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张在新

John Zaixin Zhang

 
 
 

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Silence Speaks  

2010-04-25 18:13:46|  分类: 参考答案 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Zhang, John Zaixin. Silence Speaks: Non-verbal Language in Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour.”

Towards the end of Kate Chopin’s story “The Story of an Hour,” the narrator tells us that Josephine lets out a “piercing cry” and Richards makes a “quick motion” to screen Mr. Mallard from seeing his wife. Even though Josephine’s piercing cry makes simply a sound, it is still non-verbal language, so is Richards’ quick motion. But unlike Richards’ kinetic gesture (which has a definite meaning—that Richards thinks the unexpected re-appearance of Mr. Mallard may give Louise a pleasant surprise and a surge of emotion that may cause her to die of heart disease—“of the joy that kills”), Josephine’s acoustic outburst is subtle and ambivalent. In a word, it can be argued that Josephine must have known the real cause of her sister’s death--the mutual understanding between the two sisters reinforces the feminist theme of the story. Non-verbal language in narrative silence says it all!

Actually, the piercing cry and quick motion we witness here echo the non-verbal language that dominates the final part of the story. When Louise opens the door to Josephine, “There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory.” “Unwittingly” is an interesting choice of diction, by which the narrator seems to suggest that unaware of what she is doing, Louise shows a look of “a goddess of Victory,” and with “a feverish triumph in her eyes” lingering happiness is written all over her face as she opens the door. This means that Louise must have unintentionally revealed her unacceptable behavior to her sister, even if for a brief moment, which forms a sharp contrast with her weeping before she went into her room earlier: “She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone.” Although the narrative doesn’t specifically show that Josephine must have seen the triumphant look on Louise’s face, it has prepared the reader for this non-verbal visual exchange of understanding.

The narrator specifically brings out the effect of verbal (auditory) language only to conceal the non-verbal (visual) message hidden behind it, as Josephine begs Louise to come out of the room:

           Josephine was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the keyhole, imploring for

            admission. “Louise, open the door! I beg; open the door—you  will make yourself ill. What

            are you doing, Louise? For heaven’s sake open  the door.”

           “Go away. I am not making myself ill.” No; she was drinking in a very elixir of life through

            that open window.

Why does Josephine say “you will make yourself ill” (it is springtime)? The keyhole is the key, which not only allows the passage of verbal language (Josephine utters her words for Louise to hear) but also the penetration of non-verbal vision (Josephine must have seen something through the keyhole prior to her utterance). While Louise answers in mild refutation “Go away. I am not making myself ill,” the narrator supports our suspicion of the non-verbal message (Josephine’s concern) about the possibility of Louise catching a cold, with a follow-up on her verbal refutation: “No; she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window”—through the keyhole Josephine must have seen Louise sitting by "that open window" (thus her concern about her sister's health), despite the fact that the narrative only specifically depicts the verbal communication (“with her lips to the keyhole”).

The sense of sight paves the way for the later non-verbal visual exchange of understanding between the two sisters as Louise “carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory.” And this non-verbal visual language serves to highlight the subtlety of the role Josephine plays in the story. So, her "piercing cry" and "Richards' quick motion," at the end of the story, may not convey the same non-verbal meaning about Josephine's and Richards' responses at the sight of  the travel-stained, unharmed husband.

(For more discussion questions about the story, see 张在新编著,《英语短篇小说解读》, 外研社,2009)

From “The Story of an Hour”

       ….

Josephine was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the keyhole, imploring for admission. “Louise, open the door! I beg; open the door—you will make yourself ill. What are you doing, Louise? For heaven’s sake open the door.”

“Go away. I am not making myself ill.” No; she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window.

Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.

She arose at length and opened the door to her sister’s importunities. There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She clasped her sister’s waist, and together they descended the stairs. Richards stood waiting for them at the bottom.

Someone was opening the front door with a latchkey. It was Brently Mallard who entered, a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella. He had been far from the scene of the accident, and did not even know there had been one. He stood amazed at Josephine’s piercing cry, at Richards’ quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife.

When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease—of the joy that kills. 

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