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Monday, February 24, 2014

February 24, 2014: Short Shorts: Kate Chopin

[To commemorate the end of our shortest month—my younger son recently asked me, “Why does February only get 28 days?!”—a series on five great American stories that are as short as they are powerful. Add your favorites in comments!]

On the story that shows just how much sixty minutes can include.
I’ve already written in this space about two Kate Chopin works, both of which are pretty short and pack a hell of a punch in their own right: the controversial and unpublished (in her lifetime) short story “The Storm” (1898) and her masterpiece of a novel The Awakening (1899). But to my mind, there’s not an American short story that does more with less—less time passing within the story, less space (both in terms of setting within the story and space on the page), fewer words—than Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” (1894). My central goal for this week’s series is that I share these stories and get your takes, so I’ll say first and foremost, for each story and post: Check out the story at that link, and come back here and share your thoughts!
Okay, welcome back! I don’t want to say too much about my own take, because I am genuinely more interested in hearing yours. But I will try to say at least one thing for each story, highlighting one of the many reasons why I think they’re worth our (amazingly brief) time and (nonetheless far deeper) engagement. For Chopin’s story, I think perhaps the most impressive thing is this: the story centers on the perspective of its main character, Louise Mallard, and manages to convey so much about her perspective and identity in such a brief space; yet at the same time, I would argue that Chopin likewise includes multiple other perspectives on Louise, from those of at least three other characters (her sister Josephine, her husband’s friend Richards, and her husband Brently) to that of the sympathetic but also observing outside narrator. The Awakening is often described (and I agree) as a model creation of complex narration and perspectives—but “Story” manages to do the same, and in less than twenty paragraphs.
So what do you think? This paragraph for rent!
Next short short tomorrow,
Ben
PS. Thoughts on this story, or others you’d share?

2 comments:

  1. Well, since you already wrote about my favorite, one that I've taught quite often and of which I never tire, I'll go instead with Margaret Atwood's "Happy Endings." Warning: It's not at all happy. In fact, I find it much more depressing than "Story of an Hour." Then again, I also find it much more realistic.

    http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~rebeccal/lit/238f11/pdfs/HappyEndings_Atwood.pdf

    -Kate

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  2. Thanks for sharing that one, Kate! Definitely depressing, but also funny and smart and complex and, well, Atwoodian.

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