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Tony Powell Professor Grimland English 1302 13 November 2012 The Imprisonment of Marriage We only live once, so we deserve to facilitate our happiness with our chosen surroundings, people, and daily activities. We often make commitments based on our current knowledge and beliefs, feeling we have made a well-informed, prudent decision. However, as time goes on, we realize that life is ever changing; the world persists to evolve around us without our permission. Societal pressures, perceptions, and laws alter what is acceptable and what is not. Our individualistic desires become more important as life continues on. Is it our solemn duty to uphold commitments if they jeopardize our life-long happiness, or even our very existence? Arguably, the answer is no. Marriage is a social institution regulated by social norms, public opinion, law, and religion (Amato et al. 12). In the past, especially before the 1970s, marriage had a defined set of social norms that were rarely broken. These included: no co-habitation before marriage, no children before marriage, money earned by the man, household tended by the woman, encouragement of young marriages of women (15-18yrs), and, absolutely no end to marriage before the death of a spouse. People who marry at young ages, compared to those who marry at older ages, spend less time searching for a partner, have less life experiences, have fewer financial resources, and are less psychology mature. Presumably for these reasons, people who marry early report more marital problems (Amato et al. 20).

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In The Story of an Hour (1894), by Kate Chopin, a lady in a repressed marriage learns her husband has been assumed dead in a train wreck. After an initial display of heartbreak, she secludes herself to her room and briefly reflects on an unhappy marriage. Eudemonia sweeps over her as the narrator says, there was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not knowwhen she abandoned herself, a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lipsfree, free, free!...she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely, she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome. Within minutes of learning of her husbands death, joy persisted to invade her heart and head despite her attempts to resist out of dutiful obligation. She was truly happy and did not realize how repressed she was until her husband was dead. The familiarity of her sadness had long rendered it commonplace. These types of unhappy marriages are reflected in the comparison of suicide rates between single young women, to married young women from 1960 to 1970. Suicide rates for married women from 14-19, 20-24, and 25-29 years of age was 190%, 258%, and 80% more than single women, respectively (Velasco, Mynko 243). From 14-19 to 25-29 there was a 190% increase in suicide rates in married women overall. One could postulate that after initially being married, the first ten years are progressively taxing, and the women that cannot adapt to their unhappy state or see another way out commit suicide. In 1969, Governor Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating unilateral, no-fault divorce in California. This was considered more of a policy refinement at the time rather than a social necessity (Stevenson, Wolfers 1). But as time has shown, this policy enabled many couples the unrestricted, legal freedom to choose happiness over the feeling of hopeless imprisonment in marriage. Progressively, from 1968 to 1988, almost all of the states adopted this new policy and

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suicide rates correspondingly fell drastically among married women. From 1959 to 1969 there was less than a 2% change in suicide among married women, providing a scientific control. From 1969 to 1989, there was a 19% drop in suicide rates (Stevenson, Wolfers 1). This shows a direct relationship in the ability to obtain a divorce, and a lower suicide rate. Ernest Burgess wrote extensively on the subject of marriage from 1939 to 1963. He argued that marriage was undergoing a transition from an institutional based union to a relationship based union. This is supported by a law passed by the Supreme Court in 1967 removing restrictions of interracial marriage creating a broader market of marriage (Amato et al. 12). Additionally, from 1939 to the 1990s, surveys of University students further support the claim that marriage was transitioning. In 1939, of 18 characteristics, women ranked love in fifth place. But by the 1970s (and continuing through the 1990s) women ranked love as the most important characteristic. Similarly, mens rankings of love rose from fourth place to first place during this period (Amato et al. 15). Other individual factors as well rose to the top disregarding societal based pressures. This point was even more apparent in 1990s when the divorce rates were much higher than in the 1960s. Single women were 150% more likely to commit suicide than those that were married in the United States (Kachur et al. 15). This is a complete reversal and can be directly attributed to the ability to obtain a divorce and the higher corresponding divorce rate. Some women chose suicide as a way out of their marriage in the past, but others settled into a role of repression and sadness that would eventually destroy their hope for happiness in their life. In The Story of an Hour, the wife eventually left her bedroom and carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She descended down the stairs at which point her

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husband walked through the front door standing amazed at his wifes piercing scream in reaction. She had a heart attack and died on the spot. The decision to choose happiness over a life of repression- regardless of prior commitments- is clearly a reasonable choice. This is not to say that one should abandon their spouse at the first sign of conflict, but should rather take a pragmatic view of ones desires and weigh them accordingly with the present state of the marriage. Divorce is no longer a stigma with society; we have adopted this view point over the last century. This new stance is reflected in our laws, societal norms, and marital statistics. People deserve the freedom to change their mind without fear of reprisal. Avoiding personal desires and happiness in lieu of societys norms and laws can cause detrimental harm to ones emotional health, sometimes even leading to death.

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Works Cited Velasico, Jesus Rico and Lizbeth Mynko. Suicide and Marital Status: A Changing Relationship? Journal of Marriage and Family. 35.2 (1973): 239-244. JSTOR. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. Stevenson, Betsy and Wolfers, Justin. Till Death Do Us Part: Effects of Divorce Laws on Suicide and Intimate Homicide. Department of Economics, Harvard University. January 31, 2000. Web. Nov 10. 2012. http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/econ/Durlauf/networkweb1/temp/Divorceweb.html Kachur, Patrick S., and Lloyd B. Potter, and Stephen P. James, and Kenneth E. Powell. Suicide in the United States 1980-1992 Violence Surveillance Summary Series, No. 1. 1995. Web. Nov 10. 2012. http://weber.ucsd.edu/~dphillip/suicide_in_the_united_states_cdc_report.pdf Amato, Paul R., and Alan Booth and David R. Johnson and Stacy J. Rogers. Alone Together: Cambridge: First Harvard U.P., 2009. Print.