This paper will discuss The Story of an Hour written by Kate Chopin in 1894. The end of the 19th century became significant for the U.S. society that experienced rapid changes due to the Second Industrial Revolution. However, industrial progress only strengthened the power of gender roles. Only low-class women were expected to work, while the middle and upper classes saw their women as perfect submissive wives and mothers. Nevertheless, not all females were willing to follow the rules of the patriarchal world, and in 1890, the National American Woman Suffrage Association was created. Although Kate Chopin was not a member of this organization, she became one of the most significant feminist writers in the history of literature. Chopin saw the necessity for more freedoms for women, and The Story of an Hour reflected the oppression and male dominance that a typical ideal wife of that time was facing.
The main character of the story is Louise Mallard, a woman who gets news about her husband’s death. At the beginning of the narration, she appears as a loving wife, reacting to the news with “the storm of grief” (Chopin, p. 1). Louise behaves in accordance with the patterns of the patriarchal world where she cannot see her life without a husband. However, when sitting upstairs alone, she has a strange feeling. It is the feeling of freedom: “She said it over and over under her breath: “free, free, free!” (Chopin, p. 2). Louise realizes that she finally can have a life that she could never experience being a wife.
There is no freedom for a perfect wife, as she lives in a world of control. Men rule in the society, husband rules in the family, and a woman herself also has to control her behavior, feelings, and desires. As Karami and Zohdi note, women have to be “firm in their reasons, actions, and reactions over themselves”, and being only wives and mothers, many of them have lost part of their human being (p. 435). When Mr Mallard dies, Louise relieves the burden of control. Of course, the impact of the social norms is significant, and she tries to reject her feelings at first, as “she was striving to beat it back with her will” (Chopin, p. 2). It is a fight between what Louise must feel and what she really feels. However, this fight turns out to be very short, and she accepts her emotions.
The fact that Louise feels relief because of her husband’s death shows a great degree of oppression that women may experience living in the patriarchal world. According to Xin, Chopin reveals and criticizes “the patriarchy which bears the root of domination over women” (p. 569). This domination was suppressing Louise’s individuality when she was living with Brently. Only after his death, she finds a human part of her that was lost behind the image of a perfect and loving wife and because of her husband’s “powerful will bending hers” (Chopin, p. 2). This human part made her happier than ever, and she “saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely” (Chopin, p. 2). As Karami and Zohdi point out, Chopin “do not limit freedom in social conditions of women” but also pay attention to the personal freedom of her female characters (p. 432). Thus, Louise sees in the husband’s death an opportunity to escape from her prison and gain inner freedom that characterizes her as a person.
Louise finally starts to see her identity that was hidden somewhere behind her duties and society’s expectations. Chopin breaks the image of an ideal and loving wife, representing a woman who is unhappy in her marriage. Louise does not feel much love towards her husband, “she had loved him — sometimes. Often she had not” (Chopin, p. 2). It is possible to assume that her marriage was a forced step, more as a duty rather than desire as for many women of that time. According to Kusuma, Louise’s image represents the idea “that a wife is a free individual whose focus is not only on her family but also on herself” (p. 14). One may agree that Chopin emphasizes the importance of independence for women, although the story may imply the view that this independence is impossible within marriage. Nevertheless, the female protagonist of her story breaks some of the patriarchal rules in her own mind and finds out what she really wants.
It is worth noting that the nature description also supports Louise’s true feelings. From the window, she can see trees that are “all aquiver with the new spring life” and hear “countless sparrows” that twitter in the eaves (Chopin, p. 1). At first, it may seem nature contrasts with the grief caused by Mr Mallard’s death. However, it is possible to agree that from the very beginning, it becomes a hint to Louise’s inner state of spirit. According to Karami and Zohdi, nature leads Louise “to inspiration and clear-sightedness” (p. 433). One may assume that the representation of nature also plays a significant role in Chopin’s story, supporting her attitude towards women’s position in society.
Louise’s dreams of a bright and happy future, however, do not come true. When it turns out that her husband is alive, she dies because of heart disease. A doctor concludes that the death was caused by “joy that kills” (Chopin, p. 3). After getting her freedom even for an hour, Louise is not able to accept the dominance of her husband. According to Karami and Zohdi, “Chopin shows that Louise trips to the ideal world of feminine freedom but at the end the powerful patriarchal forces control her life” (p. 434). Being unable to be back to the role of a perfect wife, Louise probably finds her freedom in death. It is also possible to agree that even if losing her husband, Louise would not have been able to gain full freedom as a woman. She still would have been perceived as a widow of Mr Mallard and not as an individual. So, in the deeper context, Louise’s freedom is illusory, and death remains the only way for her to become totally free.
One may conclude that Kate Chopin made her feminist voice to be heard in The Story of an Hour. She represented a picture of a patriarchal society where women are under male dominance, and sometimes the only way to escape from oppression is death. In addition, Chopin provided a deeper understanding of the feminist movement, talking not only about social rights but also about personal freedom that is essential for women’s perception by themselves and others. Louise Mallard became a dynamic character who made the way from perfect but unhappy wife toward a person with inner freedom, and her death reflected her choice to escape from patriarchal control.
- Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1894. Web.
- Karami, Negin, and Esmaeil Zohdi. “Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”: A Feminist Interpretation.” Research Journal of English Language and Literature (RJELAL), vol. 3, no. 3, 2015, pp. 430–435.
- Kusuma, Panji Ari. Liberal Feminism Values in Kate Chopin’s Story of an Hour. 2015, Dian Nuswantoro University, PhD dissertation. Web.
- Xin, Liu. “A Short Analysis of Kate Chopin’s A Respectable Women from a Feminist Perspective.” Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, vol. 289, 2018, pp. 566–569.