The text is written by an American writer Kate Chopin. She is considered to be a forerunner of feminists, as many of her stories are devoted to the women of American Southern states at the end of the 19th century, where wife’s role was confined to satisfying husband’s needs. But in fact Kate Chopin’s works are not just written declarations but pieces of delicate psychological prose.
The language of the story testifies to the fact that the author is American as we find here Americanisms (e.g. ‘yonder’).
The main character is Mrs. Mallard (only once she is called Louise). The name shows us that she is married to a certain Mr. Mallard, so wifehood is presented as her essence. “Mallard” is a kind of wild duck, and we may regard her surname as a case of antonomasia, that introduces the theme of being not tame, but wild in heart.
We know little about heroine’s age and appearance (just that ‘she was young, with a fair, calm face’). It’s clear from the beginning that she has a ‘heart trouble’. That’s why ‘great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death’. The plot seems to be very simple:
· the heroine is told her husband is dead (exposition);
· in grief she goes upstairs to stay alone and sits in an armchair sobbing and staring at the open spring window (complication);
· ‘there was something coming to her’, ‘she was striving to beat it back with her will’ (suspense);
· she feels a ‘monstrous joy’ of being ‘body and soul free’ from her husband (climax);
· she goes downstairs, finds her husband returning safe and sound and dies of heart disease (unexpected twist and denouement).
In fact, this story is not a narrative one, it is based on the inner conflict, that is contradiction between Mrs. Mallard’s real life (some details about it: her hands are weak, powerless, ‘slender’; she thinks ‘with a shudder that life might be long’) and her would-be life, free and independent (there her hands are full of ‘will’; ‘she breathed a quick prayer that life might be long’). Here we can notice that contrast is one of the basic devices in the text. The contrast is also noticeable on the level of setting. Heroine’s being upstairs where she finds her dream about freedom contrasts with her being downstairs where she first hears about death and then dies herself.
The temporal component of the setting is also of great importance. We shouldn’t forget about setting in its historical and geographical meaning, otherwise the problems touched upon and the message are unclear for the contemporary reader. We deal with the last decades of the 19th century. For a woman who ‘loved him – sometimes; often she had not’, divorce was doubtful, possibility earning money without husband and decently– almost impossible. So, widowhood was the only way to be free without any troubles. On the other hand, we should remember, that we are speaking about a text written not in our secular epoch, not in modern America. More than 100 years ego the notion of sin was very vivid. Being happy at someone’s death is a sin, and the author can’t approve of it. She raises a lot of issues in the text, involving the reader into co-thinking over the situation. Some of the problems touched upon are:
‘Can we be absolutely free?’ ‘Is freedom more important than responsibility?’ ‘Are we responsible for our thoughts?’
The answer to the latter question is ‘yes’. The heroine is punished for her ‘monstrous joy’, and the message is that we are always punished for our bad thoughts and dreams.
On the other hand, a writer is not a moralist. A good story can’t be only a kind of warning. It shows us all the complicity and contradictoriness of human nature. In some sense the reader admires it. A lot of stylistic devices are employed to demonstrate the gradation of Mrs. Mallard’s state. Inversion demonstrates her tumult (‘Into this she sank’). Metaphors show all the attractiveness of the new spring life (‘patches of the blue sky’, ‘delicious breath of rain’, ‘drinking elixir of life’ etc). Many repetitions of different types (‘there would be no…, there would be no…’ (anaphora), ‘free! body and soul free!’ (anadiplosis) etc.) depict the intensity of her new state. Collocations ‘monstrous joy’ and ‘joy that kills’ are close to oxymoron. Words correlate in a wrong way showing that the heroine’s feelings correlate to reality in a wrong way too. Two pages of the text are full of twists in feelings, meanings and mood (we can see it changing from dramatic and optimistic to ironical). What makes the situation so peculiar is the briefness of all these alterations. It is ‘a moment of illumination’, ‘a story of an hour’.
Little Miss Big Shot by Agnes Staudy
Millie Brent set down her coffee cup. ”1 just don't know how much longer I can put up with it, Irene. I try to be patient, but—"
"Just don’t let it get you down," Irene interrupted. "I went through it with my kids too, and believe me sometimes it wasn't easy. You just watch. Any day now the phase will pass. Here, let me pour you another cup."
The inviting aroma of freshly-brewed coffee enveloped the cozy sun-lit kitchen. Irene slid her chunky frame onto the chair opposite Millie again.
"Thanks," Millie said in a low voice, offering her a grateful smile. She ran her hand across her short- cropped brown bangs in a tired manner. "The things that child can dream up—honestly!' The other day, she came tearing into the house and told me that her dollhouse was on fire. You know that little house that Jack built for her in the yard? Naturally, I dropped everything and ran out there—nothing!" Then, slapping the table with her hand, she said, "Only yesterday, she came into my sewing room and said that there was a man in the basement! It scared the wits out of me, of course. I grabbed one of Jack's golf clubs and ran downstairs." She heaved a deep sigh. "Just another figment of her imagination—another tale."
"I see what you mean," Irene said sympathetically. "Did you spank her?"
"No, as a matter of fact, I was so—Sue Ann?" Millie turned in her chair and watched as her four-year-old opened the door and hurriedly came to her side. "Mommie!" Sue Ann's brown eyes were huge, and her blue- bowed pigtails bobbed up and down as she spoke. "Mommie, there was a man in our house!"
"A man!" Millie gasped, her backbone stiffening, as her hand shot to her mouth. "What was he doing there?" she asked nervously, grasping Sue Ann's shoulders. "Tell me."
The little girl held her doll very tight. "He was going in an' out of all the rooms," she said slowly, putting emphasis on every word.
"Oh, God. Irene—" Millie's eyes were pleading.
“Millie-Millie," Irene said softly, raising one hand. "It's probably just another story, remember? Relax."
Millie's shoulders sank slowly as she let herself go limp. "Sue Ann, are you making up another story?"
"Oh, no, Mommie," she said seriously, shaking her head vigorously from side to side. Her voice was calmer now, but none the less convincing.
Millie heaved a deep sigh. "Honey. This man you saw at our house just now, was he as real as the man you thought you saw in the basement yesterday?"
The little girl's brows wrinkled. With a confused and uncertain expression on her face, she said finally, "Yes—only realler."
"See what I mean," Irene said, raising and lowering her chunky shoulders. "Nothing to get excited
Wanting to pursue the subject further, Millie asked, "Just what did this man do, Sue Ann?" Some of her daughter's tales had been so imaginative, that often she wondered how such a young child could conjure up an event so precise and descriptive.
Wa—1," she said, gazing fondly down at her doll. "Princess an' I were playin' on the sofa in the Iivin'
"An' I turned aroun' an' there he was!" she smiled then, as if the man had popped out like a jack-in- the-box. "He ast me where we keep the money, so I showed him where Daddy keeps that box in the closet." She cocked her head to one side and made a funny face.
"And," her mother urged, lightly. "He ast me if we had any more money an' I said only my piggie bank an' he said never min'."
"Really," Millie said, smiling up at Irene, who winked back.
Sue Ann had more. “He went into your dresser' an' he took your wristwatch an' put it in his pocket” she said, her face growing stem. "I tol' him he was naughty 'cause you don't like for nobody to touch your watch—even me."
Millie felt a strange uneasiness come over her; the whole thing was beginning to sound quite possible.
"He had a bad col' too, an' he was sneezin' too, an' I was real polite an' said 'God bless you' each time," she lowered her head then, "an' he didn't say 'thank you' even once to me."
Rising to her feet, Millie said, "Irene, I've got—"
"Oh, relax," Irene insisted, good-naturedly.
Millie straightened her housedress. "I know. I know—but just the same I'd better check." With her
daughter in tow, she hurried across the street and into the house.
Sue Ann led her straight to the bedroom. Millie felt a wave of cold sweat pass through her. Several drawers were open and their contents disarranged. She glanced toward the closet, and was well able to see that the strong-box was gone. Valuable papers, vacation savings—gone. It was then that Millie realized that Sue Ann was clinging to her, frightened.
"He was here like I tol' you, Mommie. He was!" The huge brown eyes were glazed with tears.
"Yes—darling, he—was here," she said nervously, dashing for the telephone. A few minutes later, a squad car pulled up and two policemen were at the door.
"You see, officers," she finished, wringing her hands nervously, "Sue Ann was telling the truth all along." She wiped away a tear that had rolled down to her chin.
The older of the two officers stooped down beside the little girl. "So, young lady, you saw the whole thing, eh?" He displayed a warm grandfather-like smile.
"Uh-huh," she quipped", fumbling with the back of her skirt.
"Can you tell me what he looked like? Now, think real hard," he urged softly.
"He was big," she said, lifting one hand high over her head. "Big as my daddy or Mr. Crump even."
"I'm afraid that won't help you any," Millie interrupted. "My husband is over six feet tall. Mr. Crump is short, about five foot four, like myself." She smiled down at her daughter reassuringly.
Sue Ann tried to be helpful. She swallowed hard, then said, "He had a blue shirt on with some words on the back."
The policeman's eyebrows lifted. "He did. Good. Can you tell me what the writing said?"
"Ah—" Sue Ann put one finger on her lower lip, and was obviously deep in thought.
"I'm sorry," Millie apologized. "She can't read."
"That's too bad," he said, pulling himself to his feet. "We've had a dozen burglaries reported from this part of town this past month, and they all point to the same man. In broad daylight too. Nervy bird", that one. Too bad," he said, shaking his head from side to side. "Well, we'll do our best to recover your property, Mrs. Brent, but don't get your hopes up too high. It sure would solve a lot of our headaches if we could get our hands on him."
As they turned to leave, Sue Ann suddenly called out. "Wait, Mr. Policeman!* She grasped hold of Millie's dress and clung to it. "I got something else," she said, trembling.
"What is it, Sue Ann?"
"Mommie—I did a very naughty thing," she sobbed. "I stol' something—but please don't spank me, Mommie. Please!"
"What did you steal, Sue Ann?" she asked curiously.
"S-something from that man," she said tearfully, rubbing her eyes with her fists.
"From the man!" both officers shouted, jerking to attention", then crowded around Sue Ann. The senior officer stooped down again. "Sweetheart, you give me what you took from that man, and I'll buy you the biggest ice cream cone they make. How about that!"
"—honest?" The flood of tears was gone. "I got his wallet."
Sue Ann licked her lips. "When he sneezed the first time, he pulled a hanky from his pocket in back—an' his wallet fell on the rug. He didn't know it fell out."
"Yes. Yes," said the chorus of three.
She shrugged her small shoulders, "I pushed it un'er the sofa." In the next instant, the two officers were on their knees groping underneath the sofa.
"It ain't there," Sue Ann said, simply.
"Where is it now, Sue Ann?" Millie asked firmly.
"I—hid it in my dollhouse," she said. Both officers scrambled for the door, and the valuable evidence.
Looking at the front page of the newspaper, the next day, Millie felt guilty. Somehow it just didn't seem right that she should be in that picture with Sue Ann.
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