"A Rose for Emily" and "The Story of an Hour" by William Faulkner and Kate Chopin
A Rose for Emily and The Story of an Hour are two tragic short stories written by William Faulkner and Kate Chopin respectively. The writers take their readers through the lives of two tragic protagonists’ heroines. The Story of an Hour though short has a deep meaning. Chopin narrates about the events that take place from the time Louise learns about her husband’s death till the time she reappears when she learns attack and dies. A Rose for Emily, on the other hand, is longer. Faulkner divides the story into five events. We learn about Emily from narrator’s flashbacks and the scrutiny she undergoes from the town people. This paper aims at discussing similarities and differences evident in both stories in detail. It will, therefore, look at protagonists, themes, structure, and symbolism that writers used in the stories.
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Louise, the main character in Chopin’s story, is in some ways similar to Faulkner’s Emily. Both characters are secretive. They disguise features of character that other characters are unaware of. After learning about her husband’s death Louise grieves dramatically in the presence of her sister Josephine and her husband’s friend Richard. However, later in her room, she actually feels relieved due to her husband's death and views it as freedom. She knows she will cry again in the funeral but only because it is expected of her. However, secretly, she would be looking forward for many years of freedom (Chopin 27). Emily is secretive too. She has been under the scrutiny of town’s people for many years. She leads a life of a typical southern but is an outsider in her own town. She is anti social, and her ancient house is always locked, and strangers are not welcomed there. Readers know about her from the narrator and what people say about her. However, no one completely knows her true nature. She has successfully hidden her secret from her scrutinizers. For instance, when she buys poison, people think that she wants to commit suicide. No one thought that she would use it on her lover Baron as they discovered later after her death (Faulkner 35).
Another clearly observable similarity is the symbolic use of the window in both stories. In The Story of an Hour, the window is used as a symbol of freedom (Chopin 28). Louise stares through the window and listens to people talking and birds singing. She gazes at the blue sky, fluffy clouds, and tree tops. She smells a coming storm too. All these images depict spring and joy: the joy of a new life she is about to begin now that her husband is dead. The window is the only connection she has with the new world and with her freedom. It is a feeling that lasts for a short while because when she looks away, the earlier feeling of oppression slowly creeps back (Chopin 28). Similarly, the window is also used as a symbol in Faulkner story. The narrator of the story says that Jefferson residents observe Emily from the window on rare occasions when she appears in that window. The window is the only connection Emily has with the outside world. It is her only symbol of freedom, which she does all her best to deny herself (Chopin 22).
In addition, irony is evident in both stories. After Louise’s husband Brently, who was considered dead, reappears, Louise suffers a heart attack and dies. However, the diagnosis of doctors is wrong. They say that she died of heart attack caused by joy. This is ironical because in her room Louise welcomes the news about her husband’s death gladly. She views it as freedom from the oppression of marriage. She looks forward and prays for a long life now that her husband is dead. It is thus ironical that doctors say that the heart attack was caused by joy while she died from lack of it. Her husband's reappearance would deny her the freedom she looked forward to (Chopin 32). Similarly, irony is a stylistic device evident in Faulkner’s story. During Emily’s funeral, the narrator says that people went to her house that no stranger had gotten in for the last 40 years after the death of her father Grierson (Faulkner 2). It is ironical how death triumphs in the end. Emily does not have any visitors, and one time the narrator says that she turned away women who called on her after her father’s death. However, after her death, she could not turn them away and could not stop them from revealing a secret she had safely guarded for more than 40 years.
Both characters succumb to a major disease that leads to their health. Louise’s heart problem is both physical and emotional. Her heart problem is introduced to readers in the beginning when Richard, her husband’s friend, is wondering how to bring the news about her husband’s death to her because of her heart problem (Chopin 3). Her heart beats strongly when she is alone in her room after the realization of freedom from the oppression of marriage. Indeed, she feels a new sense of independence. This shows the extent to which oppressive marriage had affected her heart problem. Chopin, however, does not tell readers how Brently oppressed Louise. In fact, Louise herself admits that her husband was kind and loving (29). Nevertheless, the suggestion that Louise feels oppressed by her marriage with Brently clearly shows how married people can oppress their partners. Louise's heart problem is physical because after Brently reappears, she has a heart attack that eventually kills her. Emily too has a health problem that has disturbed her for long. Town people believe that she has a psychiatric problem. The narrator mentions that her great aunt died of insanity (Faulkner 21). They believe she is also ailing from the same problem. Her action echoes her fears when there is a strong odor coming from her house after her father’s death, and her consistent denial about the death raises eyebrows. In addition, the fact that she kills her lover and hides his body in a locked room in her house for 40 years questions her sanity.
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In as much as these two stories are similar, there is a clear contrast between them too. Character traits if protagonists differ. Chopin presents an intelligent lady, who seeks freedom. Louise feels oppressed by her marriage. She looks forward to a long life of freedom and independence after her husband’s death. This is, however, ironic because it is only the day before that she was thinking of how long she had to endure the life of oppression. She grieves after she receives the news about her husband's death, but only because it is expected of her. She says that she will cry again during the funeral because people would be keen to notice that. However, she secretly feels relieved. She knows that she is not supposed to feel that way because the joy of independence is forbidden. She tries to squelch the joy and beat it back with her will (26). However, she is overwhelmed by it. The freedom and independence she would endure are very appealing. She even says a prayer for a long life. Chopin’s character is very concerned about what others say about her. She says she will cry at the funeral because people expect her to, but secretly, she is happy to be freed from the oppressive marriage. Faulkner’s character Emily, on the other hand, is independent. She is an independent woman and does what pleases her. She is not concerned about what people think about her. For instance, she refuses to pay taxes (Faulkner 11). When town’s authorities pay her a visit to request her to pay taxes, she refers them to Colonel Scurtor, who had been dead for over a decade and asks him why she should be exempted from taxes. Scurtor had suspended her father from paying taxes because of generous contribution the latter made to the town (Faulkner 10). Moreover, when she buys poison, she refuses to say how she intends to use it. Federal laws require one to state the purpose for buying any poisonous substance when purchasing it. However, she refuses to do so. The final revelation, which is the murder of Baron, also shows that she does what pleases her and does not care about what people think of her.
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Secondly, there is a contrast in terms of how female characters in both stories view men. Louise is secretly happy that her husband dies. She views this as a gate pass to freedom. She regards her marriage as being oppressive. Her husband’s demise finally breaks the bondage (Chopin 27). Chopin does not clearly tell us how her husband oppresses her. However, her feelings depict how a married couple feels about each other. Apparently, Louise is tired of this life and welcomes freedom with open arms. Emily, on the other hand, highly regards marriage. She is furious at her father for chasing away every man that tries to court her (Faulkner 16). Therefore, the situation when her father dies and she fails to give his body for burial and only gives it away three days after his death shows the contempt she feels towards him. By keeping him long after he had died, she is containing him and possessing him just like he had done all her life. Similarly, the narrator says that the room where the body of Baron lays reminds a wedding scenery. There is a wedding dress, and Baron is dressed in a suit. This shows how highly Emily regards marriage. The fact that Emily hides the body after she kills Baron clearly shows how clingy she is to her man (Faulkner 36).
Thirdly, the theme of change is evident in both stories. However, the reception of the same differs. For instance, Emily welcomes life after her husband’s death with open arms. She feels free and independent. She is ready and prays for a long life. Emily, on the other hand, hates change. Her house is the only ancient house left in Jefferson. It is out place among cotton wagons and gasoline pumps in the town (Faulkner 9). In addition, the narrator says that she refuses to pin the number at her door when Jefferson introduces the posting system. Town people are not able to embrace change too. When Baron together with other northerners comes to construct pavements, they are nervous. They hate intrusion, especially from people from the North. When he finally starts dating Emily, they believe that she will never marry him partly because he is from the North and partly because they regard Emily to belong to a higher social class. Old men who attend Emily’s burial do so just because they have to preserve their traditions.
Finally, the structure of stories is different. Chopin’s story is very short. She tells about an hour of life of Louise. The reader gets to learn all about Louise in one hour. The length of the story does not allow it to include flashbacks, speculation, and gives no room for background information. Nevertheless, Chopin presents the story in a poetic form. Paragraphs are short consisting of two or three sentences. She repeats some of the most important words like "free" and "freedom". Repetition of phrases and sentences make the story structure almost poetic. For example, Chopin says that she tells a quick prayer that life might be long, and it was only yesterday that she thought that life might be long (Chopin 26). This structure makes story’s message short though powerful. Faulkner’s story is longer as she divides it into five sections making it look more like a play than a story. All that readers know about Emily they learn from narrator’s flashbacks and people’s speculation. Emily is very distant in the story. However, Faulkner’s portrayal is very skilled making the story meaningful.