The movement of modernism revolved around the notion of change and the challenging of certain traditional values and philosophies in response to the happenings in the world at the time ” this included the colossal impact of the First World War. Two female modernist composers who have challenged previously ubiquitous ideologies include Kate Chopin and Katherine Mansfield in their respective texts The Story of an Hour’ and The Garden Party’. Both short stories see their main characters’ experience a positive change in perspective in response to death, although the texts differ in the impact of the revelations on the characters along with the extent of the change inflicted within them.
Chopin’s text, The Story of an Hour’, discusses societal standards regarding a wife’s role, specifically how she is expected to feel after the death of her husband, and the way in which a loveless and controlling marriage can influence this grieving. This is shown when Josephine is depicted to be concerned for Mrs.
Mallard as she kneels behind the door, saying you will make yourself ill, juxtaposing the actual occurrences inside the room as Mrs. Mallard acknowledges and celebrates her newfound freedom. Josephine’s character is used as a symbol by which Chopin represents how society would expect Mrs. Mallard to feel after her husband’s death ” in such a state of grieving that it would make her ill. This links back to Chopin’s context, her upbringing in the 19th Century found her in a society that enforced social and cultural constraints upon women, leaving them confined to restrictive gender roles with marriage often being a source of repression for women. Mrs. Mallard’s character rejects this as she is shown to be joyous, [Mrs. Mallard] said it over and over under her breath free, free, free! This moment marks that of her epiphany, and is later on described to be drinking in a very elixir of life, suggesting that her new sense of liberty made her feel alive despite the fact that it was a result of her husband’s death. This, in turn, challenged the societal expectations of a wife to be dependant and dote on their husbands despite the oppression they faced. In her text The Garden Party’, Mansfield focuses her story on the social hierarchy, commenting on the detached and egotistical nature of the upper class. A change in perspective is visible in Laura’s character when comparing her outlook on the lower class at the beginning of the piece, describing them as The greatest possible eyesore, which is juxtaposed with her view of the dead man at the end, saying He was wonderful, beautiful. This strong contrast of views highlights Laura’s change in character, the exposure to death almost shocking her into a revelation. Similar to Mrs Mallard, Laura’s thoughts differ from not only society’s expectations, but also the thoughts of her families, as when she suggests they cancel the party, Jose replies with Nobody expects us to. ” the short sentence structure bluntly enforcing these societal constructs of the upper class being unconcerned with the happenings of the lower class, which Laura believed against. This relates to the context of Mansfield as a modernist writer, as a convention of the modernist movement was the questioning of social boundaries in class. Although both texts are similar in the sense that they challenge a prevalent idea through the means of epiphany as the result of death, they differ in the impact this realisation has on the character. In The Story of An Hour’ the effect on Mrs. Mallard is direct, as the death was that of her husband, and therefore bears many personal consequences. She sees her husband as a force imposing on to her, and so his death allows for no powerful will bending hers. The personification of will as a separate being stresses the strength of her husband’s wants, and the effect they had on her. Her outlook on life is shown to alter, 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. The ironic nature of this quote, due to Mrs. Mallard’s oncoming death, suggests that the oppression she faced during the length of her marriage stripped her of her will to live. Her regaining of this will proves to be a significant impact on her outlook on life ” so significant that when it is lost she passes away, due what was thought to be a joy that kills, the sarcastic quote juxtaposing the reality of the cause of her death. This suggests that society’s ideas regarding marriage had made the doctors to automatically assume the cause of her death was overwhelming happiness from seeing her husband. On the other hand, The Garden Party’ depicts the death of the lower class man to impact Laura less drastically and not as quickly. It is implied that even though she seems to disagree with her family about continuing to host the garden party and sympathise with the family of the dead, she is shown to overlook this once she is engulfed by the extravagance of the event, But it all seemed blurred, unreal like a picture in a newspaper. This metaphor highlights the fact that Laura seems to be distancing herself, or perhaps forcing herself to be distant, from the death of the man as she enjoys the party. This is also evident when she is on her way to visit the family of her dead man her thoughts drift back to the garden party, And it seemed to her that kisses, voices, tinkling spoons, laughter, the smell of crushed grass were somehow inside her. The examination of her substance in a metaphorical way draws the attention the fact that Laura is still very much a part of the privileged society she grew up in. Even after she sees the body of the dead man and has gained an understanding of his situation, Laura still wishes to go back home and when asked if she was crying Laura shook her head. She was. This can allow readers to assume there is still a sense of denial and the need to maintain a poised form, an idea prevalent within the upper class society. Thus one can deduce that although Laura has expanded her world view, she is still a product of her privileged world. Both Kate Chopin and Katherine Mansfield have emphasized issues and in turn challenged widespread values of their world at the time through their texts The Story of an Hour’ and The Garden Party’, conforming to modernist conventions through their concepts and use of literary techniques. They have done so similarly through the use of epiphany triggered by death, although they vary in the extent these epiphanies affect the lives of their characters. Through these realisations, they urge the audience to question concepts such as gender roles and the idea of the societal hierarchy.