The Shawl by Louise Edrich
“But we still have sorrows that are passed to us from early generations, sorrows to handle in addition to our own and cruelties lodged where we cannot forget them. We have the need to forget. We are always walking on oblivion edge”
Oblivion: the state of being forgotten, especially by the public
As a Native American, the character/narrator in this passage is a part of American history that is not spoken about very often and even then is expressed in very vague and incomplete ways. His entire culture and his people are on the verge of extinction and they are very much like living ghost.
“You knew you were abnormal- the way the nasty ones were too nasty and the nice ones too nice. The old white women who muttered and glared at him, the black men who shook their heads at you, the black women whose pitiful eyes bemoaned your lack of self-esteem, your self-loathing. Or the black women who smiled swift, secret solidarity smiles, the black men who tried too hard to forgive you, saying a too obvious hi to him, the white woman who said “what a good looking pair” too brightly, too loudly, as though to prove their own tolerance to themselves.”
The people around the narrator are suspicious and uncomfortable with their relationship. They seem to resent to the pairing of a black woman and white man. It is seemed odd yet none of these people have the audacity to outright reject this pairing. This quotation proves that although legally the segregation of races may be illegal, we still continue to think and operate un-cohesively.
The story demonstrates two ways in which people cope with the death of a loved one. These two ways are of that of incrimination and or reflection. The coping with incrimination is seen through the father of the deceased girl. As evidenced in the passage “For a time, the boy had no understanding of what happened. His father kept what he knew to himself, at least that first year, and when his son asked about his sister’s torn plaid shawl and why it was kept in the house, his father said nothing” in this part of the passage that the father is unwilling to accept that his daughter is gone and continues to hold to this grief. “But he wept when the boy asked if his sister is cold. It was only after his father had been weakened by the disease that he began to tell the story, far too often and always the same way: he told how when the wolves closed on Anakwad had thrown her daughter to them” the father sees the death of his daughter was unjust and offers his son as well as himself an explanation as to why such an injustice could happen. In the father’s eyes, his daughter did not deserve to die and he could accept that is was perhaps by her own fault or the workings of the world. The coping with reflection is seen through the grandson. As evidenced in the story “She saw that the wolves were only hungry. She knew that their need only needed. She knew that you were back there, alone in the snow. She understood that the baby she loved would not live without a mother and that the uncle knew the way. She saw clearly that one person on the wagon had to be offered up, or they all would die” this refutes of that grandfather when he refuses to accept that his daughter’s die may come about naturally. Naturally in the sense that all things must die at one point and none of those things have to power to determine when, where and how. It also refutes the thinking that her death could not come about on her own doing. Sometimes situations arise that force us to make difficult decisions that make us comfortable, in the case of the daughter she had made the ultimate decision. We should view these two coping mechanisms as right or wrong. Instead, we should view them as allegories to the all-consuming philosophical question “What is life and why do we have to die?”
We can infer from the first chapter that Helga Crane is someone that lacks personal relationships in her life. There are no people in her life that she can heartily share her time, thoughts and feelings with. She doesn’t seem like she could connect with anyone around her. She certainly values companionship for it is stated in the chapter “she had wanted social background”. Her lack of love and communication with her own family accounts for her inability to be with others.
It all begins in the home. The way in which we interact with our family members (whether to be related to us or not) is what determines how we will interact with the rest of the world. In the article Factors affecting social development, it states “Children who experience the security of loving parents and have strong attachments to their parents are better able to reach out to relate to others. According to attachment theory, children who enjoy a secure attachment relationship with their parents and caregivers use this relationship as a support to venture out and explore their environment (Maccoby, 1993). Helga Crane did not achieve such confidence. There is a rift between Crane and her family. She doesn’t get along with them, as evidenced by the text “Her stepfather, her stepbrothers and sisters, and the numerous cousins, aunts, and other uncles could not have been even remotely considered. She laughed a little, scornfully, reflecting that the antagonism was mutual, or, perhaps, just a trifle keener on her side than on theirs. They feared and hated her, She pitied and despised them.” If she could not get along with the people who are supposed to unconditionally tolerate and even love her, what could she expect from the outside world?
Freedom from feminist constraint is a common theme in Kate Chopin’s work. She is in fact considered one of the first feminist writers that would, later on, emerge more prominently in the late 20th century. What might perhaps set her aside from other feminist writers is that for most of her adult life she conformed to the conventional role of housewife, it is not until her husband’s death that she begins her career in the literary arts. Although we can never speculate as to her feelings about her husband’s death, we can state that it has had an immense impact on her writing. Freedom from feminist constraint through the death of a patriarch is explored in “The Story of An Hour”. What we understand about Mrs. Mallard’s desire for freedom in the story is that she doesn’t feel like she is her own person and is only through the absence of the patriarch (her husband) that she feels she can come into her own being. When he again becomes present, she knows that she would again be an object. By examing the text, specifically her contemplation, we will then determine if she had achieved freedom in her own death.
We can induce that Mrs. Mallard was in at the least in a loving and steady marriage. Mr. Mallard did exhibit some form of care and sensitivity to his wife. This is exhibited in the following quotation,” 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.”. She does feel remorse for the loss of her spouse and that this is a bittersweet moment in her life, although the latter (sweeter) more so as she contemplates more on what this means for her. It is important to note that she holds no resentment for her husband because it demonstrates that the confines she finds herself were constructed outside of their relationship.
As I stated in the introduction Mrs. Mallard does not feel she can act out of her own will and consciousness. She must always be in mind of her role as a married woman. In other words, everything that she does reflects as well as affects her husband’s reputation. This is the predicament that many upper-class women found themselves at the time the story was written. And so her life is not her own. As written in the text “There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow creature” With him gone and no one men to associate (or belong to), her actions are own to decide and to be judged for.
To conclude Mrs. Mallard does not find freedom in her death. She only thought about the possibilities that it may bring but she did not exercise that freedom.