How would I compare "Girl" and "The Story of an Hour" related to feelings of freedom?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In both Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" and Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl" there is evidence of suppression, repression, and dehumanization.

The essential difference between the female characters of the two stories is grounded in the socioeconomic class to which each belongs. While Louise Mallard's upper-class life is limited by the system of couverture in which her legal rights and obligations are subsumed by those of her husband, she does have a social and cultural life. On the other hand, the girl in Kincaid's story is both impoverished and culturally restricted. The mother scolds her daughter on the limited topics of housework, gardening, washing, other domestic tasks, behavior, and sexuality. She is convinced that her advice will serve the girl well in the limited world of her homeland. However, the mother also suppresses the girl as she berates her daughter by the commanding tone of her instruction and by the repetition (three times) of her assertion that she knows her daughter wants to become "a slut."

Both main characters are treated as less than individuals with desires of their own. Mrs. Mallard lives within a social system dominated by males who can impose their private wills upon spouses. Only Mrs. Mallard attains some brief personal and legal freedom during the hour in which her husband is reported as dead. She retreats to her bedroom, and after having "wept at once" in reaction to this news, she sits back in her chair alone and "begins to recognize this thing that was approaching. . . . " When the realization of her widowhood strikes her, she utters it over and over: "free, free, free!" Later, as she comes out of her room, Louise Mallard does not permit anyone to assist her down the stairs. Suddenly her freedom ends, though, as she discovers that her husband is alive as he enters through the front door, Louise Mallard dies of "a joy that kills"—she is happy her husband is alive, but his return means the death of her short-lived freedom. 

In contrast to the narrative of "The Story of an Hour," in which Mrs. Mallard has a brief period of freedom, the text of "Girl," filled with a battery of orders from her mother—one sentence of six hundred and fifty words—the daughter attains no individuality at any time. Also, because of her mother's domination over her, the girl is wholly deprived of personality and spirit, and ultimately, freedom.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an excellent topic to compare and contrast using these two texts. However, I would argue that there is little notion of any sort of female freedom conveyed in either text. "Girl," for example, is basically a diatribe from a mother to a daughter containing a huge long list of instructions concerning the role of a woman in that culture. For example:

Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the colour clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry; don't walk barehead in the hot sun; cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil...

And so the list continues. The notion of a very restricted gender role for women is created by this repeated direction. When the daughter tries to answer back, she is shouted down very quickly, and we can see in the final sentence of this story that she lives in a culture where sexual deviance can be easily assumed if you are not careful.

"The Story of an Hour" is slightly different in the way that it presents a woman who finds her freedom after the news of the death of her husband. As she contemplates her new life alone, she is struck by an incredible feeling of release and invigorating freedom:

There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence which which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.

However, ironically, having savoured this freedom, the shock of finding her husband safe and well kills Mrs. Mallard, presenting an overall picture of female oppression in her culture.

Thus I would argue that what unites these two excellent stories is the lack of freedom that women are able to have in their respective cultures.