How Settings are Contributed to Resolution as Bases of Comparison and Contrast in Harold Pinter’s ‘The Room’ and Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour’
The settings of two works, Harold Pinter’s “The Room” and Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”, exercise their influences by authors’ intentional arrangement. The principal ground of comparison and contrast is how the setting of two works contributes to the reasonable development. The connection of events and the action of characters can be better understood by analyzing settings in the works because the setting works as a hint. For example: the existence of some furniture, the structure of the place where the characters live, seasons, weather, temperature, humidity, lightening, relative locations of certain places within a bigger world and their symbolic meaning. How do the characters feel in the setting? What do they do with the furniture? What kind of atmosphere do they build? These factors might not be the core source of development but they certainly help paving the way for resolution in both of the works.
Characters take their attitude toward the place they are in. They put their own value to the place and the readers expect that their evaluation would have a reason related to the characters’ past experience. In Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”, for example, Mrs. Mallard “went away to her room alone” and “she would have no one follow her” (205) when she hears the news of her husband’s death. Mrs. Mallard’s room is like her secret garden of freedom where she reveals her joy without guilt, which is allowed to be entered only by her. Mrs. Mallard’s sister Josephine “was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the keyhole, imploring for admission” (206) but cannot enter the room until her sister opens the door herself. Because she has the secretive attitude of her emotion inside the room, the view from her window reflects her hidden mind inside.
There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul. She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. (205)
To be precise, the setting was not changed before and after the news of her husband’s death. The thing changed is Mrs. Mallard’s attitude toward the setting. By showing how the perception of the same circumstances is changed, the importance of the news to her can be emphasized.
On the other hand, Rose in Harold Pinter’s “The Room”, sees the world differently from Mrs. Mallard’s point of view. One obvious difference is that Mrs. Mallard’s focus is on the outside of the window whereas Rose focuses more on the value of her room itself. Rose’s room is an enclosure of her secret in contrast to Mrs. Mallard’s secret garden. Readers do not know exactly what happened to Rose in the past before moving to the district, however, they can imagine that there must have been something by inspecting her perception of the room as well as her view from the window. It is not that pleasant to look out from the window not to mention that she reluctant to take a step outside the room. The existence of the curtain and Rose’s action of settling the curtain implies that she wants to shield herself behind the curtain. She cannot even endure the transparency of the window glass. Her saying that she is “all right” is suspicious when she keeps repeating the phrase as she chanting a spell. Here are several textual evidences:
“She goes to the window and settles the curtain. No, this room’s all right for me” (86), “Just now I looked out of the window. It was enough for me. There wasn’t a soul about. Can you hear the wind?” (85), “We’re quiet, we’re all right. You’re happy up here. … I don’t know why you have to go out” (87), “The ceiling right on top of you. No, you’ve got a window here, you can move yourself, you can come home at night, if you have to go out, you can do your job, you can come home, you’re all right” (89), “Well, Mr. Kid, I must say this is a very nice room. It’s a very comfortable room” (92), “She stands and looks about the room. She looks at the window and listens, goes quickly to the window, stops and straightens the curtain.” (94~95)
But her description is not reliable since the conversation the characters involved is almost absurd. There is neither communication nor information in their dialogue. The Sands, the visitors who are not the residents of the building, is more reliable than Rose’s impression. According to what Mrs. Sands says, the place is rather “dark”, smells “damp” and it “got darker the more we[the Sands] went” so that “it[the voice from the basement] gave me[Mrs. Sands] a bit of fright”. (101) If the basement under Rose’s room was gloomy as Mrs. Sands describes, Rose’s would be deluding herself by avoiding the reality. She can say with her mouth that it’s “all right” superficially but she does not look totally okay when she keeps rocking on her rocking-chair. The two works make full use of the setting in this way.
Doors in both of the works are the channel of shocking news or unexpected visitors. When we hear someone knocking on the door, we say “who is this” instead of “who are you” because there is a door screening between. We do not know what is standing behind the “partition”. Especially when we encounter the visitors we had not expected, the surprise doubles. It is well depicted in “The Story of an Hour”: “She clasped her sister’s waist, and together they descended the stairs. Richards stood waiting for them at the bottom. Some one was opening the front door with a latchkey.” (206) There created a tension at the moment before the door is opened. The doubled surprise becomes the cause that kills Mrs. Mallard. Similar tension is written in “The Room”. There are four times of visiting to Rose’s room. Mr. Kidd, Mrs. and Mr. Sands, Mr. Kidd again, and Riley are the visitors. Every time someone visits, there creates a tension, too:
“She comes to the centre of the room, and looks towards the door. She goes to the bed, puts on a shawl, goes to the sink, takes a bin from under the sink, goes the door and opens it. Oh! Mr and Mrs Sands are disclosed on the landing” (95), “She goes to the rocking-chair, sits, rocks, stops, and sits still. There is a sharp knock at the door, which opens. Enter Mr. Kidd” (102), “After a few moments the door opens. Enter a blind Negro.” (106)
Misunderstanding and ambiguity of messages cause dismal consequences in both of the works. The news of “Brently Mallard’s name leading the list of “killed”” (205), turn out to be false at the end when he enters the door. Temporarily wrong information allows Mrs. Mallard to be free just for a moment. How about misinterpretation in “The Room”? As I briefly mentioned above, the conversation among characters is full of ambiguity. I have no idea what they are talking about when Rose is confused while having words with the Sands at the same time:
Mrs. Sands: And this man, this voice really, I think he was behind the partition, said yes there was a room vacant. (101) Rose: … they said this room was going vacant. What were they talking about? (103) Mr. Kidd: What room? … Vacant? … What? What’s that got to do with it? I don’t know what you’re talking about. (103)
Is there any two of characters communicating? No, there is not even though I consider all the combinations of characters – Rose and Bert, Rose and the Sands, Mrs. Sands and Mr. Sands, Rose and Mr. Kidd, Rose and Riley, Riley and Bert. Those people who cannot communicate have troubles. Mrs. Mallards tells herself that “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”. (206) In the beginning part of the play “The Room”, Rose treats Bert as a baby, “imposing a private will upon Bert”, for example, “Go on. Eat it up. It’ll do you good” (85), “Don’t go too fast, Bert, will you?” (94) Rose’s talk sounds kind but there is tremendous emotional gap between Bert and her. There is no intimacy to hold them together. Rose acknowledges it by saying “Still, I’m much better today. I don’t know about you though.” (86)
The reasons are different from each other, but the two protagonists have drastic physical changes through the work in common. Mrs. Mallard dies of a heart attack and Rose becomes blind at the end. From Mrs. Mallard’s point of view, the setting of her life is totally changed from her life to death within the hour. For Rose, the world becomes darker with her physical blindness she gets right after the death of Riley and the left of Bert. These are extreme metamorphosis for characters which take readers to surprise ending. From the beginning to the end of the two works, I have analyzed how setting tightens the link of cause and effect and how the setting enriches the development of the work. The setting can be reflected by characters based upon the character’s attitude toward the world. What makes characters feel about the setting in a particular way? How can their previous experiences and imagination manipulate their perception of the setting? These are questions worth examining as methods of better understanding the work in aspect of development.
Robert, Edgar V. Writing About Literature. Brief 11th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2006. 205, 206
Pinter, Harold. The Room.