Sometimes, a story will force the reader to reflect on one's beliefs relating to life occurrences. Such is the case with the two stories, "The Story of an Hour" and "Videotape." In "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin, Mrs. Mallard is told of her husband's death and retreats to her room to ponder what life will be like without her husband. She is saddened at first, yet she quickly realizes that she is finally free to live her own life. She becomes almost overjoyed at this thought and then learns that her husband is in fact still very much alive. With her existing heart condition and the shock of her husband's survival, she suffers form the "joy that kills," and dies.
In "Videotape" by Don DeLillo, a young girl unknowingly records on the family video camera the death of a man driving in his car behind her and her father. There is very little emotion expressed by the author when the man is shot, and there is also little emotion felt by the reader. The story focuses on the reality of the videotape, how it looks, how it is "realer than real."Videotape" is mostly centered on the audience's reaction to the tape. In a world filled with violence, many people are no longer revolted by seeing others get hurt or even die. The "Videotape" horror is overshadowed by the surreal notion of an innocent child capturing death while learning to use a camera. One sees a friendly, kind man waving from his car to a child.
The next moment he is murdered. The camera rolls on unrelentingly. It seems the girl can't stop her recording. The man playing it over and over again for his wife can't stop either. This willingness to watch a man die describes an attitude found in many American homes and the way we view the death of those we don't know.
The story also states that there have been many others killed the same way, but no one seems to be interested in any of the other murders. They are only interested in this one because it plays out so vividly and innocently on film. Both the man and the little girl see death and it seemed so normal; so unemotional. "The Story of an Hour" shows a passionate death. The reader understands that the wife who sees her husband unexpectedly alive dies of strong emotion. Yet to a causal viewer, her death involves no obvious emotion.
The reader however knows that it is the rise and fall of her passionate reactions that cause her heart to stop beating. Mrs. Mallard's death was a traumatic death. In that brief hour she is filled with horror, exhaustion, sadness, jubilation, surprise and maybe remorse.
Those strong emotions are shared with the reader and leave one to determine which emotion finally killed Mrs. Mallard. The "Story of an Hour" also takes a different look at reactions of those around this tragic death. The story ends immediately after Mrs.
Mallard dies. It does not give any indication to the emotion of Mr. Mallard, her sister Josephine and her husband's friend, Richard. But it did provoke a deep examination of mortality for the reader. Readers are also left to determine their own emotions after reading "Videotape." There is little emotion seen by the story's central characters. The readers may be left horrified at the brutality or inhumanity of the senseless act: or they might be as numbed to the death as the man who was watching it on TV.
How is it that a violent murder can leave us with less emotion than the death or an old, feeble woman? In both "The Story of an Hour" and "Videotape" one's emotions are provoked by the emotions of the characters. One feels the joy and despair of Mrs. Mallard, so one reacts more strongly to her death. One can also understand the detached emotion of watching someone die from the safe distance of a "Videotape," something shown repeatedly on TV. Yes, this was a real death, but it still looks like all the others. Both stories force us to look at our own emotions and question our own reactions to death.
Both authors paint pictures of the events leading up to those deaths. Both challenge us to examine our own mortality and our reactions to powerful life occurrences. In contrast, one story is full of emotion, and the other story holds one at arm's length. Uncomfortable reactions to their messages make both stories most powerful.
Works Cited Chopin, Kate. "The Story of an Hour." The Bedford Introduction To Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford, 2002. 12-14.
DeLillo, Don. "Videotape." The Bedford Introduction To Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford, 2002. 558-562.
Villa, Wally. "Differences in Responses to Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour." The Bedford Introduction To Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford, 2002. 16-19.
Garza, James. "As Seen On TV: The Aesthetic of Death in DeLillo's "Videotape"" 02 Oct. 2003.