Social norms are acceptable until they start destroying the psychological states of individuals. When the sexualities of individuals are repressed, symptoms of psychological deterioration occur due to restrictive social norms. These are the circumstances in “The Hands” by Sherwood Anderson and “The Storm” by Kate Chopin. In “The Hands,” Wing Biddlebaum once known as a teacher named Adolph Myers at a boy’s school is chased to a new town in Ohio where he is repressed and fearful of society because he is a homosexual during a time when only heterosexuality is accepted.
In “The Storm,” a woman amed Calixta is in a restrictive position as a housewife. When she is alone, her past lover, Alcee, coincidentally comes by the house and they have an affair which ultimately relieves her depression. Both protagonists are put in restrictive positions caused by the social norms at the time which ultimately deteriorate their psychological states. The restriction of sexuality expressed through setting and characterization in “The Hands” and “The Storm” shows that social norms cause an individual to experience psychological suffering and deterioration which ultimately leads to a joyless and isolated life.
By portraying a setting where Calixta experiences restraint as a housewife, Chopin shows how social norms cause a woman to live a repetitive, joyless life. In addition, this life portrays the boredom and restraint of marriage which shows how a housewife loses her happiness due to the deteriorating psychological effects of restraint. Although when the setting changes to the house during the storm Calixta represents a strong and rejuvenated woman as a result of countering the status quo.
Meanwhile, the setting of the veranda isolated from the town shows the fear associated with being a homosexual man suppressed by ociety’s expectations and beliefs. However, when Wing is a teacher at a boy’s school, the isolated setting shows how a man freely expresses his sexuality when social norms are not reinforced. When Wing Biddlebaum is a school teacher, he is a free and inspirational individual who shows the complete transformation of a man when he is not mentally deteriorating from the status quo. Both characters psychologically deteriorate in their concealment of sexuality due to social norms present in their respective settings.
The social norms present in both stories show that the status uo can force an individual to be perpetually stuck in a habitual life which takes away the joy of life. The restraints and boredom associated with the life of a housewife in late nineteenth century Louisiana reveals the monotonous life of a woman in isolation. The story occurs during a time when housewives are forced to remain faithful and devoted to their husbands as well as stay at home everyday. The gloom of this life is expressed when “[Calixta] sat at a side window sewing furiously on a sewing machine. She was greatly occupied and did not notice the approaching storm”(Chopin).
The isolated and small home takes part in creating a space that doesn’t allow for expression. The setting only induces and amplifies Calixta’s depression. The “tone,. detached and unsentimental” contributes to the apathy, a form of depression (Seyersted 153). Seyersted notices and addresses the effect that the restrictive setting has on the protagonist. The social norms are a large part of the setting because they are ultimately responsible for Calixta’s depression. However, the environment around Calixta, a housewife, amplifies the effects of the restriction of her sexuality.
The same ind of initial setting is present during Wing Biddlebaum’s life in Ohio. The circumstances involving a homosexual male when social norms only allow heterosexuality shows that suppression from society causes an individual to remain isolation. Wing Biddlebaum isolates himself from the rest of society “upon the half decayed veranda of a small frame house that stood near the edge of a ravine near the town of Winesburg, Ohio”(Anderson). The “decayed veranda” sets up a setting filled with decay that correlates to Wing’s mental state of mind. Anderson’s dominant ideas was to trace ‘a line of decay, a omain of deprivation’ within an outmoded ‘agrarian culture”(Baker 64).
Baker explains that the setting is meant to be dark and wasting away because it shows how a character’s surroundings affect his mental state. In addition the time period, set in the early 1900’s, plays a large role in the way society treats Wing, a homosexual. The setting correlates to the way the society thinks. Within the story society views homosexuality as impure and against nature. This idea explains why Wing is isolated and cemented in a conventional life away from society.
The setting of the isolated and decaying veranda ntensifies Wing’s phobia of society which takes away from his joy in life. The characterization of both characters shows how restriction by means of social norms causes people to mentally break down due to a lack of expression. The depiction of Calixta demonstrates that restricting sexuality leads to depression due to a lack of expression. Calixta tries to distract herself from her emotions through completing house chores. When Calixta “[does] not notice the approaching storm,” the reader sees Calixta as apathetic due to her efforts to heavily distract herself.
The suppression from society causes her to create distractions for in order to avoid expressing her sexuality. Calixta is “a woman bent on fulfilling her complete sexual potential,” but social norms impede this intention(The Storm 24). As a result, Calixta becomes depressed and frustrated after years of suppressing her feelings. Chopin describes Calixta as depressed and unemotional in order to show the joyless life associated with allowing social norms to confine an individual’s desires. The same constraint presents itself in Wing Biddlebaum’s life as a homosexual.
The characterization of Wing Biddlebaum shows how the burden associated with the status quo leads to irrational fear. Due to Wing’s lack of communication caused by fear, he is characterized through his actions such as hand motions. “Wing Biddlebaum [talks] much with his hands. The slender expressive fingers, forever active, forever striving to conceal themselves in his pockets or behind his back”(Anderson). His instinct to hide his hands reveals his fear of people due to society’s disgust for homosexuals. Even though his fingers, like his thoughts, are very active, he never fully xpresses himself.
Wing is a victim of society “who grows increasingly oppressed by his loneliness and his inability to express himself to others”(“Hands” 16). Since social norms do not allow Wing to express himself without repercussion, he loses the pleasure of life and fears society. Expression is a fundamental part of humanity but when social norms repress people begin to psychologically break down. The change in setting in both stories shows that the removal of restrictive social norms allows people to become more joyful. The setting of the house during the storm develops an environment of olitude without guilt normally caused by social norms.
The removal of social norms and the complete isolation of the setting allow Calixta to fully express her sexuality. Since “the rain was coming down in sheets and obscuring the view of far-off cabins,” Calixta and Alcee were completely isolated from the rest of society(Chopin). The setting during the storm “is remarkable. for the freedom it asserts in the face of the suffocating conventionality of the 1890’s”(Bender 158). The momentary setting with the storm creates a world within the world where no restrictions exist and where Calixta is free to xpress her sexuality.
The intensity of this setting does not scare Calixta. The purpose of the setting is to show a contrast ween surroundings with restrictive norms versus the absence of these norms. Ultimately the house during the storm gives Calixta freedom of expression. A similar situation occurs in Wing Biddlebaum’s life as a teacher. The isolated school creates a setting free of restriction which perpetuates the limiting nature of social norms. When Wing Biddlebaum taught at a school for young boys, he was unrestrained by social norms and was able to freely express himself.
The presence of the boys is significant because it creates a setting where Wing can express his homosexuality. However, it is not in a sexual way. The setting allows Wing to have respect for these boys because he “was [also] much loved by the boys of his school”(Anderson). The accepting and isolated atmosphere allows Wing to fully express himself and his sexuality without the pressures of judgment. Since the boys are only children, their awareness of social norms is skewed. Therefore, the setting proves that the disappearance of social norms allows an individual to more freely express himself.