Writers often communicate their observations, beliefs, and other issues in society through their works of fiction. The use of literary devices aids in making the narrations interesting while concealing meanings. Therefore, critical reading is necessary to unveil the exact message that prose intends to pass to the audience. In addition, some theories can help the audience to interpret texts accurately. This essay aims to critically analyze “The Lottery” and “The Story of an Hour” in terms of semiotics and gender roles. Although the two stories were written at different times, both use symbolism as a foreshadow of death and derogative patriarchal practices in society.
In “The Lottery,” Shirley narrates the events which happened on June 27 in a village located in New England. The narrative is about people gathering in the small town ready to participate in the lottery, which will start at 10 am. As with most activities, Mr. Summers is expected to oversee this traditional event, which takes place once every year. The initial portrayal of activities makes the reader think that it is going to be a celebration. Mr. Summer’s role is to stir the black wooden box, which is placed on top of a three-legged stool carried by Mr. Graves. A tense mood is apparent when people are called to pick the slips, and then Mr. Summers gives the order to open. The black spot is found on Mrs. Hutchinson’s papers, and as the tradition demands, she is stoned to death.
Chopin’s fiction starts by informing the reader that Mrs. Mallard had a heart problem. When Richard and Josphine decide to break the tragic news of Mr. Mallard’s death with absolute caution given the health condition of the presumed widow. Mrs. Mallard weeps suddenly, knowing that she is now alone. She then walks to her bedroom and locks the room. While staring at the window and seeing blossomed trees and the blue sky, she realizes that her husband’s death means freedom for her. She is happy and imagines all things that she can do while leaving for herself. Surprisingly, Mr. Mallard shows up at the front door; he was never on the train that got an accident. When Mrs. Mallard sees him, she is shocked and dies. The doctor assesses that she succumbed to heart disease of joy that kills.
Metaphoric interpretation is relevant in the systematic analysis of symbols by making informed assumptions of their meaning. As stated by Parpală, signs are representations of things and people which are comprised of an expression and content (12). In Shirley’s story, the title represents cruel generational traditions that involve gambling with the lives of people. Mr. Summer is a sign of changing seasons, hence his role in overseeing all village activities.
The prefix in Mrs. Hutchinson’s name “hutch” is a synonym of “box,” and the paper from the box indicating the winner fell on her. The implication is that her identity was a foreshadow of the outcome of the event. Mr. graves signal tombs or cemetery as evident in the outcome of his role in delivering the news about the person who must be killed. The black box, which “grew shabbier … no longer completely black but splintered badly” denotes derogative tradition, which the villagers are unwilling to abandon (Shirley 2). By using signs, the author unveils the end of the story while metaphorically confronting evil ideologies.
Chopin has also utilized semiotic ideas to conceal meaning and express the feelings of some characters in her narrative. Kuzu defines it as “a method of linguistics analysis regarding the development of understanding- and expression-related skills” (34). The troubled heart of Mrs. Mallard connotes a depressed state or emotional disturbances and not a cardiovascular condition. Her name sounds like “malady” indicating the frail state of her psychological health in a marriage that appears like a prison.
The window symbolizes an opportunity for a fresh beginning, to exploit the horizons and other regions which the confines of her home did not offer. This is apparent in the phrase, “…she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window” (Chopin 3). Mr. Mallard’s death meant that she was free to live without submitting to her husband’s expectations. Her room represents the secret thoughts that she has; it is in “her room” that the readers get to know the course of her frail condition and desires for freedom (Chopin 2). The armchair which she sinks connotes rest while the patches of blue sky are hope.
Expected Gender Roles
In a patriarchal society such as the one portrayed in “The Lottery,” women are victims of men. For instance, Tessie Hutchinson is killed in a tradition where all the authorities, including Mr. Summer and Mr. Graves, who run the event, are men. Male children are privileged, as evident in the sentence “made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square while the girls stood aside” (Shirley 1). Men are also considered to be disciplinarians while the won are not accorded any respect even by the children. In the introduction, the mothers have to call the young ones “four or five times” for them to obey (Shirley 1). Conversely, concerning Bobby, it is stated that his “father spoke up sharply, and he came quickly and took his place between his father and his oldest brother” (Shirley 1). The ladies are at the bottom of the social ladder where their role is to support whatever the men ordain even when it is oppressive.
Similarly, in “The Story of an Hour,” oppression of the female gender is apparent. The author describes Mrs. Mallard as “young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength” (Chopin 2). Despite her tender age and ability, being married made the woman frail. In this society, men go to work, as was the case of Mr. Richards and Mr. Mallard, while women remain at home. Notably, Mrs. Mallard is not the kind of traditional woman, like her sister Josphine, who delight in confining to their cultural roles of being subordinate to males. However, she is unable to break free or even express her desire for autonomy. When her husband presumably dies, she joyfully whispers, “Free! Body and soul free!” (Chopin 2). Females are oppressed in a way that their potentials and dreams become unachievable once they become wives.
Literary texts often express the occurrences in society in a concealed way so that the readers can utilize theoretical skills to gain understanding. As much as the setting of the two stories by Shirley and Chopin are different, both utilize symbolism as a foreshadowing of the fatal end. The patriarchal notions which make women be victims of male dominance are also apparent in both narratives. Thus, the fiction mirrors some of the practices that humans adore without realizing the implications. The lessons remain relevant in the contemporary world since there are still some harmful ideologies that need to be abolished.
Chopin, Kate. The Story of An Hour. Jimcin Recordings, 1981.
Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. MN Creative Education, 2008.
Kuzu, Tülay S. “The Impact of a Semiotic Analysis Theory-Based Writing Activity on Students’ Writing Skills.” Eurasian Journal of Educational Research, vol. 16, no. 63, 2016, pp. 34- 54.
Parpală, Emilia, editor. Signs of Identity: Literary Constructs and Discursive Practices. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2018.