Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Deconstructive Approach: On Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour” and Yannis Kitsos’ “Penelope’s Despair”

A Deconstructive Approach: On Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour” and Yannis Kitsos’ “Penelope’s Despair”

“The Story of an Hour”

Derrida’s deconstruction states that the meaning of the story/text includes what is left out of the text or ignored or silenced by it. Because deconstruction is an attack on the very existence of theories and conceptual systems, its exposition by Derrida and others purposely resists logical definitions and explanations, opting instead for linear presentations based on extensive wordplay and puns. Therefore, the text may offer several interpretations that are also valid and it is the reader’s task to analyze then the elements into which there may be subtle or explicit connotations/denotations.
Extending the philosophical excursions of Nietzsche and Heidegger, Derrida criticized the entire tradition of Western philosophy’s search to discover the essential structure of knowledge and reality, ultimately confronting the limits of human thought.. Derrida criticized the entire tradition of Western philosophy’s search to discover the essential structure of knowledge and reality, ultimately confronting the limits of human thought. As an extension of his theory of logocentrism, Derrida posited that all texts are based on hierarchical dualisms (e.g., being/nonbeing, reality/appearance, male/female), where the first element is regarded as stronger and thus essentially true and that all systems of thought have an assumed center, or Archimedean point, upon which they are based. In a deconstructionist reading, this unconscious and unarticulated point is revealed, and in this revelation the binary structure upon which the text rests is imploded. Thus what appears stable and logical is revealed to be illogical and paradoxical, and interpretation is by its very nature misinterpretation.
One of the themes that the story evokes is freedom which has conditional meanings situated at the various parts of the story. Kate Chopin suggests that in certain situations, the death of a loved one may be a blessing. Such situations may include an abusive relationship, or an unhappy marriage, as this story suggests. In Chopin's story although the circumstances might lead the reader to believe that Louise's husband's death would cause her great pain, ironically, when she hears the news, she feels a great sense of relief. This suggests that death may not always cause grief. Louise's characteristics add to the theme of this story in several ways. One of her characteristics is her youth. This characteristic is important because it is symbolic of a fresh, new start at her life of freedom due to the death of her husband. She has her whole life to live by herself. She will be free to do what she wants to do, when she wants to do it. There are a lot of symbols/lines that allude to the element of freedom in this story thereby greatly emphasizing the “privileged” status that has just been given to her. The spring day symbolizes a new beginning of her life in which she is free. Spring is the time when living things propagate and are reborn. Likewise, Louise believes she will become productive, energized and reborn. Louise has her whole life of freedom to look forward to. A second symbol is the open window in her bedroom. The window suggests that there is no material object standing in the way of her new life. There is a clear passage between her life of captivity to her life of freedom. Her husband was the only person holding her back, but now that he's gone, she's able to look forward to the future when she can live her life for herself. It should especially be noted that the place of women at these times were quite strict and confined almost always to that of a housewife. The explicit emphasis on freedom then is a repression which Louise (or Kate Chopin for that matter) wants to fulfill.
One of the important binary opposites then that we may encounter and analyze is the opposition of marriage – freedom in the story. Louise struggled with her feelings about her marriage for years. Louise thinks "what could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being." She admits that she did love Brently, but often she did not. On the other hand, the story suggests that Brently was completely content in the marriage and assumed that Louise was too. This conflict is reflected in Louise's internal struggle. When she realizes that Brently is alive, she must die. This is the only way she can win the freedom she was struggling for within herself. She dies because he is alive, he is ultimately responsible for her death. With all of the exposition of personality and character of Louise we can surmise that marriage was something that wasn’t that of a necessity for her or at least not at that point or perhaps if she were to give up her treasured freedom it should be for someone who she truly loves “most of the time” (as oppose to her love for Brently which was not often applicable). His death therefore had stimulated a gradual change from a repressed individual not realizing her husband has caused her to feel repression in the first place, to a person who is greiving over her husband who has kept her restrained from things she didnt know she could be doing. Mrs. Mallard started to realize that she had to start living life her way, instead of behind Mr. Mallard's shadow. One passage that concretizes this element is Chopin’s usage of a simile describing Louise as a “goddess of victory” which states how she over came the greif and repression of her husband.
This representation lead us then to another important conflict and opposition thread – surface appearance and reality. To all people it would appear that Louise would grieve over Brently since they would assume she was happily married and content in her sub-serviant role as a housewife. Louise's sister Josephine exemplifies such a judgment of how Louise's reaction to the sudden death of her husband Brently. Josephine misinterprets Louise's behavior, thinking she is hysterical over Brently's death. She pleads, "Louise, open the door! I beg; open the door-you will make yourself ill." To Josephine, Louise appears to be heart-broken, but in reality, Louise is relieved by his death. I think also, the title itself takes part on this conflict because it says that this story must have occurred within an hour but Chopin made it seem like it was a few days at least. This is ironic because Mrs. Mallard only needed an hour to realize that she didn't need her husband to be happy, whereas it would take another wife, maybe a few years to fully recover from a spouse's death. The doctor's judgment of how Louise dies also deals with the appearance versus reality conflict. For example, the doctor predicts that Louise died from the "joy that kills," believing she was so overcome by the joy of seeing her husband alive, she is physically incapable of dealing with such a strong emotion of joy. But she actually dies because her free life has come to a sudden stop, And is heart-broken that she will not be able to live her life as she hoped she could, alone.

“Penelope’s Despair”

Penelope as seen in the Odyssey is the wife of Odysseus and mother of Telemachus. Penelope spends her days in the palace pining for the husband who left for
Troytwenty years earlier and never returned. Homer portrays her as sometimes flighty and excitable but also clever and steadfastly true to her husband.
In this poem, we see it in her point of view. The poem has striking similarities towards the treatment of freedom, marriage, role of wife, and what not as in “The Story of an Hour”. It details the feelings and anxieties of Penelope’s “despair” not because of the waiting for her husband but the realization that he is still alive and he comes back. Contextualizing it in the story and not the prototypical Penelope “faithfulness” it can be surmised that the dread was actually knowing that she is still tied to her marriage and commitment. Just the same dread that Louise Millard felt when she found out that her husband is still very alive and well.
After all, who’s to say that being chased upon and waited by countless suitors is not a wondrous thing to feel and experience (I think it’s every woman’s fantasy). Ergo, it can be said that all the waiting wasn’t in despair at all because she had time for herself, some satisfaction, and even some sort of ego- boosting and fulfillment of affection. Things that her husband wasn’t able to do because of his own adventures. Surface Appearance then tells us that she was patiently waiting for the return of Oddyseus but is very possible that she is also enjoing every minute of her freedom while he is gone. To be chased upon by countless admirers who are also very patient with her.
It wasn’t a romantic happy startle that was depicted in the poem when she saw her. It’s the kind of look that something you’ve waited for and amidst hoping that will never come true has suddenly been realized and you can’t do anything about it. No amount of praying or whatsoever action can stop what happened or what’s inevitable. I think that’s what Penelope felt. The dread of seeing him. Not because she could not recognize her anymore, in fact she knew his face and features all too well.
We can see then that all the “bright red thread in green foliage” turned “ashen and black” which means internal and even perhaps to some extent an external perception of death and sadness. Bright colors such as red and green turned to the color of the dead - it’s as if she saw a ghost who came to haunt her. Indeed that is what happened, perhaps for her, Odysseus was long dead and never to return again but since he has come back then she has to go to her “final enduring”.

0 ek ek: