Each of the short stories “Happy Endings”, “A Sorrowful Woman”, and “The Story of an Hour” express the central idea that women are confined and identified by their roles as wives or mothers by society. The authors’ goal of these short stories is to portray modern marriages, to help people be conscious to women’s liberalism, and to instruct people not to focus on the endings of stories, but the middle portions. Margaret Atwood, Gail Godwin, and Kate Chopin develop these ideas by utilizing plot, character development, and setting.
Atwood’s “Happy Endings” uses a lack of plot to show how even though the middle parts of life can be different, the endings are always and inevitably the same. In her story, Atwood shows the diverse relationships between men and women, but through every situation, both die. The same thing happens in Chopin’s and Godwin’s stories. While both protagonists start off as committed and loving women dedicated to their family, personal torment eventually lead both of them to death. Both women sit near windows in their rooms and watch the world outside wishing they could be at peace with themselves and find happiness in their relationships.
Chopin associates the window and all the lively things outside the window to the freedom of Mrs. Mallard’s new widow status, while Godwin represents the window as a negative object. Also, it is ironic that outside of the windows it is spring, when both of the stories are depressingly gloomy. In “Happy Endings,” Atwood explains what life is about. She proclaims that plots are a beginning, middle, and an end; “a what and a what and a what” (Atwood 628). Life is a formula: two people meet; they have jobs, sex, kids, hobbies, illness, and of course, they die.
Atwood gives all the examples: older and younger, doctor and nurse, but it is the same formula. Atwood also minimally structures “Happy Endings,” like an essay, instead of a story. She has different scenarios from A to F, all including the same undetailed, flat characters, but with the same end to prove that no matter what the beginning or middle is, the ending is always the same. The author also chooses to use the most generic names possible, Mary and John, to flatten the characters even further. Atwood repeats the words “stimulating and challenging” throughout the text.
These words are used to describe the character’s jobs, their sex life, and their hobbies. This repetition in diction emphasizes the ordinary and mundane of each characteristic. In storyline F, Atwood speaks directly to the reader. She writes, “If you think this is all too bourgeois, make John a revolutionary and Mary a counterespionage agent and see how far that gets you,” implying the pursuits are the same, and the characters are unimportant (Atwood 293). Atwood’s audience is everyone, but mostly the people who focus more on the plot of life, than the how and why.
In “A Sorrowful Woman,” Godwin uses character development to drive her story. She writes about predominantly flat and unnamed characters: the man, child, woman. The woman is the only one closest to a round character. She is quirky, for she makes the statement “vertical bra,” but otherwise her lines are manipulative and predictable. Godwin opens with “Once upon a time” (Godwin 39) to emphasize how unrealistic the story really is. For example, the man in the story has an exaggeratedly amicable, agreeable nature towards his wife and never challenges her.
To make it clear, he repeats the words “I understand” throughout the story. Godwin includes that the nanny is ugly to emphasize that there is no sexual replacement of the woman. The boy represents innocence. The boy’s last line, “Can we eat the turkey for supper? ” reiterates that the woman’s role in life was through her duties. Godwin uses symbolism when she writes about the woman writing a poem: First, the woman has all her responsibilities and duties, but since she stops doing them, she does not know what else to do.
Secondly, the woman tries to write a sonnet that has rules on how you can write it, but then she decides to write free verse, except since there are no rules, she does not know what to write. Godwin also uses the nanny to contrast with the woman; the woman hates her duties and responsibilities, while the nanny enjoys them because she gets paid and it is her choice. Also, she distinguishes both of them by the use of the woman in a white, dull room, and the nanny putting the boys colorful pictures on the walls. “…the child’s gray eyes,” the gray hand-knitted sweaters.
The overall effect of repeating the color gray makes the story seem dull and tired. In “The Story of an Hour,” Chopin uses metaphors and concrete details to develop the central idea that identity is a stereotypical construct. She associates the open window and all the lively things outside it to the freedom of Mrs. Mallard’s new widow status: “…the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air… countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves” (Chopin 15) to compliment that Mrs. Mallard is thinking optimistically now that she knows her husband is dead. Mrs.
Mallard expresses her feelings about her recently distinguished marriage with words of being liberated: “Body and soul free! ” Chopin also uses setting to emphasize how women are identified: in the public area of the house, she is named as “Mrs. Mallard,” but when she goes to her room she is “Louise. ” Chopin ends “The Story of an Hour” with stating, “When the doctors came they said Mrs. Mallard had died from heart disease – of joy that kills” (16); sardonically, she is referring to the family thinking that Mrs. Mallard died from the joy of seeing her husband alive, when in reality she died from distinguishing that she is not free any longer.
Mrs. Mallard’s death is foreshadowed early in the story when the author mentions that the wife has a heart problem. In all three stories the female characters are unhappy and they eventually die. The authors are feminists in how they condemn men and marriages with how they trap and identify women by society. Atwood, Godwin, and Chopin illustrate this idea with plot, character development, and setting. The authors wrote these three short stories to portray modern marriages, to help people be conscious to women’s liberalism, and to explain that the ending of a story is not important, but the middle is.
Works Cited Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour. ” The Bedford Introduction to Literature 9th Edition. Meyer, Michael. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2011. 15-16. Print. Godwin, Gail. “A Sorrowful Woman. ” The Bedford Introduction to Literature 9th Edition. Meyer, Michael. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2011. 39-41. Print. Atwood, Margaret. “Happy Endings. ” The Bedford Introduction to Literature 9th Edition. Meyer, Michael. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2011. 624-626. Print.