The Making of a Canon

A canon represents works of fiction among a franchise’s fictional world which are categorized as things that “actually occurred” within the fictional world they are a part of. Kate Chopin’s,  “The Story of an Hour” explains how a work of literature becomes part of the canon by its fit in the Realism literary period.

“The Story of an Hour” depicts a woman who is controlled by her husband, who seemingly dies in a railroad accident and as a result, she attempts to find herself and her freedom in a society where women do not have a voice. The Realism literary period impacted “The Story of an Hour” because it focuses strongly on an oppressed woman finding her individualism.

Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” is included as an introductory text in most major anthologies making it undoubtedly part of the canon as Kate Chopin wrote numerous other short stories. Kate Chopin, who lived from 1851-1904, was writing during the literary period known as Realism.

Literary realism’s aim was to represent familiar things in the manner in which they are in real life. That is in contrast to idealism which represents unrealistic ideals. Authors of realism focus on everyday life activities and routines au lieu of using drama-filled, romanticized ideals.

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Some characteristics that “The Story of an Hour” possesses that makes it a natural choice to include in the canon are the oppression women endured in that era. The main character, Mrs. Mallard, thinks that most women and men oppress each other even though their intentions may be positive. Mrs. Mallard is not in denial of the love she felt for her husband yet upon the knowledge of her husband’s death, she felt excited about her independent journey.

The story’s setting, which is in the Mallard’s home, symbolically highlights the domestic actualities of the nineteenth century. Women were often bound to the home to perform household tasks as their primary activities. During her marriage, Mrs. Mallard is forced to obey her husband’s commands especially regarding their household as women were not allowed to even own property in that era.

She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength. But now there was a dull stare in her eyes, whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on one of those patches of blue sky. It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought.

“The Story of an Hour” also carries themes such as “the true meaning of love” and “selfhood.” Mrs. Mallard does not succeed in defining the true meaning of love and finding herself as she desired. It can be implied that her heart attack and the end of the story was from the shock of seeing that her husband’s death, what inspired her happiness streak, was false and thus caused her to die from “happiness.”

The literary period of Realism is depicted well in “The Story of an Hour.” It describes the oppression and suppression of Mrs. Mallard.  She constantly fought for independence, freedom, feminism, love, and her fit as a woman in the society of her time.

What is your favorite literary piece that highlights the transformation of social and societal norms? Do you think the author is transparent to the audience?

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