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Course1—Study Guide

Calculating Love
by Alicia d'Marvel (b. 1971)


Commentary
course1-book1 The excerpts from this work conform closely to the publisher tip sheets discussed in the LitCourse lecture

Dara Bennett is a typical romance heroine: in her mid-20’s, beautiful, slender, smart, and independent. She arrives in New York City, fresh out of graduate school in the Midwest to work at a prestigious consulting firm.

Her first client assignment is BDI, a large technology company, owned and operated by Blake Darcy. Blake started the company, building it from the ground up into a highly successful enterprise.

Our hero is everything a romance hero should be: tall, dark, and handsome; highly successful, sophisticated, and master of his own universe.


Consider:
1. Earlier in the novel, Dara is portrayed as strong-willed and independent. But in this excerpt, toward the end of the novel, notice how she trembles before her man—she quivers, literally, in the face of his overpowering masculine strength.


2. Blake’s physical appearance—his eyes, hands, and physique—and his actions are always described as strong and powerful. Notice the number of times he speaks in a “husky” voice, and the different descriptions of his eyes—they’re always a different kind of blue, and finally, the last mention tells us they’re “still blue.” Description of eyes is cliched shorthand for emotion.


3. Dara and Black act in accordance to gender stereotypes. Blake nearly manhandles Dara—count the number of times he grabs her or holds her. For her part, Dara cries on cue. Notice how frequently she cries—and the varying description of her tears. She’s at risk of dehydration.


4. Notice especially Dara’s sense of security and completeness at the novel’s end. For her marriage is fulfillment and the culmination of her goals. It makes an interesting comparison to Mrs. Mallard’s views on marriage in "The Story of an Hour." (See below.)


The Story of an Hour
by Kate Chopin


Commentary
course1-book2 Imagine how this story would have shocked 19th-century readers; indeed, many find it shocking today.

For women in Chopin’s time, however, marriage was the primary means of financial security. To question its traditional value, and especially a woman’s relationship to her husband, would have been deeply offensive.

Clearly, this story departs from the romance genre exemplified by Calculating Love. Its darker view of human relations, its bitter irony at the end, the skillful use of symbolism to intensify emotions, and the degree to which readers gain access to Mrs. Mallard’s complicated thought process give us a more ambiguous view of the human condition.

Part of Chopin’s value is that she speaks on behalf of women whose literary voices were lost, or never heard, in the earlier years of this country’s developing literary culture.


Consider:
1. Our understanding of Mrs. Mallard’s “heart trouble,” mentioned in the opening line, changes by the end of the story. We come to understand it not only in the literal sense, as a physical infirmity, but also in the abstract—as an emotional state.


2. Mrs. Mallard initially reacts as would be expected to the news of her husband’s death: she weeps. But gradually, as she sits before an open window, all of life’s possibilities—her newly found freedom—come rushing in on her, and she experiences profound joy.


3.The open window is a literary symbol, signifying a world opening up to life’s new possibilities. Springtime suggests awakening life, new potential, rebirth—all that awaits Mrs. Mallard. Blue sky suggests hope, and distant singing a beckoning to new life.


4. At one point, Mrs. Mallard thinks of her husband’s “kind, tender hands,” yet in the next paragraph she realizes that there would be “no powerful will bending her in the blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow creature.” This is a complicated view of marriage. Do her attitudes shock you? Or do you find them in accordance with your own?


5. The end of the story is highly ironic—the opposite happens from what is expected. The doctor’s “the joy that kills” has a double meaning: he means a sudden shock of joy; we know it means a sudden loss of joy.

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