“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin

The discontent of women over their rights could already be felt as early as the 1800s. However, the nature of a woman’s existence during the time dictated that she remain submissive and keep her emotions bottled up deep within in order to not upset the male populace. This is not to say, though, that the women never dreamed of finally having proper access to their own freedom and a return to their individualism even while in a married state. It was during this era that Kate Chopin and her short stories came to the consciousness of the women during the time. The Story Of An Hour was written in 1894 by Ms. Chopin as a short story that symbolically exemplifies the sentiments of women living in the era pertaining to their ideals of marriage and feminine identity. It was an era when a woman only remained an individual until the day she married. Marriage signified the end of a woman’s independent existence and the beginning of a submissive and unquestioning life as a wife and, perhaps, a mother. Such obedience was forced upon the women of the age, and the bottled-up desire to return to individuality and free thought remained a strong emotion that constantly sought its relief. The supposed death of Mrs. Mallard’s husband offered her that sense of freedom and returned to her state of individuality. Therefore, hearing of her husband’s death was a bittersweet bit of news for her to hear about. Bittersweet in the sense that her love for her husband caused her to grieve for him, but her love for herself also caused her to rejoice at the same time. She was in a suffocating marriage, and the death of her husband meant an end to all her mental, emotional, and social suffering at his hands.

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Evidence of this suffocating marriage can be found in the following paragraph, which depicts the submissive and obedient wifely situation that Mrs. Mallard had found herself in:

She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength. But now, there was a dull stare in her eyes, whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on one of those patches of blue sky. It was not a glance of reflection but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought.

Such a description is quickly supported by lines within the story indicating the sense of freedom that she feels upon the realization that her husband was finally out of her life and she was once again free to be an individual with her own thoughts and emotions even though she knew that it was frown upon at the time and she tried to fend it off:

Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will — as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been. When she abandoned herself, a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: “free, free, free!” The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright.

Then finally, we come to the realization that Mrs. Mallard is actually battling 2 opposing emotions within her human heart. One that wished to rejoice at her restored freedom, and the other, a heart that wished to grieve for the loss of her loved one and life partner:

She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome.

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As far as I am concerned, the main point of the story was to effectively portray the struggle of women towards gaining a voice in their married life in order to at least continue to feel like a human being of worth instead of an automaton ready to do her husband’s bidding and nothing more. In the case of Mrs. Mallard, her spirit had died long before her hisband “died” and his death signified a rebirth of some sort for her. A rebirth that was cut short by his return to her alive and well.

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