“She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will--as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been. When she abandoned herself, a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: ‘free, free, free!’ "
At first glance, our previous author, Jy’Aire Smith-Pennick, and our next author, Kate Chopin, have very little in common. To be sure, the differences between them abound. However, both Smith-Pennick and the main character of Chopin’s short story, Louise Mallard, are connected through their sense of entrapment. While one experiences life from within the white brick walls of prison, the other finds herself trapped inside an isolated room, a reflection of her broader life within the confines of an unhappy marriage and stifling social restrictions of late 19th century society.
Through personal transformation, Pennick-Smith and Mallard challenge the dominant ideologies that governed their lives. The following questions call those ideologies forth so that they’re more visible: Who is expected and encouraged to pursue their dreams? Who is expected to prioritize others’ wishes over their own fulfillment? Who is positioned to live independently and who is forced into dependence? Who can and should be in control of their futures? The answers to the questions reflect broader ideologies that these individuals challenged in their respective ways.
Expand your schema: What do you already know about the historical context of the late 19th century? What do you know about Chopin’s childhood and early life? How might this context influence her short story?
For more historical context on Chopin’s life in the 19th century, visit the links below:
“Kate Chopin: Her Novels and Stories”
Reflect on your background knowledge: What do you think it means to be ambivalent? (See “Ambivalence” Activity.)
Freewrite: Describe a situation when you felt ambivalent.
Make a prediction: How do you think that personal transformation could be a means of challenging dominant ideology?
Set a purpose: As you read Chopin’s short story below, pay attention to the nature of Louise Mallard’s transformation and the way that her setting influenced that change.
"The Story of An Hour"
Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband's death.
It was her sister Josephine who told her, in broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in half concealing. Her husband's friend Richards was there, too, near her. It was he who had been in the newspaper office when intelligence of the railroad disaster was received, with Brently Mallard's name leading the list of "killed." He had only taken the time to assure himself of its truth by a second telegram, and had hastened to forestall any less careful, less tender friend in bearing the sad message.
She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister's arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her.
There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.
She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street
below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which some one was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.
There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled one above the other in the west facing her window.
She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams.
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.
There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air.
Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will--as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been. When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: "free, free, free!" The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.
She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and exalted perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial. She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome.
There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.
And yet she had loved him--sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!
"Free! Body and soul free!" she kept whispering.
Josephine was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the keyhold, imploring for admission. "Louise, open the door! I beg; open the door--you will make yourself ill. What are you doing, Louise? For heaven's sake open the door."
"Go away. I am not making myself ill." No; she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window.
Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.
She arose at length and opened the door to her sister's importunities. There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She clasped her sister's waist, and together they descended the stairs. Richards stood waiting for them at the bottom.
Someone was opening the front door with a latchkey. It was Brently Mallard who entered, a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella. He had been far from the scene of the accident, and did not even know there had been one. He stood amazed at Josephine's piercing cry; at Richards' quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife.
When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease--of the joy that kills.
1.In which ways was Louise ambivalent towards her husband’s death? (See “Ambivalence” Activity.) How does this reaction reveal Louise’s experience of an oppressive ideology?
2. Where do you see powerful metaphors within this text? Can you identify multiple layers of meaning to those metaphors?
3. During Louise’s time alone in the room, it states, “Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will.” What do you think Louise was fighting and why was she fighting it instead of embracing it? What does this tell you about the nature of dominant ideology?
4.In Chopin’s text, she writes, “She arose at length and opened the door to her sister's importunities. There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory.” What do you think she triumphed over?
5. How did Louise’s isolation in the bedroom play a role in her transformation?
6. Who diagnosed the cause of Louise’s death? What influenced their diagnosis?
Now that we’ve reached the end of this section on “Challenging Dominant Ideology,” take a few minutes to reflect on the section as a whole.
1. Paraphrase your own understanding of the value of challenging dominant ideologies.
2.How do these authors’ challenges build on the previous section on noticing and questioning? How do their challenges move us closer to action?
3. How can language be both liberating and oppressive?
As we move to the next section of this guidebook, we think it’s worthwhile to pause and consider the significance of engaging in critical inquiry. Broadly, within our individual and collective processes of making progress and looking ahead, we can only really begin to move forward when we perceive our states of minds “not as fated and unalterable, but merely as limiting—and therefore challenging” (Freire, 2008, p. 85). As we have learned, the acts of noticing and questioning help us to see our realities as alterable and capable of being transformed. Often, the process of transformation begins with a seemingly simple act--naming. By naming the world around us, including dominant ideologies, we can perceive our realities as problems—problems that invite our engagement towards change (Freire, 2008). From this perspective, even if we fall short of enacting challenges in response to dominant ideologies, the process of identifying and naming those ideologies is still an important step. In the next section of the guidebook, we’ll build on the practices of noticing, questioning, and challenging by harnessing the power of multiplicity.