I need help in referring to Chopin's story and "compare or contrast women's roles in love and marriage in the 1800s with those of the current day."
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Research into the Victorian Age will provide explanation for the repression of Mrs. Mallard who suffers with "a heart trouble." Like Gilman's narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper," women of the Victorian Age were literally and figuratively restricted to childbearing and child rearing. They were considered too delicate to care for themselves, and in need of men for decisions on everything but the household. Clearly, for the Victorian woman, life was as confining as the clothes; Mrs. Mallard can see no horizon until her husband "dies." For, only after her husband is supposedly gone does she feel that she can fully be herself.
Clearly there are many differences between women of the 1800s and women of today, however the biggest come in terms of society and their expectations of women. I always find it interesting that this short story shows that Mr. Mallard loved his wife sincerely. He wasn't cruel and didn't mistreat her. Yet it is clear that what kills her in the end is the thought of returning to the socially constructed role of wife - that is what she found oppressive enough to kill her. Today, the role that society gives wives is so much more free and flexible - they can work, have careers, don't necessarily need to have children etc. Very different.
We can answer the gist of the question and it is that women in this century are not expected to fulfill the duties of women in the 19th century because we have grown socially, psychologically, financially, and independently enough to demonstrate that society is not man-handled alone, and that we can make our own decisions.
If a woman of the 21st century were to be imposed the expectations that were placed upon Loise Mallard, the first thing that would happen is that the marriage would have ended as quick as it had begun: Women in this century are not given things *unless they inherit them*, hence, we have to work very hard to get what we want and need. If (on top of that) we are asked to be a shadow of a man, a baby-making machine, a nurturer, a lover, and a martyr, I am sure that (if ten women are asked), 7 would snap or bail out.
In fact, that is precisely the biggest similarity: Women snap when pushed to the corner, and those who do not explode, literally IMPLODE which is what the main character did.
I think that the first area of focus would have to be when Louise goes upstairs and is alone. At this moment, the reader begins to see how marriage for Louise was an institution of social control. Her expressions and entire demeanor in the marriage was one where she was embracing a socially dictated notion of the good. It is when she is alone that she recognizes that her husband's passing might actually allow her to have a voice, to begin the process of self- definition, and live in a world where she can live for herself. It is because of this joy, "the joy that kills," that Louise can not live when she recognizes that her hopes are dashed when her husband walks through the door. I think that comparing to the modern setting involves some level of qualification. For the most part, I think that an argument could be made that more women enjoy more freedom to define themselves away from social conditions and expectations. The social stratification might be there, but there are more avenues for more women to be able to ignore or overcome them. Having said that, I think that it might be important to qualify that there are many parts of the world where women still live a condition like Louise does, where marriage is synonymous with social dictation of the good. As long as this situation is apparent, Chopin's story has increasing relevance now as it did when it was first written.
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