Communication and honesty they say are the keys to all human relations and this truth is made evident in two notable works of fiction: John Steinback’s “The Murder” and Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening”, in the context of marital relations. The Awakening published in 1899, was a controversial book. In this book, Kate Chopin depicts Edna, her main protagonist as a woman with active sexual desires who dares to leave her husband and have an affair.
The Murder’ is a short story by John Steinbeck, set in the early days of settlement in California. It is the story of a marriage between people of different nationalities and of the violent climax to the growing problem between them and of the surprising outcome. Thesis: Both, John Steinbeck’s short story “The Murder” and Kate Chopin’s story “The Awakening”, deal with interpersonal problems between couples and in both cases the central themes are misunderstanding between married couples due to lack of open communication and honesty.
Leonce Pontellier and his young wife, Edna, spend the summer months at Grande Isle. During this time, Leonce spends his time gambling and working in a business at a local hotel. He also visits Carondelet Street in New Orleans during the week. Edna, in the meantime spends her time learning swimming and being friends with Madame Adele Ratignolle and Robert Lebrun. Slowly Edna develops feelings for Robert. One day at the Lebrun cottages Edna is deeply moved by the music of Mademoiselle Reisz, who played the Chopin Impromptu.
Robert decides to leave for Mexico leaving Edna desperate and yearning for him. She slowly acquires an independent lifestyle. Leonce Pontellier leaves for New York and Edna moves into a small house. During a farewell party, she succumbs to the advances of Alcee Arobin though she felt she must be loyal to Robert. She reconnects with Robert at Mademoiselle Reisz’s house. Adele, on her dying moments, calls Edna and asks her to think of the children. Robert leaves Edna and this ultimately pushes Edna to commit suicide by walking into the ocean.
Edna’s disillusionment with her husband begins very early due to the dominating behavior of Mr. Pontelier. When Mr. Pontelier returns home late in the night, he sees Raoul kicking and talking in his sleep. He returns to his wife and saying that Raoul has fever, he reproaches her with her inattention and habitual neglect of the children. He accuses her of not being a good mother and excuses himself saying that he is a busy man. This accusation of Mr. Pontelier pushes Mrs. Pontelier into a state of great frustration and despair. Here we find that Mr. Pontelier is not honest when he says that Raoul has a fever. Next, he unfairly accuses Edna of not being a good mother and unfairly excuses himself saying that he has no time for his sons. He is being dishonest and this is very frustrating to Edna who is pushed to crying. Edna on the other hand has a soft corner for Robert and thinking of Robert she has relations with Arobin which is very dishonest of her. She is dishonest to Mr. Pontelier.
Edna is very intelligent as can be seen with her association with Robert, Madame Ratignolle and Mademoiselle Reisz. Edna had a keen ear for good music. She surrenders to the splendor of Mademoiselle Reisz’s music. She confesses to Robert” I wonder if I shall ever be stirred again as Mademoiselle Reisz’s playing moved me tonight. I wonder if any night on earth will ever be like this one. It is like night in a dream”. Edna is not able to share such intellectual conversation with Mr. Pontellier who is more pragmatic in nature and is a businessman. Hence conversations between her and Mr. Pontellier are generally formal and lack depth.
In John Steinbeck’s short story “The Murder”, Jim Moore lives in a ranch and has the habit of going to Monterey on Saturday nights, to get drunk and to talk with the noisy girls of the Three Star. He marries Jelka, a beautiful Jugo-Slav girl. On his wedding day, Jim’s father advises him that he should beat Jelka because she is a Slav girl. Jelka remains a quiet person and a dedicated wife. She did not offer companionship and spoke minimally. Searching for companionship, Jim returned to his flirty habits within a year. One day he decides to go to Monterey for the company of girls and he invites Jhelka to come with him.
But she refuses. On the way he meets George, who informs him that he saw a just now burnt campfire and a calf’s head on Jim’s land. This changes Jim’s plans. He goes to inspect the place and after taking a ride on his horse, he returns home by eleven. To his surprise he finds that there is a horse tied in the barn. Stealthily going into the bedroom he finds Jelka in bed with her cousin. He takes a moment to gather his feelings by the side of the water trough in the yard. He then takes his gun, goes into the room and shoots the cousin. He whips Jelka who now becomes a submissive wife.
Jelka has an affair with her cousin and is dishonest to Jim. Though he questions her often regarding her thoughts she never discloses anything and is secretive. Jelka misleads her husband whenever he questions her. There is an instance when Jim asks his wife whether she minded staying alone and what she would do if someone would come. She replies that she would send them away. At another time, he asks her what she is thinking. She just replies that she was thinking about the eggs under the black hen. Again when he questions her as to why she is sitting near the window, she replies to see the moon rise at which, Jim reminds her that the moon can be seen only from the bedroom window. Her later activities show that she is having an affair behind his back with her cousin. Jim finds Jelka in bed with her cousin. Jelka is thus a deceitful woman who is dishonest in her communication with her husband.
She is also a person who talks minimally thereby avoiding any open conversation. Jim finds it difficult to communicate with her. Whenever he tries to strike a conversation with her, she usually responds in monosyllables. When he said that the stallion cut himself on the barbed wire, all Jelka could say was “Yes” in a flat tone. Steinbeck says: “The barrier in her eyes was not one that could be removed, for it was neither hostile nor intentional”. The difficulty in communication is well explained by the words: “She spoke the language of his race out of a mind that was foreign to his race”. The lack of open communication between Jelka and Jim is attributed to cultural differences between them – Jim being an American and Jelka a Jugo-Slav.
The novel “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin and the short story “The Murder” by John Steinbeck are both novels based on incompatibility between couples that leads to dire consequences. In both the novels the wife is unfaithful and the men are flirts. There are also cultural differences between Jelka and Jim. In the case of Edna, the intelligence of Edna is not matched by Mr. Pontelier. Because of these discrepancies, the couples are not able to have open communication in both the cases. Any marital relationship can succeed only when it is based on honesty and open communication. There is a lack of these two elements between the couples in both the works of fiction discussed. And it is the lack of honesty and open communication that ultimately leads to the suicide of Edna and the murder of Jelka’s cousin and whipping of Jelka. Thus it is easy to deduce that both – “The Awakening” and The Murder – stress the fact that honesty and open communication are vital for having a peaceful married life.