What are young people being taught in school these days about love and marriage? In these times of chronic family breakdown, are the nation’s schools doing anything to build up the family, or are they contributing to its demise? Let’s take a look at an actual high-school textbook to find out.
In Prentice-Hall’s LITERATURE: The American Experience, volume one, Common Core Edition, we find a short story by Kate Chopin called “The Story of an Hour.” The comments made in the Teacher’s Edition tell us what this story is about and how it will be taught:
Mrs. Mallard gets the unexpected news that her husband has been killed in an accident. She quickly recovers from the shock to discover that what she feels is relief. Though she mourns his passing, she delights in the freedom that will now be hers. Shut up in her room, she relishes the opportunities ahead of her.
The introduction to the story in the students’ edition reveals that the editors are very much champions of Chopin’s writing:
Background “The Story of an Hour” was considered daring in the nineteenth century. The editors of at least two magazines refused the story because they thought it was immoral. They wanted Chopin to soften her female character, to make her less independent and unhappy in her marriage. Undaunted, Chopin continued to deal with issues of women’s growth and emancipation in her writing, advancing ideas that are widely accepted today.
Mmm . . . Which ideas are widely accepted today? That if your husband kicks the bucket you should experience grief for about five minutes and then relish your new freedom? That widowhood equals opportunity?
Well, you might wonder, was he a bad husband? Was he a drunk? Did he beat her? Was this the only way out? Apparently not. Here are Chopin’s own words:
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.
How could a wife think so only moments after she is told her husband is dead? Well, characters in literature, like people in real life, make choices. Here is the choice Mrs. Mallard is making: