William Faulkner once said that “the human heart in conflict with itself” is the only subject that is truly worth writing about. There are many authors who have applied this advice to their characters throughout literature. From the complicated Nineteen Eighty-Four’s Winston Smith to the simplistic Sam I Am’s Sam, there are too many characters to name who spend the pages of their novel feeling in conflict with their own hearts. Two more examples of such characters are Bernard Marx, from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Louise from Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour. Both spend their stories battling an inner struggle with what they desire most and how they are forced to live their lives.
Bernard Marx of Brave New World live in the futuristic World State, where babies are bred in test tubes and the thought of nuclear families is something so pornographic it makes scientists blush. Everybody in this futuristic landscape is bred with a purpose and, as soon as the embryonic stage, they are conditioned to be satisfied with their station in life. From Alpha to Epsilon everybody is happy; everybody, except Bernard Marx. They say something went wrong while he was being conceived. Bred as an Alpha, he looks more like a Beta. In a society where solitude is looked down upon and promiscuity is encouraged Bernard revels in being on is own: “’And then he spends most of his time by himself – alone!’ There was horror in Fanny’s voice.”. He also has no interest in lusting after many women, seeking only the affection of Lenina Crowne. This also makes his peers uneasy. It seems that everything about the World State disagrees with how Bernard Marx would prefer to live his life.
The conflict in Marx’s heart is introduced with the threat of punishment. He wishes to live his life against the grain of general society. Solitude and monogamy are punishable; those individuals are sent away to an island where they will live the rest of their lives, no longer able to poison the rest of civilized society. This punishment strikes great fear in Marx, but it does not stop him from admitting to Lenina that he would give up the numb, rushed lifestyle they are leading, stating, “I want to know what passion isI want to feel something strongly.” (94). Through a series of unfortunate events, Marx is eventually held responsible for John, a rescued savage, and his erratic behavior. This coupled with Marx’s antisocial behavior become too much to bear, and he is sentenced to the island. The news initially devastates him but upon further analysis Marx can realize that the island must be full of people who want to live as he does and the conflict he once felt being torn between the way he wished to live and the fear of being punished disappears. He begins to feel relieved that he is being sent to the island, suggesting that Marx is the smartest and strongest of all the characters in the novel.
The Story of an Hour shows a powerful conflict within Louise’s heart, literally and metaphorically. Louise’s heart has a physical ailment, but remains a metaphor for her conflict as well. She is the victim of an unhappy marriage that she cannot escape. The unhappiness has become so much for her to bear that her heart has actually begun to weaken and fail. However, upon the news of her husband’s failing health her spirits lift. This news of a dying husband would continue to weaken the already damaged heart of anybody else, but it is here in the story that we find out just how conflicted Louise has been about her marriage. The unhappiness has begun to kill her, and the prospect of being free without the guilt of leaving her husband actually begins to cure her.
She tends to her husband but spends much of the story staring out the window, taking in the sounds and smells of spring, dreaming of her blossoming and husbandless future. At the news of his death her heart feels free as she contemplates her freedom: “But now there was a dull stare in her eyes, whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on one of those patches of blue sky. It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought (Chopin, 32).” She stares once again out the window that brought her so much happiness and the full impact of what is to come begins to sink in. She begins to fill with elation. However, the news was incorrect, and her husband was not dead. Upon seeing him again, all hope leaves her and the confliction are so powerful that Louise’s heart fails her, and she is the one who dies. Ironically she is diagnosed with heart disease when, in fact, she has died of a broken heart. The ending suggests that she bore the conflict too long, and the loss of such hope was enough to make her give up.
These two characters know the struggle of inner conflict. Bernard Marx spends the novel in conflict over his own ideals versus the ideals of the society around him. Eventually, his internalized morals are realized in the form of the punishment he had been dreading. The fact that he grows to be excited for the punishment speaks about the strength of his character. Louise’s story is more tragic: trapped in a marriage the only thing that saves her is the hope of freedom. When this hope is taken away, she is left so fragile that it literally kills her. This ending suggests that sometimes hope really is all we have and when it is taken away we give up entirely. Despite the differing outcomes, Faulkner was correct in his advice about what makes a character worth writing; both stories are worth a read.
Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour. Portland: Pinball Publishing, 2011. Print.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: Harper and Brothers, Publishers, 1932. Print.