English 2013: Introduction to American Literature
Assignment Nine -- Love and Marriage

Ernest Hemingway
1923 passport photo

The thematic focus of the literature that we are examining in assignments nine through twelve weeks is love. In this ninth assignment the readings -- short stories written by four nineteenth-century writers: Washington Irving, Mary Freeman, Charlotte Gilman, and Kate Chopin and one twentieth-century writer: Ernest Hemingway – a short play by Susan Glaspell – focus on love and marriage.

Each of these works focuses on a relationship between a man and a woman: Rip's comically unpleasant marriage to Dame Winkle, Louisa Ellis's fifteen-year engagement to Joe Dagget, the mentally-ill narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper"'s tragic marriage to John, Mrs. Wright's stifling marriage that leads to murder, the young couple waiting for a train in "Hills Like White Elephants," and Calixta's unfaithful marriage to Bobinot.
Although based on a German folktale and written while Washington Irving lived in England, "Rip Van Winkle" helped make its author the first world famous American writer when it was published along with "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" in The Sketch Book (1820). The story's protagonist, Rip, is as the introduction in our text notes "a counterhero, an anti-Franklinian who made a success of failure" Vol. I (p. 513). The narrative time of the story bridges the American Revolution, and seems to emphasize how little basic human nature and behavior has been changed by the dramatic political events that led to American independence. The story, as viewed from Rip's perspective, comically suggests that the most important form of independence is independence from a nagging wife. The story embodies the stereotypes of the shrewish wife and the good-for-nothing husband.

Washington Irving

Mary Freeman

Mary Wilkins Freeman's " A New England Nun" challenges the notion that marriage is the only way in which a woman's life can be fulfilled. Mary Freeman was forced to support herself by where writing through most of her adult life and the Louisa Ellis she creates in "A New England Nun" demonstrates self-sufficiency and the ability to face the reality of her situation and her own desires.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's story "The Yellow Wallpaper" has gained greater fame in our time than it enjoyed during her own career as a successful writer and advocate for women's rights. The story, which effectively demonstrates how even well-intentioned marital "love" can be destructive if it is blinded by cultural gender prejudice, is an important text for understanding feminist concerns about the influence of the patriarchy on women's lives.

Charlotte Gilman

Kate Chopin

In Kate Chopin's "The Storm," the violent thunderstorm mirrors the adulterous passion of Calixta and Alcée, implying, perhaps, that their behavior is "natural." Chopin likely decided not to try to publish the story when she wrote it in 1898 because she feared that her refusal to unambiguously condemn adultery would be too shocking for her contemporaries. Chopin's "At the 'Cadian Ball" shows the cynical beginning of Calixta's marriage to Bobinot. The Kate Chopin International Society maintains an informative site. PBS has a valuable Chopin site that is based on material from the documentary Kate Chopin a Re-Awakening.

Susan Glaspell and her husband founded the Provincetown Players in 1915, an important theater that was intrumental in the success of America's best-known playwright, Eugene O'Neill. The play Trifles, which was first performed by the Provincetown Players in 1916 was loosely based on the murder of John Hossack, which Glaspell covered as a reporter. Her play reveals how the dismissive sexism of the male officials prevents them from seeing the truth and encourages the women in the play to be more loyal to one another than to their husbands.

Susan Glaspell

Ernest Hemingway's experience in World War I made him distrustful of heroic glorifying abstractions, and as a young writer he strove to strip his writing of them: "I always try to write on the pirnciple of the iceberg. there is seven-eights of it under water for every part that shows" Vol. II (p.1031). "Hills Like White Elephants" is an example of a story with almost no narrator commentary. It depends entirely on the uncontextualized dialgoue in which the unnamed couple indirectly discuss the possibility of an abortion and demonstrate the weakness of their relationship.

Hemingway recuperating from his war
wounds in 1918

updated June 15, 2018