Literature and Society
For my essay this week, I chose to use the Reader-Response Perspective to write about Kate Chopin’s piece The Story of an Hour and Bobbie Ann Mason’s story called Shiloh.
I believe this approach works well for both of these stories because “one benefit of using reader-response perspective to interpret literary works is that you begin with what is primary and basic—your initial reaction, your primary responses” (DiYanni, R. pp. 2177.Since both stories deal with the subject of death, I found a common thread between the two pieces and thought I could explain my interpretation of the character’s reactions upon the death of a family member. “When I read a piece of literature, I typically consider my initial response to the story and how sometimes my primary reaction changes as the reading progresses” (DiYanni, pp. 2179. A writer must use words and mental imaging as aids to create powerful emotions from their readers which can be anything from sorrow to happiness to disgust.
Often a reader’s early response to a story changes as they continue to read and their perspective changes because of the words and mental picture the writer has used to create his writing, his work of art. Language is a powerful tool which allows readers to interpret and respond to written stimuli used by writers. A writer uses words as descriptors to reflect on community values and on the particular time period for which they are writing in order that the reader can bring the social experience to life in order to underswtand how literature and society affect each other.In Bobbie Ann Mason’s writing “Shiloh” the writer directs the reader to the effort involved in maintaining a marriage by describing what is taking place between the two main characters. This is a tale of a husband and wife who have gone down dissimilar paths after the death of their infant son from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. At first, the reader may think that Leroy Moffitt and his wife Norma Jean seem somewhat happy, yet as Mason progresses with her writing, we begin to realize that a division between the man and wife has taken place. As Mason continues, the reader’s perspective may change regarding the two main characters.
Mason writes that Leroy wants to build his wife a log cabin, but she has little, if no interest in that. Then, the story reaches its climax when Norma Jean tells Leroy quite matter of fact “I want to leave you” (DiYanni, R. pp. 75). Although he does not believe her, Mason has told the reader earlier in the story that Leroy thinks he may be losing her. I think literature and society reflect each other in this story because Mason is from Kentucky and the story takes place in the South, as she refers at one point in the story, when the pair go to Shiloh and Leroy reflects “The Union soldiers zapped ‘em finally, April y7, 1862” (DiYanni, pp. 5).
In Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” it appears the main character in this writing, Mrs. Mallard, reacts to her husband’s death immediately and with great passion.My interpretation of this was that here was a woman who truly loved her husband and was quite pained when she found out about his death. I think the fact that Chopin was widowed may have been perhaps the influence that prompted her to write this particular piece of literature. When Chopin says that Mrs. Mallard “wept at once with sudden abandonment in her sister’s arms” (DiYanni, R. pp.
8), I thought maybe this is the way Chopin was affected by her husband’s death and how she turned her experience into words. However, my interpretation changed during the course of this piece when Mrs. Mallard uttered three words, “Free, free, free” (DiYanni, pp. 39)! This indicated to me that she may have not been quite so sad when she found out her husband had died. This again referred to the Reader-Response Perspective I used for this piece. Both of these stories indicate the difficulty of marriage in a particular society. In The Story of an Hour” words are used to express the difficulty faced upon learning of the death of a spouse.
In Shiloh, the writer shows the reader how two people react to death, this time to the death of a child. In booth pieces, the writers have used language as a means of expression to show the reader how societal events affect literature and how literature affects those who read their stories. I believe the language a writer uses allows the reader to interpret the story in his own way and that the language used also reflects community because I believe community may be the foundation to a writer’s works. Bibliography DiYanni, R. (2007). Literature, reading fiction, poetry, and drama (Ashford Custom 6th ed. ).
New York: McGraw-Hill.