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A Psychological Analysis of the Story of an Hour

更新时间:2008-11-15:  来源:毕业论文

A Psychological Analysis of the Story of an Hour
【Abstract】Kate Chopin is a famous feminist writer. A strong sense of feminine consciousness is embodied in her works. Her successful adoption of the psychological approach, specifically the stream of consciousness, adds grandeur to splendor of her literary creation. The successful employment of psychological approach in The Story of an Hour not only has achieved dramatic effects and intensified the themes but also has exposed the women’s anaclitic situation.

【Key wordst】The Story of an Hour; Psychological Analysis; Feminist Consciousness. 

Kate Chopin was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1851. She was raised by a strict Catholic mother and attended the Academy of Sacred Heart, where she was expected to learn all the social graces. Later she moved to New Orleans and there she married to Oscar Chopin. But it was after the death of her husband that she started her literary career. She has written many short stories and published two collections, Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie, in succession and some famous novels such as Awakening, which is now regarded as one of the feminist masterpieces. However, when it was first published, attacks threw upon her and stunned her so much that she kept silent and wrote little else throughout the rest of her life because it has boldly touched upon and exposed some sensitive social problems. In her novels, we will find that she often repeated the same theme and related marriage to the cage of bars.

If we throw our eyes onto her Emancipation: the Life Fable, The Story of an Hour and Awakening, we will be assured of this. She has given us so much food to consider the significance of life and marriage and the embarrassing situation in which women lived that she is later labeled by the radical feminists in 1970s as one of the woman writers with a strong feminine consciousness, although surprisingly, she herself resolutely denied it. Actually it is understandable that she is taken as a progressive woman writer of feminine consciousness because in her times, the second women movement began to sweep over the whole country. And in her works the heroines were not merely contented with their family life. Instead, they tried every ways and means to break the fetters forced upon them. They wanted to pursue their individual freedom and spiritual independence and didn’t want to play a traditional role any longer. Most of the heroines under her pen, like Edna Pontellier and Mrs. Mallard, were more or less rebellious, although their resistance mostly ended in self-destruction and compromise. Maybe she was so radical that the public hadn’t yet prepared to accept her then. Just as Jane Bail Howard put, she uttered a voice ‘so far ahead of her times’.

When Kate Chopin lived, another influential trend that prevailed in the United States and the European Continent, namely the so-called psychoanalysis presented by the Austrian psychologist, Sigmund Freud. He divides human psyche roughly into three parts: conscious, preconscious and unconscious mind. In illuminating the mental processes he further distinguishes the three psyche areas of the mind as the Id, the ego, and the superego. To elucidate their interplay, he put forward the pleasure, reality and the morality principles. His theories have contributed a lot to modern psychology and also exerted a profound influence upon many social aspects, including literature. Many famous writers attribute their debts to him. Although there is no much evidence that Freud has directly influenced Kate Chopin, yet we can find that she has repeatedly adopted the psychological approach in her short stories, novellas and novels, among which The Story of an Hour is a typical example. And the successful employment of the psychological approach or stream of consciousness has achieved the dramatic effects and intensified the themes.

Mrs. Mallard, the heroine, lived a superficially happy life in other people’s eyes according to the conventional and secular criteria. Her husband was gentle and considerate, so they were deemed to be a perfect match. However, deep inside her heart she felt much inhibited. No one knew, including her husband, of her spiritual demands. Yet she had to make others believe that she was happy and lucky. She had to act the traditional role as a virtuous wife, not for herself, but for others. According to Peggy Skaggs, the heroines in the works of Kate Chopin often lived a two-faceted life. They lived in disguise to hide their real feelings and intentions. The women in the 19th century were required to learn all the social graces (The authoress herself was also required to do so in her puberty.) and encouraged to follow the rules and principles as men wanted them to do. In the American fiction Gone with the wind, we can see that Mummy has once and again threatened Scarlett that no man would take the risk to marry her if she insisted on doing as she liked. Most women were reduced to the victims of the then social and marital systems. Yet still they had to repress their own desires to cater to the patriarchal society. And no one would care about their real demands. Mrs. Mallard was just one of the victims.

Chopin is a good weaver of plots. When we read her short stories, we find there are so many mistakes and coincidences in them as if we were reading O’ Henry. At the beginning of the story she lays out suspense to the readers and immediately seizes their hearts. The news of her husband’s death evokes the readers’ deep sympathy for the heroine with heart disease. They worry about that she can’t survive the fatal blow. Like the other characters in the story, they all thought that she would be heart-broken and swooned on the spot like other women encountering the same situation. But she didn’t. Of course she wept too. However, she wept not because she felt sad, although her sister Josephine and other people believed that she did because she found it hard to face the music. But unexpectedly, as they read on, they find they have been deceived because what she (the heroine) rejoiced for is that she could be free from that moment on; and the repressed emotions can be at last released. Some intense psychological changes have undergone quickly in her body. The initial response to her husband’s death is that she felt free instead of feeling sad, which shows she must have been inhibited for ages. Thus she has a sense of emancipation as if a man were taken out of the suffocating dungeon where he had been imprisoned for ages and finally could breathe fresh air. At this moment, the lawless, asocial and amoral id has controlled her and the instinct to pursue pleasure temporarily got the upper hand of her reason. She became so excited and ecstatic that she couldn’t hold back happy tears trickling down her cheeks. But with her sister Josephine and her husband’s friend, Richards in her presence, she couldn’t reveal happiness to their faces because the conscious mind reminded her that she had to observe the reality principle. If they have discovered the secret and real reason of her sudden cry, she would be surely condemned. Here the superego, which yields to the morality principle, defeated the id, which is subject to the pleasure principle. As a lady who was asked to learn all the social graces since childhood, she must find it immoral and guilty to be happy at the news of her husband’s death, but meanwhile she found it irresistible to feel excited, so she decided to stay alone. However, Josephine and Richards misinterpreted her weeping and mistook that she wanted to stay alone because she was heart-broken. But neither of them knew that a violent conflict had occurred inside her. For the time being she retreated to a realm of freedom.

Once she entered into the room and was left alone, she did no longer need to wear a mask so that she could do what she just wanted. Now she was again conquered by the pleasure principle. She was so exhausted that she sank into the armchair and immediately returned to the unconscious state. She let herself follow the imagination like an unbridled horse. Here is the vivid description of her mind,

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