Professor Heather AltfeldFisher
11 March 2012
19Th and 20th Century Gender Expectations in Literature
The late 19th century produced a myriad of successful authors, poets and play-writes that often incorporated the local customs, traditions and expectations of the time (and perhaps their own experiences) into their work. A fact of the times, even into early 20th century, is that women were not equal to men and the expectations of women were not equal as well. This point will be illustrated by comparative analysis of two separate forms of literature: Tristan Bernard’s humorous play I’m Going! A Comedy in One Act, and Kate Chopin’s short story “The Story of an Hour.” Authors can use plays, stories or poems to bring us into their world, and through imagination we can connect with them, if only briefly, and enjoy their point of view and what they are trying to convey. Through their writing, they are actually giving us a look at history and through that snapshot of time we can see the differences between society’s expectations then and now. Tristan Bernard’s (1866-1947) I’m Going! A Comedy in One Act (1915), (Clugston, 2010a), is a play set in Paris about a married couple (Henri and Jeanne) who on a Sunday morning are trying to decide how they are going to spend their day. Henri wants to go to the races but he wants Jeanne to stay home, though she wants to go with him, or to see her friend (Clugston, 2010a). The theme of the play is one of distrust and manipulation, as each truly wants to spend the day on their own, and at the end of the play that is exactly what they do (Clugston, 2010a). In this play, Bernard uses the setting of the stage and symbolism to convey to the audience a sense of separate desires of the couple starting with the opening scene when Henri and Jeanne enter and sit on opposite sides of the room (Clugston, 2010a). Bernard, in fact, used symbolism in many of his works, and exploited the psychoanalytical technique to draw his dramas together (Degasse, 2008). What one really has to look through the mist to see, however, is how Bernard incorporates society’s expectations (or double standard) of women in Paris (and throughout the world, really), though in a humorous and dramatic style, into the play. One has to keep in mind that the male audience of that time probably had the same attitude and beliefs as the character Henri, and though it may have been viewed as right or wrong, women were expected to be subservient and obedient while the male was allowed further freedoms. Henri wants to goes to the races alone, and ultimately, that is what he does while Jeanne stays home, but let us look deeper at the play and uncover the nuances that show the inequality of the times and how Bernard conveys that conviction. After Henri and Jeanne’s initial entrance and they set down, the first thing that happens is Henri makes a comment about how every Sunday the weather is nice until noon, then its cloudy and rainy or there is an advancing thunderstorm (Clugston, 2010a). This verbal observation of the weather may be a metaphor and actually provide two meanings; one is that it is in fact rainy and Henri is setting a negative atmosphere for Jeanne who expects him to take her out for the day, and the other could be the weekly Sunday dilemma of Henri trying to go to the races without Jeanne. The rainy, or soon to be, day also sets a tone of despair, but provides Henri with an excuse to go to the races alone and save him and his wife the additional cost of a carriage in order to avoid the rain, and additional cost of a ladies ticket (Clugston, 2010a). In truth, it is just a manipulation of the circumstances for Henri to try to dissuade Jeanne in joining him at the races (Clugston, 2010a).
Then in Bernard’s I’m Going, A Comedy in One Act (1915), Henri recommends a...