Comparison of the creative work by Guy de Maupassant with that of Kate Chopin occupies a common place in the critical literature dedicated to the heritage of the American writers. It has its own foundation. Chopin openly expressed her admiration of the talent and skill of the famous contemporary writers.
The work of Maupassant that follows the genre of short stories was especially close to Chopin. There are often two finals in Maupassant’s short stories; the last action in the plot and one concluding sentence of one of the personages. This technique is extremely characteristic of Chopin; in her stories the last words often change the whole meaning of the story.
As well as Guy de Maupassant in his “The Necklace”, Kate Chopin explores gender roles analyzing feminine selfhood in a masculine society in her short novels. This paper seeks to analyze the similarities and differences between “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin and “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant.
The theme of women’s rights in a society has been always topical.As Elizabeth Ammons (1992) states, “female writers of the era of 20th century were truly concerned about the place of a woman in marriage” (p. 24). Kate Chopin was not an exception. Her works brilliantly reveal her views on the patriarchal society and social institutes such as marriage, etc.
In order to understand the essence of such topics, one should learn the biography of the famous writer. It is known that Kate Chopin was born in 1851 and raised mostly by women, particularly her great-grandmother, whose stories of the first French settlers in Missouri subsequently influenced the vivid descriptions in the further stories of Chopin. The famous artist is one of the first feminist writers, because the protagonists of her stories are the women seeking deliverance from the power of men. She penned more than a hundred of short stories published in two collections: “Bayou Folk” (1894) and “A night in ” (1897). Two famous novels The Awakening (1899) and At Fault (1890) reveal the controversial issues of divorce and adultery to the readers. It is believed that her successful career ended with the publication of the novel The Awakening, sharply condemned by contemporaries for adultery and frank description of a mixed marriage, which caused deep depression of the writer. However, afterwards, the critics approved subtle image of a female search for one’s personality in the novel.
“The Story of an Hour”, written in 1894, is a recognized masterpiece of the famous short prose writer. It tells the readers the story of the complex mechanisms of self-discovery of a woman. Mrs. Mallard, the main character of the novel, learns about the death of her husband, who was on the train that wrecked. However, a strange feeling, the essence of which she could not understand at first, replaced the first reaction of genuine grief. Unexpectedly for herself, a sense of joy and happiness in anticipation of a life free from the dictates of someone else raised in her soul. An hour later the husband returned home. As it turned out, Mr. Mallard was far from the crash. In a minute, Mrs. Mallard died as doctors ascertained “of joy that kills”. It should be said that the last sentence in this context sounds particularly ambiguous.
Compositional juxtaposition of images, landscape sketches, logic artistic details, comparisons and epithets are all the elements that serve to express the main thoughts of the author. It should be noted that in the worldview of the writer the aim to assert the ambition of women for spiritual independence and ironic awareness of the original doom of the attempt come together.
In “The Story of an Hour” the protagonist’s short journey for a free life was so short that she did not even enjoy her freedom from the stereotypes and rules imposed by her husband. Indeed, the complicated and spiritual awakening was a serious step towards equality with men. Being married Louise did not think about such state of things but now she had a wonderful chance to open something new in the world. The Chopin’s analysis of Louise’s search for freedom is written in an extremely rich literary style; the short story is full of irony and symbolism. The same thing can be observed by the readers in “The Necklace”. Despite the irony of the narrative, the problem is truly serious since even being free Louise should struggle against many socially stereotyped institutes. Motionlessly a poor woman sat in her chair with her head thrown back. Sometimes a sob came to her throat and shook her. A wide range of emotions overwhelmed her; she saw endless perspectives in her life.
The famous French realist writer of the XIX century, Guy de Maupassant impressed all the French public, the elite strata of society, by his new stories, novellas, and novels.
In de Maupassant’s novel on the several pages, the hypocrisy, venality as well as the shameless pursuit of imaginary splendor is realistically described.
The time when de Maupassant lived was quite fortunate for France; it fell to the bourgeoisie’s flourishing. It is not a secret that under the guise of the diocese respectable representatives of the higher strata of life bigotry, hypocrisy, and universal venality, shameless pursuit of profit, adventurism and debauchery concealed. Guy de Maupassant knew the life of high society like no one else; he was aware of the cycle of gossips and the abyss of binges. In his work, he did not even try to disguise the problem. Encyclopaedia Britannica relates that the work of a widely known French writer is thoroughly realistic. In fact, his characters inhabit a world of material desires as well as sensual appetites, in which greed, lust and selfish ambitions are the driving forces. In his works, the writer very often refers to such social institute as marriage.
Written in 1884, “The Necklace” is a great example of a short story with an unexpected ending, forcing the reader to rethink the artistic narrative. In his novel Maupassant raised several vital issues, including the conflict of desires and possibilities, the mismatch of the spiritual organization of person to the social conditions of one’s existence, a detrimental effect on the soul of bourgeois society, human weakness and a fear of more socially successful people.
The composition of “The Necklace” is based on the classic principle of the novel. Firstly, the author introduces the reader to the conditions of life and nature of the main character, Ms. Mathilde Loisel. Maupassant depicts the girl as weak, beautiful and streaking for a better life, surrounded by exquisite things and people. Despite the fact that she loved luxury so much, the poor girl had nothing; no dresses, no jewelry or any other items of a prosperous life.
Guy de Maupassant described his protagonist sympathizing her in some way: “She had no dowry, no expectations, no means of being known, understood, loved, married by a man rich and distinguished; and she let them make a match for her with a little clerk in the Department of Education”.
The plot of the short story is a natural extension of exposure, as well as a separate plot element; longing for richness. Matilda bitterly lamented that she did not want to go to the party in her husband's ministry. The conflict is bidirectional; constantly struggling with herself, Mrs. Loisel is forced to act even against adverse external circumstances. At the beginning she suffered of a lack of the dress and then of jewelry for its decoration. The husband gives her money for the dress and a rich friend, Mme Forestier gives her a diamond necklace. Happy Mathilde overshadows all who are present at the ministerial ball and fully enjoys the attention, of which she has been dreaming for all her life. The culmination of the novel comes when the couple returns home, where Matilda and her husband find out that the necklace has been lost. Further events develop according to the downlink. The characters are looking for the original jewel, and then decide to compensate it by ordering a replica at the jeweler’s. Returning the necklace to its owner Loisel family are immersed in a miserable life that lasts ten years; one moment of happiness cost many years of hard work. Chance encounter of Mathilde with Madame Forestier on the Champs Elysees surprises everyone. The reader did not expect such an ending; a diamond necklace was a fake, as well as the entire world, to which the main character so strived throughout all her life.
It should be noted that like the artistic image of Mrs. Mallard, the Mrs. Loisel’s image is psychologically adjusted and volatile; it is delicate, fragile and sensitive to beauty and wealth. Beyond the circle of expensive things and rich people she eventually turned into a strong woman used for hard work. She seemed aged after ten years of hard work. Guy de Maupassant (1907) wrote: “Mrs. Loisel had become the robust woman, hard and rough, of a poor household. Badly combed, with her skirts awry and her hands red, her voice was loud, and she washed the floor with splashing water.”
Erstwhile modesty (reluctance to appear in public in a dress with natural flowers, the fear to confess to her best friend about the missing jewelry) is replaced by simplicity. Her husband, Mr. Loisel from the beginning of the narrative is a whole character; he is proud of his work, feels comfortable in his environment (unlike his wife, he is happily eating the cabbage soup), loves his wife and is willing to give her all that he has. The loss of the necklace is perceived by Mr. Loisel with due humility and as a man of exceptional integrity, he solves the problem by opting for the momentary pleasure of the beloved woman by his inheritance and familiar life in an apartment with a servant.
In order to make a point, both of the authors use irony in their works. When Mrs. Mallard found out that her husband was alive she fell dead because of “joy that kills”. It is shocking for Madame Loisel to know that the jewelry that has changed her entire life is just a fake.
It should be noted that both of these writers conclude that people are just the victims of the society, in which they live.
As for the roles of the husbands in the stories, it should be said that they are different. Mr. Loisel is very caring and supportive. He does his best to make his wife happy. In “The Story of an Hour” it is quite difficult to say which kind of husband Mr. Mallards is. Both women love their husbands in some way but at the same time they consider them to be the main source of their problems.
The oppressiveness of marriage is also one of the key problems of the short stories. What is more, both authors use a series of various emotions, which the main characters experience, in order to “color” their works.
Acknowledging that her husband will not dictate his rules anymore, Louise goes upstairs like in her new life full of choices and possibilities. The protagonist elevates herself into the imagined world free of contradictions and social stereotypes. She is pondering.
She would have not a single person, except herself, to live for. This conclusion made her happy and exciting. She imagines that there would not be any powerful will, which she ought to obey. In both of these stories, the attention is drawn to the women, Matilda and Louise. The other characters do not play the important roles. For example, her sisters Josephine and Richards think that the poor woman cries out of grief, but they do not even know that upstairs she feels nothing but “a monstrous joy”. Mrs. Mallard constantly repeats “Free! Body and soul free” (Chopin, 1998, p. 537) seeing more and more perspectives in her further life.
Kate Chopin (1998) offers the readers a depiction of nature that sounds rather symbolically:
She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. (p. 537)
She acknowledged that this new feeling in her soul was her true being. Some brand new essence raised in her soul. Mrs. Mallard did not understand what it was. “This new emotion was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air” (Chopin, 1998, p. 537) However, the author is not so naïve to believe that this trip into a free life can finish successfully without any resistance of the society.
Analyzing the key problems of the “The Story of an Hour”, Emily Toth (1992) came to the conclusion that “… although Louise’s death is an occasion for deep irony directed at patriarchal blindness about women’s thoughts, Louise dies in the world of her family where she has always sacrificed for others” (p, 24).
In conclusion, one should point out that both Kate Chopin and Guy de Maupassant send a powerful message about women’s liberation, greed social norms, ultimate desires and unhappiness. In one way or another, one should pay for everything. The issue of woman’s rights is still topical nowadays; that is why these two stories touch upon extremely keen problems. There are some useful lessons in these works; a woman should feel free in a society, but being social she should put up with some existing social norms. She should enjoy the life because happiness exists in small details.
Comparing the styles of these short stories, it should be mentioned that they are quite similar; they both reflect social problems. Both stories are short and simple without deep psychological analysis and with a strong and unpredictable conclusion. The reader should imagine some missing details by him/herself.
Both women Louise and Matilda are miserable, however, de Maupassant gives his character much more traits; his Louise is more emotional.
“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin and “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant have many similarities and differences and the issue that unites these two works is women’s self-determination. The setting of these two stories takes place during the times when men dominated in the society. Both protagonists are yearning for a better life and do not want to put up with the usual state of things. Both of these women felt happiness in a short period of time and had to pay an extremely high price for it. Both of the talented authors use symbolism and imagery as well. Self-identification is a crucial issue of these stories because only it can bring happiness to women.