The first essay answers questions regarding Kate Chopin’s short story “The Story of an Hour,” where the ending offers more than a small shock as to how and why the female protagonist dies. She does feel a joy that kills, but unfortunately, it is not the joy that ended her life, rather it was the cruel taking away of a joyful life that she intended on living after her husband’s death. The second essay deals with questions regarding Shirley Jackson’s equally shocking story “The Lottery,” which gives a frightening portrayal of what happens when people blindly follow traditions they do not question, and let other people persuade them into believing erroneous and deadly things.
Keywords: shock, joy, death, tradition, lottery
Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” consists of short, cut out paragraphs, accentuating the drama of Louise Mallard’s life, and death. This short structure is abundant with surprises, such as the reaction of the female protagonist to the death of her husband, and the author remains faithful to this style to the very end, where she delivers the concluding shock to her emotionally drained protagonist, which finally kills her.
Taking into account the method in which this short story was written, the shocking ending should not come as a surprise, though many readers with hopeful gleams in their eyes have already drawn out a rich and content life for the newly freed heroine. Chopin’s poetic writing style unearths every sentence as a potential gold mine of information on the characters, through the use of repetition and highlighting, in order to put emphasis on the current state of young and “tragedy stricken” Louise. Consequently, because of such a grand twist in the general scheme of the short story, the ending really delivers an ironic blow to the readers. In one tiny second, Louise’s life changed and her reaction to it is anything but expected. Instead of grieving for her husband, she joyfully welcomes the freedom and newfound life that she will lead.
The thought of having a long life used to frighten her, while now, liberated and with a different frame of mind, she welcomes this notion of a long life. The fact that she dies at the very threshold of her new life, which she hoped would be long lasting, is more than ironic.
Louise Mallard did not die of a “joy that kills,” rather she died because the joy she never thought she could feel was given to her for a brief moment, only to be so cruelly taken away from her, in the guise of her husband’s “return” from the dead. This pristine joy opened a whole new field of opportunities and tempted her with a glimpse of bright existence, completely different from the one she had up to that moment, which was a life of domestic servitude, of being silent and obedient to one’s husband, while no amount of a husband’s care and love can be a proper substitute for one’s liberty of mind.
Alone with her thoughts, Louise can at last express her true emotions about her husband’s death. She feels free from oppression and as if the right of making her own decisions has been returned to her. The vague label that Chopin puts on Louise’s physical condition, hinted at as merely heart trouble, works on several levels, due to the fact that it can be understood as both a physical and psychological malady. On finding out her husband is dead, her heart beats strongly, feeling alive and liberated as never before. On exclaiming that her body and soul are free, she opens her arms and is ready to embrace her new life of an emancipated woman. Unfortunately, Louise’s wish does not come true as her joy quickly transforms into an ironic tragedy.
Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” is a frightening example of what happens when people tend to follow tradition blindly, without questioning its reasons and consequences. The reason for the lottery is twofold. For one, the villagers believe that without the lottery their crops will wither and die, and nature will not bless them with abundant fruits. Secondly, they are more than reluctant to give up the tradition that surrounds the lottery, despite the fact that numerous other villages have already deemed the practice barbarous and have decided against it. Still, these villagers blindly believe that if they turn their back on their tradition, what will ensue is a chaos of regression into savagery, not realizing that they are actually the savages.
One of the most frightening aspects of the lottery is certainly the randomness of persecution, where no one is safe from the wrath of the black-dotted piece of paper. No person is guiltier than the next; it is just a matter of chance: being fortunate or unfortunate enough to draw the marked piece of paper that condemns someone to death by stoning. It is in a matter of a second that the villagers turn against each other, against their neighbors, even their flesh and blood, and without a hint of remorse, participate, even urge the youngest to participate as well, in the execution. On a grander scale, Tessie’s persecution represents a symbol of society’s absurd persecutions of individuals, for being accused of something that is completely out of their hand. Parallels can be drawn with current day events, such as racial, sexual, religious segregation, where those who are persecuted are in the same position as the person who has drawn the marked piece of paper, simply for being unlucky enough to belong to a “targeted” group. It is a question of people persecuting other people, without actually questioning their own erroneous reasons for doing so.
The notion “survival of the fittest” can be applied to this story in the sense that the highest officials, such as those who are responsible for the prolonging of the lottery, year after year, are urging the people not to abandon their traditions, and are controlling the rebellious impulses of the villagers. All those who oppose the socially accepted order are at risk of being chosen as the next victim. Consequently, Tessie can be seen as someone who chooses to oppose the male dominated hierarchy, because she arrives late, mentioning that she forgot which day it was, and finally urges her husband to go on and pick the paper. By doing so, she has revealed herself to be a rebellious spirit, not in unity with everyone else, a threat to the establishment, and as such, she needs to be eradicated from society, so as not to breed more revolts. She gets stoned and eliminated as a potential hazard.
The story serves as a potent reminder of the necessity to think before we act, and not to fall into the trap of blindly following tradition, simply because it has existed for a long period of time.