My Last Duchess and the Story of an Hour

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Authors of various works of literature use various mediums to communicate their work with the aim of eliciting a specific response from the target audience. As a consequence, others may use the same means to accomplish different goals, resulting in parallels and variations in the use of form, patterns, and point of view in the stories or poetry. The aim of this paper is to equate Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess to Kate Chopin’s Tale of an Hour in terms of these elements in order to decide how much they vary or agree in discussing different subjects. In the case of Browning, the individual uses the medium of the poem to discuss a story of the Duchess, who is late, through a piece of artwork in a monologue before moving into other hanging on the walls. On the other hand, Chopin uses a short story to write about a happy death of a young woman named Louise who learns of the husband’s death in a railroad accident only to realize later that the Brently is alive leading to a heart attack, a condition since childhood. In this respect, both stories talk about the death of a female, love through marriage, and use of multiple perspectives in telling a story through using different mediums of literature. Therefore, in the two pieces of writing, the authors use similar themes and subjects to elaborate the societal views, as well as differences in target audiences, points of view and use of styles.

Point of View

In the two pieces, both Browning and Chopin use a historical perspective to tell the story. In the case of browning, the individual used pieces of art in the 16th century. The content of the art takes center stage of most of the story as the narrator describes its significance to the culture at the time and the traits of the individual in the portrait, whom they refer as a duchess. The evidence of this is through words such as in the fourth line of the poem, “…and there she stands” (Browning). The implication is that through line one to four, the author is introducing the art as “wall paint” as well as the contents of that wall which is appealing in its beauty described as a “piece of wonder” by the narrator. On the other hand, Chopin writes the story of an hour in 1894, greatly inspired by the occurrences of the individual while growing up such as the husband’s death. The primary motivation, therefore, could be related to using the story to insist on the need to break free from the bond of societal stereotypes signified by marriage and death as a way to achieve freedom of the female gender. In this respect, the story is timely on the historical rapid rising of women activist groups to demand their independence.

Secondly, though Browning and Chopin use different personas in the narrative, the two utilize one individual in telling the story besides their identity. For example, Browning tells the story of my last duchess using a Duke as the speaker of the poem. Duke is entertaining an emissary interested in marrying a daughter of another powerful family, and as they explore the house, they stop at the art which the individual describes in a monologue. The evidence of this is through asking questions such as in line five “please you sit and look at her?” and line 22 “how shall I say?” both of which are not answered but imply the thoughts of the speaker. On the other hand, the voice in the short narrative is an observer that is witnessing the events unravel. Therefore, the point of view is only from that individual which can be misleading as there is no other means to verify the exact feeling of an individual by looking at them hence could be presenting fiction. For instance, it is difficult to explain the emotions Louise goes through after learning of her husband’s death which the persona describes as “…not a glance of reflection…suspension of intelligent thought.” Therefore, when an author of literature uses such points of view, especially in fictional stories, the implication is that the intent is to influence the readership in a particular way. In this case, the objective is to build up the emotional suspense of the readers towards the realization that Brently is not dead, and the happiness of Louise to her freedom and mixed reactions of seeing the husband alive leads to her death. Therefore, comparatively, it is evident that the two individuals use almost a similar point of view but the speakers differentiate in the implication of a narration of real and fictional events of the past.

Audience

The two pieces of literature address a primary audience of the female gender while the secondary one is all the readers who can read the book, especially the policy makers and the societies that limit some of the rights to women due to marital statuses. The rationale of the first readership is that in both instances, the authors address a social problem of marriage and an environment of freedom from oppression after the death of the other partner. In this respect, both pieces are similar in the audience. For example, in Chopin’s story, the freedom is described through Louise in her bedroom of the happiness coming with the death of the husband by using the words, “only yesterday she had thought…that life might be long” (Chopin).

On the other hand, the speaker in Browning’s poems uses words such as “no just pretense of mine for dowry will be disallowed” to describe the social stereotypes that dictate the ways of a female in marriage against a sharp contrast of men who are not faulted for looking at her lustfully (Browning). However, the same behavior of the lady is described as immoral through harsh words such as “Just this or that in you disgusts me” or “herself be lessoned so” (Browning). Therefore by addressing such stereotypes of women, the oppression by the husbands while in marriage, as well as the freedom symbolized by the death of the oppressors directly speaks to the gender on the need to break free from the abuse of their rights under the marriage institutions that limit their acts. Also, the policymakers and societies that judge women based on their behavior or expression of feeling by stereotyping gender roles are addressed through the readership.

Themes

Death

In my last duchess, much of the work contemplates death and its effects on our daily life choices and decisions. Whereas quite some poems consider the acceptance of death as a source of strength, the poem by Browning depicts it as an ever-present punishment to humanity. The work shows how individuals react uniquely to similar situations. In the piece, Browning gives an account of murder using different versions of the same story. The author uses dramatic monologue to enter into the minds of the characters and view various events from the character’s perspective. The poem gives a narrative of a man who gets away with the murder of his wife as he goes through his gallery. The poem is dominated by characters that are evil, commit crimes and involves death.

In the story of an hour, Chopin discusses the theme of death differently. In the Browning’s piece, death is seen as a ticket towards obtaining the joy of independence (Chopin). The writers give an account of how Louise received the news about the death of her husband. Perhaps she is grieved, however, silently in her heart; she knows that the death of Brently is the beginning of her freedom. The feeling of independence excites Louse even though such feelings are only her private thoughts. In the two works, there are similarities in that they discuss the death of a spouse. My last duchess gives an account of the death of the speaker’s wife while in the story of an hour, the writer discusses the death of the husband.

Furthermore, it emerges that the bereaved in both stories are evil. The speaker in the poem my last duchess has a wicked heart. The author describes him as a violent and arrogant person. The Duke is impressively charming, and yet he is the one who ordered the murder of his wife. The Duke of Ferrari is more of a monster. Also, in the second story, Louise is also seen as an evil woman who is happy about the death of her husband for the mere fact that she will obtain joy and freedom from his death. Even though she grieves, in heart, she is happy that the departure of her husband will grant her freedom and independence. One thing that stands out in the theme of death is that in the first poem my duchess the death of Duke’s wife happened. However, in ‘the story of an hour,’ Louise’s husband did not die, in fact after realizing that her husband was not dead, Louise was shocked, and she later died of heart attack as a result of happiness, a condition she had suffered from for a long time.

Marriage

The description of the lives of the main characters in the two stories depicts the nature of their marriages. In the first poem, ‘my duchess,’ the Duke of Ferrara narrates to the envoy about his past marriage. Her previous marriage prematurely ended after he ordered the murder of his wife for her refusal to save her glances for him. He was entering a new arrangement with a daughter of another nobleman. The poem displays the Duke of Ferrara as an extremely arrogant person who puts her wife to death for failing to impress him. Even though he still keeps the memories in the form of a portrait that was painted for her, he is not remorseful about her past crimes.

The Duke of Ferrara had no respect for the woman as he wanted to control her life fully. The narrator’s character indicates that he possibly oppressed his former wife before putting her to death. In the story of an hour, both Louse and Brently were not stable too. Louise is depicted as a happy person on learning the death of her husband indicating that their marriage was not on the right track.

Chopin argues that nearly all marriages are oppressive, even those who seem to be kind. The story brings a lot of irony through Louise who though admitting that her husband is kind, she is happy that her husband is dead as his absence grants her freedom and independence. Louise goes up to her room and looks out through the window and the entire poem shifts to another world of joy. Louise views the death of her husband as a relief from oppression (Chopin). However, the story does not give an account of the kind of oppression she received from her husband. She also hints on oppressing his husband as much as he discriminated her, implying that in their marriage, there was a lot of oppression on both sides.

The oppressiveness portrayed in their marriage is also replicated in all other marriages. In this manner, the oppression rob people their freedom and independence. Just like in the first poem, the Duke of Ferrara oppressed her wife and finally put her to death, and there is no assurance that he will not oppress his new wife he plans to marry. Marriages have ups and downs, and it depends on how the two treat each other. Others learn to be accommodative like Louise while others grow arrogant and cruel like the Duke of Ferrara. In either way, marriage is never a smooth trail, and it needs perseverance and understanding.

Multiple Perspectives on Single Events

The theme is evident in the story of an hour when Louise gets the news of the death of her husband. She goes to her room upstairs and different world sets in. Instead of mourning her husband, she looks out through the window and contemplates on her new-found freedom and independence. Everything that happens during the moment in her senses suggests happiness. The open window indicates her bright future that she is to begin after the burial of her husband, a world of freedom and independence. The scene takes the reader away from the thoughts of death as it portrays happiness and joy whereas the surrounding environment is full of sorrow and sadness. The multiple perspectives in the story are meant to give a better understanding of the thoughts running through Louise’s mind, the joy of independence and the sorrow for the death of Brently.

Also, when Louise returns from her room, a twist occurs in the story when Brently knocks and comes into the living room. He is not aware of any accident, and even though his husband’s friend, Richards tries to prevent Louise from seeing her husband for fear of her condition, it was too late. The doctors arrived and announced that Louise had passed away due to a heart attack as a result of intense happiness. In this case, there was the joy of the death of Brently still in her heart, and at the same time, she was overwhelmed with joy on learning that her husband is alive. The mixed reactions resulted in her untimely death.

The poem, my duchess also uses multiple perspectives to bring out the various themes in the poem. The author explores the dramatic monologue to outline the story of murder utilizing many voices. The use of dramatic speech in the work by Browning allows the reader to enter into the mind of the major characters in the poem and get the different perspectives of their understanding regarding different thoughts and feelings (Browning). Furthermore, the use of multiple views in the poem helps in ascertaining the truth. More often, the nature of truth fluctuates, and this variation depends on the perspective of the character.

Browning’s poem shows that nobody can see the entire story the same way other individuals would view it. The difference in the manner in which individuals have varying perspectives in dissimilar situations differently makes them appreciate the diversity of ideas. Browning’s poem shows how different characters react to similar situations in different ways. Furthermore, the poem also highlights how time and place can easily sway individuals with the same personalities to change quite dramatically. The Duke of Ferrara displays a portrait that was painted for her former wife and this moment takes the envoy that had come to negotiate dowry to his past. The scenario takes the reader out of the immediate environment which focuses on the Duke of Ferrara’s planned marriage to his past life, explaining how he murdered his wife. The use of multiple perspectives on a single event is meant to give an in-depth assessment of the characters and their behaviors, which aids in providing a better understanding of the whole story.

Use of style

Symbolism is the most used style evident in the two poems by using the institution of marriage to signify the community’s perspective of women rights as well as death to symbolize the start of freedom for the gender, and end of oppression. Firstly, the family is the necessary foundation of the society, and in most regions, the female sex is born and gendered differences in regards to their roles and judged based on their orientation. There are instances where the same action performed as rightful for a man becomes a taboo for women. As a result, most women activist groups have been trying to break free from such oppression and stereotyping by the society. Based on this observation, the two authors use their stories symbolically to address these two issues. For example, in the case of Browning’s work, the description of the Duchess in the art by the Duke depicts her as immoral by “smiling at everyone” while the same lustful behavior of the men attracted to her is not condemned (Browning). The speaker in the poem further places her role in the family which is enhanced by the traditional dowry that ties her to the family and loyalty to the husband. However, when she goes out of this scope of work, the death is described by the persona as the start of the freedom from such oppression of the duchess. On the other hand, Chopin symbolically describes Louise’s marriage by describing the individual as young, in an oppressive marriage by the husband, and the way she perceived the news of death. The sadness of Louise after learning the death of her husband and the shift afterward does not cause death despite the heart problem. Just before going downstairs, the individual is happy to achieve freedom from the husband’s oppression but seeing Brently again alive makes her collapse and die. In this case, death signifies the freedom from the husband or highlights of the discrimination the female sex goes through in marriage institutions as a result of the community’s stereotyping.

Conclusion

In summary, the two pieces are similar in many ways such as using the same point of view besides their identity, themes of death and marriage, as well as the use of symbolism. However, the two authors use different mediums of poem and storytelling, and choice of narrator to express the struggles that necessitate women rights activism. Though both are set in the historical context, they also use different objects to describe or symbolize the way the society views women. For the case of Browning’s piece, the individual uses an art portrait while Chopin uses a narrative. In this respect, the comparative analysis reveals more similarities than differences in expressing their viewpoints of the place of women in the society’s historical context.

Works Cited

Browning, Robert., “My Last Duchess.” The Poetry Foundation. Web.

Chopin, Kate., “The Story of an Hour.” Sparknotes.com. 1894. Web.

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