Social issues are frequently addressed in every great literary piece. Writers make use of the present social issues in their surroundings either to express their opinions towards them through their characters or to merely address them for awareness. However, it is important for the readers to take note of how these social forces affect the characters for better comprehension on how the authors intend to present the problems. Four selections from an anthology are to be discussed to further elaborate on how the social issues affect the behavior and actions of the characters.
In Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour, readers are exposed to the concept of a wife trying to bear the news of her husband’s death and the ambiguity of her feelings towards it. In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, the author presents the ongoing problem of male dominance over females. In Claude McKay’s poem, If We Must Die, war penetrates the mind of the speaker; while in Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum est, the speaker presents the horrors of the war. Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour, tells the story of Mrs.
Mallard who is introduced in the story as a bearer of a certain heart disease. The first part already assures the readers that the news of her husband’s accidental death would most probably give her a heart attack so it is made sure by Josephine, her sister and Richard, her husband’s friend that the news be revealed to her with great caution. Initially in the story, readers are given the impression that Mrs. Mallard is a sensitive woman who dearly loves her husband. Little by little, Chopin reveals an ambiguity in the feelings of the character as she describes Mrs.
Mallard that, “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! ’” (Chopin, 2009). Gradually, readers are given a wider view of how Mrs. Mallard feelings are becoming. “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” (Chopin, 2009). However, in the end, readers are implicitly informed that the cause of Mrs. Mallard’s death is due to the realization that her husband is actually alive.
“When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease –of the joy that kills” (Chopin, 2009). The last statement gives out the message that the joy upon seeing her husband alive is not actually the reason for her death but rather because of the freedom that has been lost when he appeared at their doorstep. In this story, the Mrs. Mallard secretly endures a miserable life with her husband which can be blamed on women’s domesticity. After a moment of grief, she becomes glad that she is finally free from the demanding grasps of her husband.
The pressures and demands brought about by the society’s claim that women’s role are merely for domestic purposes pushes Mrs. Mallard into being grateful for her husband’s death. This is, of course, a wrongful act however it is triggered by the character’s desire for liberation. The problem of male dominance can also be observed more thoroughly in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper wherein she uncovers the mental and emotional effects of male dominance and social pressure to women. It is a story about the wickedness of confinement—literally and psychologically.
In the story, the narrator’s husband locks her inside a room with yellow wallpaper because he believes that she would be cured of her post-partum depression due to recently giving birth. He thinks he could cure her by means of rest cure treatment. In result, the wife resorts and depends on the images that the yellow wallpaper provides her. She begins to see images crawling and creeping inside it and starts hallucinating, thus, worsening the mental state of the wife. The story is an entire symbolism of women being manipulated fully by men.
The husband’s way of taking charge of his wife’s mental health signifies the concept of male domination in the story. “If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do? ” (Gilman). The narrator’s question reveals the powerlessness of a woman in her society if a “physician of higher standing” whom she refers as a man has already made a conclusion and solution against her will. In a thorough analysis, the husband symbolizes the patriarchal ascendancy that restricts women’s lives.
They are expected to always follow and obey their husbands and fathers as they are believed to know the best for everyone. The husband’s act of confining her represents male dominance in the society and the woman behind the wallpaper is the narrator herself. Simply put, it is the entire domination and ascendancy of men that causes the mental instability of the narrator. Aside from women’s issues, the problem of war has also been prevailing in many literary pieces. In Claude McKay’s If We Must Die, the speaker talks about welcoming death. He is obviously a soldier who knows that he might die soon just as the rest of the soldiers.
However, in this poem, he desires to die in a noble manner. If we must die, O let us nobly die, So that our precious blood may not be shed In vain; then even the monsters we defy Shall be constrained to honor us though dead! (McKay, 2009) In a place filled with war, it is expected that soldiers would already anticipate their deaths even before the battle starts. This is a common scenario for soldiers in battle. If they are not in war, they would not have even thought about dying in any such way but with a speaker who is currently in war at the time of the poetry writing, he specifically states that he die nobly and fighting.
This mindset has been triggered by the speaker’s love for his country and at the same time by the deaths that he sees while in the battlefield. The concept of dying for the country is quite comparable to the work of Wilfred Owen in terms of relating the theme to war. However, there is palpable difference because Owen’s poem, Dulce et Decorum est, reveals the horror of the wars and even states in the end that it is a lie to tell children what an honor it is to die for one’s country. He describes in the poem how the war exhausts the life out of men.
“Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots / Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind” (lines 7-8). In the poem, one could hear the bombs flying and exploding due to the effective imagery that the poet provides. The speaker’s tone is not passionate about fighting for the country but rather it is filled with rage as if he wishes to put blame to somebody. My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori (25-28).
The last two lines includes the famous Latin phrase “Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori” which is commonly translated as “it is sweet and right to die for your country”. The speaker considers it as an “old lie” as he sees nothing “sweet and right” about the events and deaths during the war. The bitterness is present in the speaker’s voice and this is motivated by the results of war crimes and deaths. The first two pieces involves stories of women who feel trapped by their own femininity while the two succeeding poems involve men who deal with deaths in the midst of war.
In a closer look, one would assume that the characters and speakers in the literary pieces are driven to such behaviors by the compelling social forces surrounding them. Chopin and Gilman attack the unjust positions and roles of women in marriages while McKay and Owen reveal the images of their miserable fates in war through their poems. The imagery and symbolisms in the works are effectively delivered in a way that the readers are forced to ponder about these realizations in the end. Social issues solidify the stories’ and poem’s plot and conflicts.
It is also important to note that the themes implied in the stories are still applicable in our resent society. Women’s struggle for fair treatment in a marriage and the injustice of war are two societal issues which are still recent today. Instead of just leaving another literary work in the readers’ minds, they are given thoughts to ponder with regards to the social issues which are evident in the society.
Reference Chopin, K. (2009). The story of an hour. In P. J. Annas and R. C. Rosen (Eds. ) Literature and society: an introduction to fiction, poetry, drama, nonfiction (pp. 358) Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Gilman, C. P. (2009). The yellow wallpaper. In P. J. Annas and R. C. Rosen (Eds. ) Literature and society: an introduction to fiction, poetry, drama, nonfiction (pp. 307) Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. McKay, C. (2009). If we must die. In P. J. Annas and R. C. Rosen (Eds. ) Literature and society: an introduction to fiction, poetry, drama, nonfiction (pp. 1279) Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Owen, W. (2009). Dulce et decorum est. In P. J. Annas and R. C. Rosen (Eds. ) Literature and society: an introduction to fiction, poetry, drama, nonfiction (pp. 989) Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.