Kate Chopin, in her short-story `the story of an hour`, presents to the reader the frustration of a woman who is suppressed by her husband’s will. In `six feet of the country`, Nadine Gordimer shows how time changes a relationship between a husband and wife. Although both these stories do not have negative or villain characters, they have elements which show mundane difficulties of everyday life. Both the stories intricately depict the complexities in married life, arising out of restrictions in freedom and feeling of discontent in each other’s company. This may cause one to ponder that the evil does not necessarily lie in the minds of married people, but in the institution of marriage itself.
When the main character Louise in `the story of an hour’ is informed of the death of her husband, the reader’s mind is conditioned to expect tremendous grief and sorrow. She rushes into her room with tears and locks herself up. However, after the initial shock, she feels extremely free. She is relieved that she does not have to feel suppressed anymore. She gazes out of the window and looks forward to the simple joys of life. The start of spring season is meant to indicate the end of her stifling marriage and the dawn of a new beginning in her life. The line “And yet she loved him – sometimes” (Chopin 8) shows that her husband was not necessarily a bad person. She just wants to live for herself, without the kneeling down to the whim of her husband.
Until that day, she feared how she was going to live a painfully long life of repression. But, now she hopes to live a long life to savor life and cherish her long-lost freedom. The phrase “A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime” (Chopin 8) goes to show that the bond of marriage causes one another to pose undue restrictions on each other’s personal freedoms. Louise is overjoyed with her new-found appreciation for life, but fate strikes back when her supposedly dead husband returns back without a scratch in his body. This eventually turns out to be one shock too many for Louise, as she suffers from a fatal heart attack. But, the doctor consoles everyone by saying that Louise’s heart was shocked by the happiness of seeing her husband alive.
In `six feet of the country’, Nadine Gordimer tells the tale of a married white man in apartheid-stricken South Africa. The story revolves around a multitude of themes including a dysfunctional marriage, urban vs. town life, bureaucracy and racial oppression. The central character and his wife own a farm. He is really not good at farming and hence the wife takes care of the farm. The wife expects more of out of her husband and immediately expresses her disapproval when he fails to do so.
The husband, on the other hand, feels inadequate and is not entirely satisfied with his career. But, he just continues to live his life filled with frequent disputes with his wife. He quite is critical of his wife being messy and says “I had come home and been infuriated to find her in a pair of filthy old sacks and her hair uncombed” (Gordimer 122), while the same did not seem too unattractive a few years back. This shows that marriages over time can get monotonous and boring. Although this might seem quite a cynical view of life, it is an honest portrayal of the true nature of human beings.
One night, a black immigrant boy dies of pneumonia. But, during the funeral, it is uncovered that a different body was handed-over to them, indicating bureaucratic lapses in the government. His wife compels him to be more helpful and communicative, which essentially goes against his true nature and will. Although he is reluctant to stand up against his own “race”, he represses his own will to please his wife and tries to help his black employees by petitioning against the administration but eventually gives up. The husband character feels helpless and disgusted not only at the bureaucratic system, but also at the system of marriage that keeps him tied down.
Chopin uses symbolism as an effective tool to convey the protagonist’s deepest emotions. The phrase ‘comfortable, roomy armchair’ signifies that Louise has accepted the death of her husband and prepared to live a free life. The author also ends the story by sprinkling a dash of irony. When Louise comes out of the room after mourning the death of her husband, she walks out as a new person full of hope. But, the fact that her husband is still alive kills her dream of being free from the treachery of married of life. On the other hand, Gordimer uses metaphor effectively in `six feet of the country’. The main character says “she and Petrus both kept their eyes on me as I spoke, and, oddly for those moments they looked exactly alike.”(Gordimer 124) The eyes look alike to the husband because he feels regret and guilt for letting down his wife and his black employee.
Both the stories emphasize the saying ‘Marriage is the only war where you sleep with the enemy`. However, Chopin’s `the story of an hour’ gives a much deeper insight into a married person’s psyche and thus stands as stronger evidence for the aforementioned quote compared to `six feet of the country’ by Gordimer. Although the latter also has several elements describing marital problems, it tends to mainly focus on issues racial discrimination and other societal problems. Nonetheless, both the stories effectively show how a common man or woman is stifled by institutions such as marriage and societal pressures.
Chopin, Kate. (1894). “The story of an Hour”. The International Story: An Anthology with Guidelines for Reading and Writing about Fiction.
Gordimer, Nadine. (1986). “Six feet of the country.” Anthology of Short Stories.