On the Sublime

by Longinus

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How are Longinus' ideas from "On the Sublime" relevant to Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour"?

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Longinus, in his essayOn the Sublime,” advocated a theory of speech and writing that emphasized the goal of sublimity – that is, loftiness, elevation, inspiration. Longinus believed that great speech and writing derived from, and should reflect, the lofty moral character of the author and should inspire readers or listeners to want to be morally elevated themselves. Great works of speech or writing, he thought, affect us with the force of a thunderbolt – they are irresistible in their impact and reveal a power that is almost supernatural. They remind us of what is greatest and best in human nature, and they encourage us to try to be and do our best in our own personal lives. They transcend anything that is merely cheap, worldly, vulgar, and materialistic.

Longinus’s ideas can seem relevant in a number of ways to Kate Chopin’s short work titled “The Story of an Hour.” Mrs. Mallard, having learned of the apparent death of her husband in a railway accident, seems at first overcome with grief.  As she contemplates her future without him, however, she begins to imagine the liberties that will now be available to her:

Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.

Mrs. Mallard seems almost intoxicated by the lofty idea of personal liberty. She seems inspired, lifted out of her normal, mundane existence. She feels almost swept off her feet by her transcendent vision. She doesn’t think about inheriting her husband’s money (such thought would be condemned as materialistic by Longinus). She doesn’t focus of becoming the sole owner of their physical property (a thought which Longinus would again condemn as too worldly). She doesn’t look forward to a sexual relationship with a man other than her husband (which would again be an unworthy thought, in Longinus’s eyes). Instead, she focuses on freedom and liberty as lofty ideals in themselves – a focus Longinus might admire. To the degree that Chopin in this story celebrates elevated spiritual goals, Longinus himself might have celebrated this work.

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