That is why it comes as a shock to her that her husband is alive, which means that there is no hope of liberation: in the society of her time women in fact have no other way of self-realization. It is quite sad and symbolic that the heroine’s death is caused by this unbearable situation: “When the doctors came, they said she had died of heart disease – of the joy that kills” (Chopin). There is a bitter irony in the statement, which reveals the idea that no person around her actually knew what her concerns were and what person she was inside in contrast to her usual image among other people, including her husband.
In its turn, the story “Desiree’s Baby” is quite rich in symbolism, which reflects the author’s manner to leave the message between the lines rather than to put it into words explicitly. Thus, one of the key symbols is a stone pillar, which is closely connected to Desiree’s personal history. It embodies her past, which is unknown, and in fact this pillar is the beginning of the known period of her life, because it is a milestone where Valmonde found her as a baby and took her home. It is also peculiar that it plays the same role of the milestone years later, when Armand meets her: “It was no wonder, when she stood one day against the stone pillar in whose shadow she had lain asleep, eighteen years before, that Armand Aubigny riding by and seeing her there, had fallen in love with her” (Chopin).Thus, the stone pillar can be also the symbol of destiny that directs Desiree’s life. Speaking about symbolism, it should also be noted that the story is abundant in characters of mixed races, which is not accidental, as they imply that this theme is important before the secret of Armand’s mother is disclosed. Thus, the reader comes across several minor characters, all of them suggesting what future events will follow: “The yellow nurse woman sat beside a window fanning herself… One of La Blanche’s little quadroon boys – half naked too – stood fanning the child slowly with a fan of peacock feathers” (Chopin).
So, seeing mixed-race people helps Desiree to discover that her baby is of mixed race too, which eventually frightens her and her husband. Armand is quite angry about his wife, because he believes that she is of African origin. Due to his own racist beliefs he becomes hostile to his wife and excludes her of his life in the end. Bonfire is thus another symbol, which suggests his determination to get rid of the past. When making it, the man hopes to get rid of his memories and negative feelings. However, aimed to be an instrument of cleaning, the bonfire becomes the symbol of destruction. Everything is destroyed: the marriage, the past, the future, family bond, love and affection. Armand also destroys a part of his own history when burning his mother’s message to his father.
When discussing metaphors and simile, it should be noted that they are not abundant because the author’s style in this particular story deals with more factual narration rather than with internal monologues. However, there are some examples of these speech figures, which are mostly related to emphasizing the characters’ feelings: “Armand,” she called him, in a voice which must have stabbed him” (Chopin). The passage suggests that despite Armand’s seeming coldness, he is still deeply hurt. “She was like a stone image: silent, white, motionless after she placed it there” ( Chopin). It is interesting, that this simile is related to the symbol of the stone pillar. However, in this case the stone suggests that Desiree is emotionally dead after Armand’s reaction.
Finally, it is worth discussing the end of the story, which is quite unexpected. In his fierce denial of possible African origin of Desiree, Armand discovers that his real mother was a black woman. Even then he is not ready to accept this fact and destroys the message that his mother wrote to his father. ”But above all,” she wrote, ”night and day, I thank the good God for having so arranged our lives that our dear Armand will never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery.”( Chopin). There is a bitter irony about the ending, which reveals an idea that a person can be blinded by his own prejudice, and he can become the focus of this prejudice too: in fact, Armand realizes that what he hates most is a part of him.
Overall, both stories focus on women’s oppression in the world that the author’s epoch created. Yet, “The Story of an Hour” mostly explores the theme of freedom and the impossibility to fulfill it for a woman, while “Desiree’s Baby” raises the theme of race in the context of identity or lack of identity. Both stories are symbolic, however, “The Story of an Hour” is richer in terms of metaphors and similes because the narration is more emotional and more focused on the characters’ feelings. Finally, both stories have unexpected endings, which are unexpected for the heroes themselves. Lost expectations and revelation of truth are in fact the key aspects of these endings.