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“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin and “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry

May 17, 2019 at Literature Essays

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The paper deals with the analysis, comparison, and contrast of the following short stories: “The Story of an Hour” by Chopin (1894) and “The Gift of the Magi” by Henry (1905). The goal of the paper is to observe two different approaches to the concept of love on the basis of the aforementioned literary works. The research considers such literary terms as symbolism, point of view, simile, metaphor, and figurative language. The paper compares the feeling among two people and person’s love to freedom and independence. The analysis of both concepts helps find out which approach is stronger. The paper contrasts and compares these two types of love using a detailed description of different behaviors of two women: a wealthy widow Louise Mallard and poor but beloved wife Della. The analysis and comparison proves that other types of love can be more powerful than the feeling shared by two people. Moreover, the story of Della exemplifies the commonest concept of love, which is always ready to sacrifice the most valuable treasure for the sake of a beloved person. On the other hand, a reader learns a completely different approach in the story by Chopin, which is more material and a bit ironic. Therefore, the two types of equally strong love are observed while reading these two books.

The Theme of Love Compared and Contrasted

The theme of love in literature occupies one of the most essential places. Numerous fiction books are dedicated to this noble feeling. Numerous authors tried to describe, understand, and explain different types of love. The goal of this paper is to find out whether any type of love is stronger than the one shared by two human beings. Such literature approaches as comparison and contrast are applied in order to discuss the examples of love in two short stories.

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The short stories by Chopin and Henry, chosen for the analyses, provide perfect examples of two different types of love. In “The Story of an Hour” by Chopin, the central character is so excited about being free and independent that the death of her beloved husband seems to be a relief to her but not a grief. On the other hand, in “The Gift of the Magi” by Henry, the main character is ready and willing to do anything to make her husband happy. Furthermore, it is a generally known fact that, in some cases, even the strongest feeling between a man and woman can lose to the will to be independent and love to freedom. Therefore, the thesis statement of the paper is as follows: there are different types of love as far as it is a subjective and internally controversial feeling.

Summary of “The Story of an Hour”

“The Story of an Hour” tells a story of Louise Mallard, a young woman that experienced love and happiness in her life. The woman became a widow after the tragic death of her beloved husband in a train accident. However, when she hears the news, it does not look like she really loves the man in the common sense of the notion. For some reason, this death causes happiness but not a profound grief. Such an aspect of the plot may be discussed from the perspectives of rational and irrational which have been analyzed by Livingstone and Mele (1997). She is stunned and unable to understand what is happening. Chopin focuses on the appearance of the woman, especially her eyes and face.

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The writer believes that the human face can express far more than the words do. Chopin explains Louise’s mood with the help of the detailed description of nature. An optimistic mood is supported by lexical representatives (metaphors, symbolism, similes). For example, “The tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new life; the delicious breath of air; a distant song; countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves; patches of blue sky” (Chopin, 1894, p. 1). When her husband returns healthy and unharmed, triumphant and victorious Louise dies immediately. The reason of the death may be considered to be her failing marriage experience. Chopin considers all marriages inherently oppressive. Louise admits that her husband was kind and loving, but when one partner breaks the hopes of another, the impulse called love disappears forever. Therefore, despite love between these two people, Louise considers Brently’s death a release from oppression.

Summary of “The Gift of the Magi”

This short writing tells the story of another couple, Della and Jim. The Christmas time is coming, so these two have almost ran out of time to please each other with wonderful gifts. Both, however, find a way out. For twenty dollars, Della sells her biggest treasure and spends the money on a platinum chain for Jim’s golden watch. Preparing a dinner, the woman prays he will be still in love with her despite her short haircut. Meanwhile, Jim sells her golden watch to buy expensive hair accessories.

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Their presents are useless, but these two are still the wisest and happiest people on earth as they have managed to sacrifice their greatest treasures for the sake of each other. They have exchanged material treasures for eternal love. The ending of this story is sad and happy at the same time. It is sad because the expensive gifts cannot be used by the two. The happy point is that the husband and wife have made a priceless gift of eternal love, proving it by giving away money and other treasures. This couple demonstrates a willingness to sacrifice everything in the sake of love. Contrary to Chopin, Henry praises an innocent and unselfish love.

Contradictions and Contrasts in Both Stories

The techniques which have been used in the course of analysis are contrast and comparison. In the story by Chopin, in contrast to pain of loss and tragic love, the reader witnesses the emotions of happiness and freedom, described only for four times, “She said it over and over under her breath: ‘free, free, free!’” (p. 2); “Free! Body and soul free!” (p. 2); “She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her (p. 2); “When the doctors came, they said she had died of heart disease - of joy that kills” (p. 3). The main character is experiencing some doubts about these emotions considering them too strange and banal at the same time. On the contrary, Della from “The Gift of the Magi” (1905) cannot imagine her life without Jim, her only man and true love. She has nothing else to think about except for him. It appears that she does not care about being his property. The lack of freedom is not a reason to ruin her feeling of love.

Along the whole story by K. Chopin (1894), the reader witnesses the vain attempts of Mrs. Mallard to get over the feeling of happiness; instead, the woman realizes that her joy does not scare her at all. The foretaste of the new upcoming life takes her far away from the feeling of love. From now on, she can do whatever she wants; this possibility attracts her more than the routine life with a strict husband. Unlike Louise, Della does not consider her life with Jim a routine. Quite to the contrary, it is full of colors and exciting moments. Moreover, she does not even notice the poverty they live in being blind with her feelings.

Coming back to Mrs. Mallard, the widow evaluates the tragic news as a grief only for the first moment. Enlightenment comes soon and Louise understands everything. Finally, Louise becomes so overwhelmed by the sensation of independence and happy freedom. Unlike Louise Mallard, a real happiness and joy for Della is satisfaction and happiness of her husband. no matter what. Along the whole story by Henry, a reader sees only her passion, affection, and care. Della does not say a word defiling her husband. Her mind is innocent and na?ve while Louise Mallard’s thoughts can seem dirty and outrageous to the society.

When Mrs. Mallard meets her sister downstairs, she positions herself as a completely different person. She is cheered up with the adrenaline floating about her. Nevertheless, because of the rumors and some silly mistake, Mr. Mallard appears to be alive. Moreover, he feels even better than before when he comes back home that evening. After the doctor’s explanation of her death, a reader may realize the sickness that primarily caused it. What is more ironic, she cannot return. Unlike in the story by Chopin, in “The Gift of the Magi,” the scene where Jim returns home is described in more details. A reader is left to wonder what was on Mr. Mallard’s mind while Jim’s words and emotions are presented in full. Nothing can be said about Mr. Mallard’s reaction to his wife’s death, but it is expected that his sorrow is deeper than Mrs. Mallard’s was. Like Mr. Mallard, Jim also loves his wife. They both can be called good and caring husbands. Therefore, the only person that fails to follow a common behavior and reaction is Mrs. Mallard. Nevertheless, it means only that her attitude towards the concept of love is different, but also has a right to exist.

Louise dies neither of happiness nor of frustration. Everything is far more trivial: she has a weak heart. That is why only gentle attitude of her surrounding has helped her to survive. In “The Gift of the Magi,” both members of the couple perform a high level of care for another one. While Mrs. Mallard is supported only by her relatives, Jim and Della are the closest people to each other. O. Henry points out that they are even reading the thoughts of each other when he describes the ways these two choose those Christmas gifts.

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In “The Story of an Hour,” two main tools are used to compare different perceptions of love. First, Louise has heart problems, which reflect the physical and symbolic malady. It covers two opposing feelings: the possession by marriage and love, and the need of freedom and independence. The heart disease is employed to show the most attentive readers the real attitude of Mrs. Mallard to her marriage. As far as no person with a weak heart is able to survive shocking, tragic news, it is obvious from the very beginning that something more lies behind Louise’s cries and grief. In contrast, her heart starts racing and beating faster, pumping blood through her veins after she retires in her room all alone. Therefore, symbolically the death of Mrs. Mallard can be explained as the death from the stolen freedom and hopes. Second, one more symbolic element that catches the eye is the open window, from which the widow gazes for more than half of the story. It is apparent that an open window stands for freedom, new opportunities, hope, and independence. The blue sky is associated with the free birds and independence. Everything that may be seen through the open window has influenced Louise’s decision and new vision of her life and the world around. Therefore, there is no coincidence that when the widow closes the window and goes away from the room. Consequently, she loses her freedom and hopes once and forever.

The keywords that Chopin uses to describe the feeling of love are rather weird: tears, grief, freedom, hope, and independence; meanwhile, Henry employs such words as the gift of kindness, joy, holiday, and mother to express the same feeling. The appropriate choice of lexical material is crucial in the description of emotions (Oatley, 2004). In any case, the words comprise significant emotional connotation. Such a tendency confirms the statement made by Miall (1995) concerning primacy of emotions. The same approach is demonstrated in the later work of the same author: “emotional response plays a central role, possibly prior to the primarily cognitive inferences” (Miall, 2011, p. 327).

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It is interesting to admit that the male author chooses a more traditional approach to the concept of love while a female writer expresses more aggression and negative emotions associated with the feeling in marriage favoring rather the passion for freedom.

Della thinks that there is nothing more precious and dear than her husband. The love, according to her, is the feelings shared by a man and woman who demand nothing in response from each other. In her understanding, a true love is innocent and free of charge. Unlike Louise, Della appreciates every moment spent with her husband. It seems that she cannot imagine her life without him. Most probably, they are not able to exist without each other. In their situation, Della would rather die than cheer for freedom in case of Jim’s death. They seem to be the two parts of a whole. O. Henry presents the concept of love that is closer to the generally accepted meaning of this word while Chopin gives preference to other essential features such as ambition for freedom and independence, newborn hope and destiny change. In “The Gift of the Magi,” the love is worth everything. Main heroes are ready to sacrifice their only treasures to please each other. Contrary to such an overwhelming perspective, a reader witnesses another attitude towards the concept of love in “The Story of an Hour,” where love is worth a couple of tears and one moment of grief while the passion for freedom is valued more than a life of a beloved person. It sounds a bit ironic and harsh, but such approach still has the right to coexist with the standard love concept.

Conclusion

After analysis and comparison of the two stories, one derives at the conclusion that there are different concepts of love. The examples provided in the stories “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Story of an Hour” describes one type of overwhelming and profound feeling of true love and affection, whereas the other type is subdued by the feelings of independence and freedom. Furthermore, every type of love is concluded to be a controversial and complicated issue.

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