The Expressive Function of the Narrative Perspective

The Expressive Function of the Narrative Perspective

Literature always provides some account of the epoch and cultural environment when and where it appeared. Thus, the most striking themes of any society may be found in the most popular texts that belong to that society’s general conditions. The relationships between males and females may be regarded as one of such topics. The need of proper and relevant criticism of the injustices in this sphere presupposed the appearance of the feminist movement as well as the specific feminist literature, in which the mentioned issue is constantly underlined in order to express it in contrast to the mainstream literature that followed the patriarchal society’s guidelines (Brizee). It is possible to explicate the ideological message of such texts through the analysis provided from the feminist point of view. Moreover, it is important that besides the social and cultural conditions that presuppose the main features of literature, each author has her or his own personal specifics that make his or her texts different from others. Thus, for example, both Kate Chopin (in her “The Story of An Hour”) and Jamaica Kincaid (in her “Girl”) behave as feminist writers, though they express their thoughts differently. The relevant use of narrative perspectives helps to share a writer’s experience of gender inequality in various ways, and thus, the role of the literary forms is as essential as the role of the literature’s content.

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Chopin’s “The Story of An Hour” tells about a woman who felt free because of her husband’s death. Then, having realized that he is still alive, she dies of heart disease. In this narrative, the author contrasts the real feelings of a female with the social expectations concerning those. As long as the masculine dominance in society makes such expectations chauvinistically colored, all women are coerced to hide their true feelings. Thus, the narrator claims that after the death of the main character’s husband, “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). In this way, the short story shows the hidden side of an average family’s life.

Much more typical is Jamaica’s character, a mother whose monologues lecture about the social stereotypes concerning girls is interrupted only twice by her daughter. The mother’s advice concerns the ‘proper’ way of behavior in the masculine society in accordance to the social expectations. Thus, she teaches her daughter to hide her emotions (as well as the character of Chopin’s short story did): “this is how you smile to someone you don’t like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don’t like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely” (Kincaid). Thus, it is clear that both short stories concern the same subject.

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The social order in which females have to live in accordance with the norms created and protected by males is the main issue discussed in short stories analyzed. Both ‘girl’ and Louisa suffer because of the same complex of social mechanisms that make them obedient to the patriarchal order. The narrator underlines while speaking about the relationships between the Mallards that “a kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime”, referring to the masculine exploitation of women that looks like something normal through the prism of the chauvinistic position (Chopin). Kincaid also mentions the difficulties of relationships between males and females: “this is how to bully a man; this is how a man bullies you; this is how to love a man, and if this doesn’t work there are other ways, and if they don’t work don’t feel too bad about giving up” (Kincaid). In fact, both narratives demonstrate the falseness of married life because wives socially coerced to obey their husbands have to act in accordance with the social expectations instead of behaving freely. As long as males have much more power in the patriarchal society described by both authors, and thus, instead of having relationships that are based on some mutual compromises, most of the marriages lead to exploitation of females. They are obliged to satisfy all the demands of their husbands, follow the social image of a typical girl or a woman, and, at the same time, always keep all of their displeasures unspoken. Both Kincaid and Chopin perfectly provide the understanding of this atmosphere, though using different literary tips to achieve this effect.

Despite the discussion of the same issue in both texts, it is clear that the reader would perceive them in very diverse ways because of the difference in the authors’ intentions. The main dissimilarity between the narratives provided by Kincaid and Chopin is grounded in their divergent narrative perspectives. Kate Chopin uses third-person narration, which is very typical for the literature of the late XIX century, and thus, she just follows the most popular way of writing. Accordingly, all of her characters are abstracted from the reader who perceives them just like a third person. At the same time, the reader may see some details hidden from other characters because of his ‘abstracted’ way of relation to the narrative. Speaking about “The Story of An Hour”, it is obvious that the reader’s perception of the full perspective (the reader knows both Louisa’s feelings and the doctor’s conclusion about the cause of Louisa’s death) is possible only due to the third-person perspective’s usage. The reader is not tied to some main character, and thus, he or she has an ability to see the described situation both ‘from above’ and ‘from inside’. It is very important that the literary tips of Kincaid are almost different because her reader perceives the situation only in its most external dimension provided through the dialogue. The lack of any commentaries of the narrator makes the short story similar to some kind of an overheard conversation between a real mother (who mostly speaks in an imperative tone) and a real daughter (who makes only two remarks in a questioning and dubious tone). Thus, Jamaica Kincaid’s short story makes possible to observe the stereotypical and exaggerated complex of an average mother’s guidelines given to an average daughter. In this way, both authors achieve diverse effects: Kincaid shows the roots of the gender inequality in everyday conversation of a mother and a daughter, while Chopin provides the hidden side of the married life, letting the reader experience what her character feels.

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Thus, through the analysis provided, it is evident that both writers discuss the same theme of gender inequality protected socially but their experience of this issue appears in different forms mainly because of the use of various narrative perspectives. Kate Chopin uses the third-person narration, and in this way, she provides the effect of perceiving the situation ‘from above’, in an abstracted way. In contrast, Jamaica Kincaid uses the form of dialogue that helps her to share the ‘girl’s’ feelings with the reader. Hence, Chopin operates with the hidden side of the gender relationships, while Kincaid provides a new insight on the well-known external side of those. It means that the narrative perspective is as important as the text’s content itself with regard to the text’s ideological function.

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