Presentation of the Relationship between Men and Women in a Selection of 19th Century Short Stories Essay

Relationships between men and women in the 19th century were very different to that of today. Marriages tended to be arranged. It was often that women did not have much choice in the relationship and became almost a possession of that man after marriage. For example after marriage a woman would lose all her possessions to here husband. Women did not have much independence and often were left to do hard labouring work such as washing up, cooking, scrubbing dirty clothes and cleaning. Due to this lack of independence and hard labour many women seemed to marry the richest men they could find, as then they would have little work and some independency, because of this the relationships sometimes lacked the love and free will that people can share today.

The women are left dependent on men. The five short stories on the 19th century, ‘The Story of an Hour’, ‘The Kiss’, ‘A Women’s Rose’, ‘The Necklace’ and ‘The Unexpected’ by Guy de Maupassant, Kate Chopin and Olive Schreiner all show women encaged in 19th century relationships. With these stories as was typical at the time they all give the reader an initial relationship to go on, then a twist or hope is added and by the end the readers initial thoughts on the relationship/s are changed.

In the 19th Century there were clear wealth barriers. There was the higher class, the middle class and the working class. The short stories based on the 19th Century show us these barriers and the relationships between men and women in that time. In ‘The Necklace’ the wealth barrier is clearly show. This story focuses on not only the relationship between men and women but also on wealth and the desire for it by some women in the 19th Century. As being wealthy in the 19th Century was one of the only ways to live a relaxing, dignified life without the difficulties of work and money. Madame Loisel believes that she deserves better than her middle class lifestyle and husband ‘she felt that luxury and soft living were her natural birthright’.

In the five short stories on the 19th century different initial relationships are set up. In ‘The story of an Hour’ we the readers are exploring into Mrs. Mallard’s marriage. From the beginning of the story it seems to be a strong loving relationship as the news of her husbands death is broken to her gently ‘with great care’. She seems to be dependent and frail. Due to her ‘heart trouble’ the news is told gently and so not to be a sudden shock. This is portrayed in the language by a long complex sentence that takes a while to get to the point of her husbands death, just leaving little hints, half concealing.

The long complex sentence gives the reader the feeling of length that the news was broken to Mrs. Mallard. The relationship between Mrs. Mallard and her husband appears to be a loving one and that it is whole and complete. It is not apparent how equal the relationship is but the author gives us the impression it is a happy one. This seems to be a likely happy marriage in the 19th century although the woman seems completely independent on her husband.

‘The Necklace’ also portrays a married couple in the 19th Century and explores the entrapment felt by women due to their lack of influence and independence in society. Madame Loisel is a middle class woman who wishes and believes that she should be an upper class lady. The story is set up defining her potential to be an upper class woman but by ‘ill-fortune’ was ‘born into a wage earning family’. This places her into the middle class. We are then taken further into Madame Loisel’s ‘dissatisfaction’ of her situation. The author shows this by a detailed description of her life possessions and giving a negative view on each compared to the possessions an upper class lady may have. Her ‘squalid wallpapers’ are no match to the grand upper class ‘oriental fabrics’, her ‘soup tureen’ compared to the ‘exquisite porcelain’.

The initial relationship in this story is set up as Mme Loisel in dissatisfaction whereas her husband M. Loisel is perfectly content with his standard of life ‘Ah, Vegetable soup; what could be better than that!’ Initially Mme Loisel seems to be dominant and in charge despite the 19th century trend of the wife being entirely dependant. She plays her husband for items she feels she must possess. When M. Loisel brings home an invitation for an evening at the ministry, unlike most, she throws the card on the table and complains ‘what use is this to me’. Mme Loisel adopts a childish manner here and gives the reader the idea of a spoilt and ungrateful child. Throwing the card down on the table is a childish act and makes us think she is like a child. Her husband is surprised at her reaction and asks why she is not pleased, as she never goes out.

Mme Loisel tells her husband that she cannot go to the party without something more grand to wear, she cries and does not want to go. Once told this, her husband was ‘miserable’. This shows how much the husband cares for his wife although Mme Loisel seems to treat him as her funding. The relationship in this story seems superficial on her side. M. Loisel shows love and affection for Mme. Loisel, he gives up his gun funding money so Mme. Loisel can go to this evening happy. However Mme. Loisel does not seem to appreciate him or his sacrifices. She is completely self-centered and materialistic. This initial relationship does not seem to fit with the 19th century trend. Mme. Loisel is too much in charge. In most 19th Century relationships the wife is entirely dependant on the husband. In ‘The Necklace’ this is only true in finance.

Whereas ‘The Necklace’ and ‘The Story of an Hour’ presents relationships between married couples, ‘The Kiss’ and ‘The Unexpected’ focus on couples that are courting. In ‘The Unexpected’ the initial relationship set-up is between Randall and Dorothea who seem to love each other very much in equality. They are engaged already and are to marry ‘after a time’, the separation of the two was ‘enforced’ and this suggests that they are very happy together and neither would willingly leave the other. The language used by the author, Kate Chopin, shows the reader how close they both are. The separation was described as ‘too cruel ordeal to bear’ and that ‘the parting was bitter’. The dedication that they show to one another is shown through ‘daily letters’ that they send to each other to keep in touch. This relationship is presented as a happy, genuine relationship. Perhaps not normal in 19th Century relationships as many women felt bound and trapped in their relationships. Many did not have a choice.

‘The Kiss’ is similar to ‘The Unexpected’ in the way that it explores a relationship not a marriage but unlike ‘The Unexpected’ the relationship seems superficial and materialistic, this compares with ‘The Necklace’. Initially we are told that Brantain is in a room with Nattie. Nattie is in the light and he is in the shadows. This could suggest that Nattie is in the knowledge and that Brantain is not. It is apparent that Brantain is quite a shy man and is happy in the shadows as his ‘obscurity lent him courage’ to look at Nattie who he loves.

The reader understands that Nattie is confident in herself and knows that Brantain loves her. She is wants to form a relationship with Brantain and eventually marry him for his riches. This is materialistic and compares to slightly similar wishes of Mme. Loisel in ‘The Necklace’. Nattie also wants her lover Harvy on the side. So she wants Brantain’s money but a relationship with Harvy. She has a superficial relationship with Brantain but is juggling that with one that has meaning to her with Harvy. This seems as if she is a classic 19th century woman who is hoping to marry into riches. However she is unlike others by doing it on her own terms.

‘The Woman’s Rose’ is another 19th century story but it differs from the others as it describes friendships between herself and other men and women but she is not actually involved in a loving relationship. Initially she tells the readers about a rose in her old, brown, carved box suggesting it is precious to her. This sets the scene. She describes to the reader that when she was a fifteen-year-old girl she went to a village where the population consisted mainly of men. There was only one other woman who was an idle for all the men at the time, they surrounded her and wanted her. This seems to be an unlikely relationship as the woman is in complete control. This is an unlikely situation in the 19th century.

In typical 19th century stories often a new hope or the introduction of an alternative relationship is added. This is possibly the most clear in ‘The Story of an Hour’ by Kate Chopin. Mrs Mallard shuts herself in her room after hearing the news about her dead husband. She looks out the window of her house and sees the tops of trees ‘aquiver with new spring life’, the ‘delicious breath of rain was in the air’, the ‘sparrows [were] twittering in the eaves’ and ‘some one was singing’.

All of these connote new life, a fresh start. There were ‘patches of blue sky’ showing through the clouds from Mrs. Mallard’s window. The ‘piled’ up clouds could symbolise the darkness she feels right now from the loss of her husband. However the patches of blue sky symbolise hope for the future and the beginning of spring and spring symbolises new life. The elements are symbolising Mrs. Mallard’s feelings. The author uses pathetic fallacy. Mrs. Mallard realises that she has the chance of a new life, an independent one, ‘free, free, free!’

Another 19th Century story that introduces hope like in ‘The Story of an Hour’ is in ‘The Necklace’. Mme Loisel finally gets her pleaded for dress and jewellery. This gives her the ability, courage and confidence to be ‘a tremendous success’ at the party and feel equal with all the upper class guests. She separates herself from her husband and so become one of the upper class women for the evening. M. Loisel again is content with letting her do what she wants and he goes to sleep at about midnight letting her enjoy herself till four in the morning. Mme. Loisel does not really appreciate getting the dress and the jewellery. She almost expects the dress from her husband and when borrowing jewellery off Mme. Forestier she flung her arms round her like a child and ‘fled away with her treasure’. This shows that once she had got what she wanted she was done and so quickly left, purpose fulfilled. The author shows Mme. Loisel’s expectancy to get all the things she needs for the evening at the ministry.

In ‘The Kiss’, like Mme Loisel, Nattie tries to have her own way with everything and be in control. An alternative relationship is discovered when Nattie’s lover Harvy walks in unexpectedly and kisses her without knowing Brantain was in the room. This is the first time the reader hears about Harvy and under strange circumstances with her trying to start a relationship with Brantain. Nattie, although in love with Harvy, keeps her presence of mind about forming a relationship with Brantain and manages to arise quickly and was ‘extending her hand to him’. Guy de Maupassant shows that women in the 19th Century do not have the chance to make a living for themselves and so rely on men. Nattie wishes to have the money of one man and the love of another.

‘The Woman’s Rose’ is another example of an alternative relationship. When she becomes older all the men of the village turn their attention to her, ‘All the men worshipped her. She does not understand why they deserted the other woman who she believes is more handsome than her. However she enjoys the attention as she has been alone all her life and has never been told before she was beautiful, ‘Partly I liked it’. This is not a traditional relationship as she can pick and choose any man she wants. However it is hard to tell who is in control here as she can chose when the men all want her but ‘it was simply a fashion’ the men could decide when she was out of fashion and when to move on. There is however one thing that she does not enjoy about all the attention, she cannot bare that they have deserted the other woman. The author shows that she cares about the other woman but only in a pitying way as she has never talked to her assuming that the other woman despises her for taking all the men.

Short stories are often structured around a twist. Nearly all the 19th century short stories involve a twist. The relationship between men and women often change. ‘The Necklace’ is a classic example of this. After Mme. Loisel loses the borrowed necklace she becomes weak and dependant on her husband, the roles have been swapped round, he takes charge of his wife’s mess and tries to sort it out. It could be argued that there is another twist in this story at the end where it is found out that the necklace was fake and worth nowhere near the amount of money Mme. Loisel and her husband have been labouring over to get back. This is unusual for a 19th century story to have two twists.

This can be compared to ‘The Unexpected’ where when Randall returns after illness a different man ‘his skin was waxy and hectic’ Dorothea decides that she does not want to marry him ‘not for all his thousands! Never, never! Not for millions!’ the loving relationship that had once been is now gone and Dorothea does not want to marry him ever!

Again in ‘The Kiss’ the relationship between men and women is changed. Once Nattie has married the rich Brantain she finds out that Harvy has ‘stopped kissing women’. She loses her loving relationship with Harvy but keeps the wealth of Brantain. She decides ‘a person can’t have everything in this world; and it was a little unreasonable of her to expect it.’

When the twist is revealed in ‘A Women’s Rose’ the relationship changes again. The other woman gives her the rare white rose that is the only one within two hundred miles. This makes the gesture more meaningful. The brief talk with the other woman gets straight to the point and they share an understanding that she though was not possible. It turns out that the other woman does not hate her.

In ‘The Story of an Hour’ the twist can be compared with ‘The Woman’s Rose’ as in both cases the twist is something both character did not think possible. Mrs. Mallard after accepting her new life. Suddenly she sees her husband whom she believed dead walk in through the front door. This shock kills her. The doctors told the husband she had died of heart disease- of the joy that kills. This is ironic because she was joyful at the death of her husband and that she now was free and could start a new dependant life. However her husband turns out to be alive, it is this that kills her the fact that he is back. This twist can be compared to ‘The Kiss’ as both are unexpected twists at the end.

The use of symbols play an important part in short stories as they give everyday items specific meanings and increase understanding and depth of the story. In 19th century stories symbolism is used a lot. ‘There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds’. In ‘The Story of an Hour’ the patches of blue sky describe the sense of freedom she is feeling. They symbolise spring which symbolises new life.

‘A Woman’s Rose’ arguably has the most meaningful and symbolic item. Her rose symbols hope when her faith in women flickers she can look back at that rose given to her by a humble woman who she used to share a village with. She had no faith in women until one woman gave her that rose. Whereas flowers from men over time have faded leaving faint smells, nothing but memory, but the rose is still there symbolising she still has a strong faith in women.

‘The Necklace’ also has a strong clear symbol. The necklace appears to symbolise wealth and happiness but the necklace itself turns out to be a fake and this portrays back to the whole story where Mme. Loisel has been wearing it, it has been a superficial wealth and happiness. The author describes her pleasure going to the head ‘like wine’ this simile suggests that her pleasure is fake like the necklace and also like when you are drunk a hangover will follow. The hangover could be argued either way that it was when the necklace was lost or when she comes back to reality of her middle class life. Also when dancing she is described as moving in ‘a happy mist’ the word mist seems to conceal her and again suggest superficiality.

In ‘The Unexpected’ the way Dorothea reads the letters to tatters could also symbolise the state that their relationship was now in, tatters.

To conclude all five stories present us with different types of relationships between men and women in the 19th century. It is clear in most of these that women are forced into dependence resulting in childlike behaviour and desperation to achieve love and independence. Stories such as ‘The story of an Hour’ and ‘The Unexpected’ conclude suggesting that a single life is better off for women in the 19th century. ‘The Necklace however shows the strength of the married couple towards the end as the repay their debts and that they are better off for it.

From changing status and charge they both finish equal in their relationship and share of work. ‘A Woman’s Rose’ shows that by the end the most meaningful relationship between men and women was that of a friendship between two women. ‘The Kiss’ represents that the woman can be in charge but it will not last in the 19th century as the men always have the last say. In all these short stories the writers have tried to show the reader how women in the 19th century were to live, in dependence and without much choice, and how from that some still have the chance to achieve a happy fulfilled life.


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