A Wagner Matinee

The late 1800?s were a time of repression for women. A woman was expected to conform to her husband?s ideals and accept a life of his control. Even today, the relationship between men and women sometimes seems unequal. In her essay "Disappointment is the Lot of Women," Lucy Stone discusses the different treatment of men and women. "When? I reached forth after the sources of knowledge, I was reproved with ?It isn?t fit for you; it doesn?t belong to women,?" she recalls (Stone, 1). Stone expresses her hopes for women?s independence, instructing to "not tell us before we are born even, that our province is to cook dinners, darn stockings, and sew on buttons" (1). The short stories "The Story of an Hour," "A Kate Chopin?s ," and "The Yellow Wallpaper" illustrate Lucy Stone?s ideas about self-fulfillment and about the relationship between men and women in her essay, "Disappointment is the Lot of Women."
In Kate Chopin?s "The Story of an Hour," a young woman?s innermost thoughts about her life and marriage and her perception of the world are expressed through Louise, who reacts quite oddly after receiving the news that her husband has been killed in a train wreck. "She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance" (Chopin, 624) and instead of lashing out, sinks into a comfortable chair, looks out the window and sees spring. She explores the endless possibilities of what a new life would bring. She realizes that her husband is no longer there to control her. "There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself" (635). Louise is excited at the possibility to do what she wants to do for once, to make her own decisions, to appreciate the freedom that she has not previously experienced. "Free! Body and soul free!" she whispers to herself (625). She continues to think of all the opportunities that have been bestowed upon her with her husband?s death, and grows more happy and hopeful with every thought. "She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long" (625) when the previous day she had dreaded the thought; now her life seemed filled with promise and she intended to embrace it and live to its full potential. As she heads downstairs, anxious to begin her new life, she is so astonished to see her "dead" husband, who had actually been miles from the accident scene, that her weak heart gives out and she dies. After examining her, the doctors conclude that she died of "joy that kills" (625), even though it is apparent to the reader that she died because of shock and disappointment. She had been given a glimpse of freedom and could not bear to go back to living under her husband?s will. Her mere hour-long taste of really living, in the true sense of the word, was incredibly appealing; the disappointment she suffered when she realized she would not have that life was so immense that it killed her.
"A Wagner Matinee" by Willa Cather also examines a woman?s feelings of disappointment. Cultured Clark, who has left Nebraska some time ago for Boston in the hopes of escaping a life with his despised Uncle Howard, who had raised him along with his Aunt Georgiana after the death of his parents, receives a letter with a Nebraska postmark one morning. The letter, sent by his uncle, informs Clark that aunt will be in town to attend to a financial matter. The letter requests that Clark meet his aunt at the station and "render her whatever services might be necessary" (Cather, 543). Clark persuades his aunt, whose love of music had inspired her career as a piano teacher at a conservatory before giving up music for a life of love with her husband, to attend a matinee performance of Wagner?s music. During the concert, Clark realizes that his aunt has been battered by her environment but not completely destroyed by it. He observes that "she is like that strange moss which lies on a dusty shelf half a century and yet, if placed in water, grows green again" (549). Although the lack of music in her life has taken a toll on her, she becomes transfixed when in its presence again. Although she at first seems unaffected