Compare the characters Louise Mallard from "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin and Dee Johnson from "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker.

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On the surface, Louise Mallard and Dee Johnson may seem like two very different women. However, the key theme that permeates both stories is the women's struggle for what Kate Chopin calls possession of self-assertion. Both women face oppression, and the source of such oppression continues to follow them around, no matter how self-possessed they may appear to be. In other words, both Louise and Dee were once oppressed, but both flip their circumstances and take control of their situation.

Despite of their individual brief possessions of self-assertion, the underlying cause of both women's issues is still oppression, and both women are ultimately unable to escape it. Conclusively, the aspects of oppression and a brief possession of self-assertion are the two key themes that both characters share in common.

For Louise Mallard, oppression comes in the form of the traditional Victorian marriage—one in which women are supposed to serve the specific roles of "wives and nurturers" with not many other prospects ahead. For Dee Johnson, oppression comes in the form of racial inequality, poverty, and the poor treatment of African Americans in the mid 20th century. She also hated the way she grew up. These circumstances make the two women feel oppressed and resentful about their lives. They are not happy, and they are desperately trying to find a way to cope.

The story of Louise Mallard is that she is a young bride, with somewhat of a weak heart, who has just found out that her husband died in a train wreck. Scared about her weak condition, her family determines that Louise is in a deep state of grief. However, unbeknownst to them, Louise is secretly excited that she will be free to be alone, and be herself, for the first time in her life. Keep in mind that Louise's story takes place in the 1890s (the story was written in 1894), and the rules of social decorum, as well as the societal expectations bestowed upon women, were drastically different then from what they are today. Louise's possession of self-assertion comes, ironically, from the news of the death of her husband. She becomes empowered and strong, and she wants to live life in a different way.

When Louise finds out that her husband is not really dead, she suffers from a heart attack and dies of what others erroneously identify as "a joy that kills." It was not so. Louise had many hopes and dreams at the prospect of freeing herself from the oppressive nature of the traditional Victorian marriage. When she realized that she will not experience those freedoms the way she thought she would as a widow, she simply could not take it anymore.

The story of Dee Johnson is different. As an African American woman who grew up poor in the Southern United States—a region which is historically notorious for racial tensions and inequality—she also grew up resentful and angry at her conditions growing up.

Contrary to Louise Mallard, Dee Johnson has the opportunity to leave town and to go study in Augusta, which was a big sacrifice her mother had to make along with funding provided by her church. Nevertheless, academic success and the separation from home made Dee into a very confident woman (perhaps a little over-confident) who has decided to look into her past and make it ornamental, for her own benefit.

To add to her possession of self-assertion, Dee changes her name into an African version of it Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. Dee's mother, as well as the reader, comes to realize that these demonstrations of self-assertion may be a bit over the top. However, it is Dee's ways to deal with her life.

Dee distances herself from the poor, country folk, acts with a degree of haughtiness, and looks upon her childhood memories, including Mama's quilt, as props. She travels with a companion that claims to be a vegetarian Muslim, and both she (Dee) and her friend welcome Dee's mom and sister speaking foreign languages.

Sadly, neither Louise nor Dee really overcome the oppression that drives their behaviors.

In the end, Dee does not really learn her lesson after her mother refuses to let her keep the quilt that is like a family heirloom. Dee's mother knows all too well that the Wangero name is nothing but a reaction to what Dee considers to be an oppressive and limiting time in her life. Sadly, even though Dee tries so hard to distance herself from her true origins (her mother and sister), the fact that she has to put up this act together shows that the trauma of the oppression is ever present in her mind.

In a similar situation, Louise Mallard's sources of oppression, her husband and her marriage in general, continue to be present. The husband never died, so life continues as usual. Sadly for Louise, she detested her life "as usual" and dies when the prospects of freedom looked impossible to reach.

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Louise Mallard is a woman who ultimately feels quite relieved to learn that her husband has been killed in a train accident. Though she knows that he loved her and that she will cry again when she sees his dead body, she is pleased to realize that she will now have a kind of freedom that she has never before possessed. She craves freedom and independence, and love does not even come in a close second to them. With her husband dead, she will be free to live for herself and to make her own decisions. It is possible, as a result of Louise's "monstrous joy," to view her as somewhat insensitive, even callous. She does not grieve her husband's death—she rejoices.

Dee Johnson also craves freedom and independence. She seeks it by leaving her hometown, getting an education, and attempting to reconnect with her African heritage in a way that honors it. Although her attempts to do so are somewhat misguided, as a black woman in the American South during the mid-twentieth century, she has likely found herself without the opportunities that more privileged communities would have. She is trying to be herself, to figure out who she truly is, just as Louise Mallard is. Both women seek independence and freedom in a world that routinely denies it to them.

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Louise Mallard and Dee Johnson are ladies who are searching for something that is elusive for both.  Each character seems caught in a world that is unsatisfactory for her.

In "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin, Louise Mallard learns that her husband has been killed.  She is young, pretty and suffers from a heart affliction: literally and figuratively.  After Louise grieves, she goes to her upstairs bedroom to be alone. Suddenly, she is overtaken by a new emotion:

When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under hte breath: "free, free, free!"

Louise loves her husband most of the time, and he loves her.  Yet, what she realizes is that she wants more than anything to be free to do what she wants and without anyone watching over her.  After a time, Louise and her sister walk down the stairs together.  Unexpectedly, her husband opens the front door unharmed.  Louise falls over dead of "the joy that kills."

What an example of dramatic irony!  Only, the reader knows that Louise has not succumbed to the happiness of seeing her husband alive but rather from the unhappiness of knowing that she will not be free to do what she likes.

Mrs. Johnson, in "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker, has two daughters.  They are as different as night and day physically and emotionally.  Maggie suffered terrible burns when their house burned down.  Now she is not just scarred on the outside but inside as well. 

Dee, the older sister, is everything her sister is not. Brazen, self-assured, pretty, desirable--this is Dee.  She hates her house and was glad when it burned.  Too bad about Maggie--she felt no sympathy at all. Dee wants to get as far away from her family and home as she can. It is all an embarrassment to her.

Selfishly, after graduation, she tells her mother that she will see them sometime in the future and goes off to find her own life.  Time passes, and Dee comes home for a visit.  She shows up inappropriately dressed with an odd muslim man for her companion. Both now sport muslim names.  Dee [Wangero] tells her mother:

I couldn’t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me.

When Dee goes inside the house, she begins to rummage around looking for things to take with her.  Her long suffering mother has finally had enough of Dee's selfishness. When Dee wants to take two quilts which were made by grandmothers about the time of the Civil War, Mrs. Johnson refuses tells Dee that they are promised to Maggie.  Incensed, Dee tells them they do not understand that she needs these things to display showing her black heritage.  Dee and her partner leave with nothing. 

Both women were frustrated in their lives.  Louise wanted freedom and found it in death.  Dee wanted to get away from her family and her life; she found that as well.  Neither got what they really wanted.

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