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"The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin and Katherine Mansfield's "A Cup of Tea" both feature female protagonists and develop feminist themes, but the contrasts between the two stories are very evident.
Louise Mallard in Chopin's story and Rosemary Fell in Mansfield's narrative are women whose identities are defined by their marriages. Each woman lives in the shadow of her husband, dependent upon him and subject to his approval or disapproval. There is no evidence that Louise or Rosemary pursues any activity of her own that fosters or fulfills a sense of individuality. In Chopin's story, Louise is not even afforded a given name in the narrative until her status changes from married woman to widow.
Beyond these similarities, significant differences exist. Louise Mallard, when she learns her husband is dead, experiences initial shock, but as the news settles into her consciousness, she feels an enormous sense of freedom. For her, marriage has ben the enforced negation of her own will, a prison of obligation. For one hour, until she hears the news that her husband is still alive, Louise belongs only to herself and dreams of all the hours to come when she will continue to own her own life.
Unlike Louise Mallard, Rosemary Fell is a willing prisoner. Wealthy, spoiled, and superficial, she lives in a fine home and fills her hours shopping with her husband's money to distract from her own emptiness. Occasionally, Rosemary senses the truth about her life but avoids dealing with it:
There are moments, horrible moments in life, when one emerges from shelter and looks out, and it's awful. One oughtn't to give way to them. One ought to go home and have an extra-special tea.
The conclusion of each story emphasizes the nature of each woman's bondage: Louise dies from shock and despair when she learns she is still a married woman, while Rosemary essentially begs her husband Philip to tell her she is pretty.
The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin was published in 1894, and A Cup of Tea by Katherine Mansfield was published in 1922. Both stories are centred around women dissatisfied with their relationships with their husbands: in The Story of an Hour Mrs Mallard finds herself curiously awakened and energised at the reported death of her husband. In A Cup of Tea Mrs Fell wishes to be told by her husband that she is as attractive as the young waif she befriended. Both writers achieved critical acclaim largely after their deaths, and lived unconventional lives for the time.
However, within the stories there is a great difference. Louisa Mallard in The Story of an Hour is ambivalent at best about her husband-
She had loved him sometimes – often she had not.
By the time she has digested the news of his death, she is liberated. She observes the trees outside her window bursting with new spring life and proclaims herself-
Free! Body and soul free!
She is anticipating a life of independence and liberty. Until, that is, her husband returns and she is struck down by –
The joy that kills.
In A Cup of Tea Rosemary Fell offers a benevolent hand to a poor girl begging for money. She is disappointed that her husband notices the beauty of the young woman but not his wife.
Pretty! Absolutely lovely! Bowled over! Her heart beat like a heavy bell. Pretty! Lovely!
In compensation she asks if she can buy a box she saw when out shopping – seemingly absorbing herself in the retail therapy which has become the realm of the desperate housewife of the modern era.
It is possible that both stories, told in the third person, are designed to make the women of the age to take their emerging freedoms with caution. Louisa Mallard ends up dead having reveled in the news of the death of her husband. Rosemary Fell is chastened by her philanthropic act of taking in Miss Smith when her husband is so taken with the girl.
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