“The Story of an Hour” was written by Kate Chopin in 1894, and it is one of the most famous stories of Chopin, along with “The Storm” which was published in 1898. Kate Chopin’s stories are known to be centered on female protagonists. Kate Chopin herself was quite independent for the women of her time and was well aware politics and other social issues. This fact is clearly reflected in her writings by her sole focus on women characters in the plots. Not only that, she has molded the characters in a way that they are a personification of her beliefs. They are shown to be free-spirited and independent, or desiring independence and the issues surrounding these women are more on the controversial side, reflecting the rebel in Kate Chopin. In the novel Kate Chopin has used her skills to compare the feminist characteristics that can be found in Mrs Mallard.
Many of Kate Chopin’s themes are along the lines of women’s revolt against conformity or against social norms that are unfair to women in any way. Some stories followed the theme of female sexuality or their search for their true selves.
In the story of an hour, the theme focuses on the forbidden pleasure of independence received by a married woman. It is not something a woman is expected to have; it is only something she can fantasize about. When Louise loses her husband, she is overcome by the expected grief but soon enough, she comes to realize what she has gained by losing her husband: a new-found independence, which she never had while being married. She begins to fantasize about the new way of life she would come to adopt, while being a single woman. She thinks to herself, “There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself.”
This realization that her life belongs only to her now excites her to the point where she forgets her grief altogether. She looks out the window and sees treetops and flowers which seem to represent a life lying ahead of her, full of freedom and opportunities. She has a clear, beautiful view of what her life will be like without her husband, free from any other person’s demands, and she cannot wait for that life to begin.
The writer shows the oppressive side of a marriage, and how it can take away the independence from an individual, no matter how good or pure the marriage may be. Louise Mallard had been living her life according to her husband. He was the centre of her universe, her life fully revolved around him. His death brought along with it the freedom from this life for Louise. It was not that she did not love him; it was only that the love had become more of a job now. As the writer puts it, “What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!” The writer, through Louise, shows her views that love cannot be a substitute for self-fulfillment and independence.
The writer describes very well a woman who places her freedom before grief over her husband’s death, someone for whom the thought of her new independent life compensates for her husband’s death. This thought elates her so much, consumes her so fully, that when she learns that the news of her husband’s death was actually a mistake, the shock is enough to kill her. This shows the amount of desire and excitement she had for her new independence.
The theme of “The Storm” is adultery but unlike how most stories go, the adultery here is committed by a woman, Calixta. While her husband and son are stuck in a storm, she is with her former lover, enjoying her independence and rekindling old feelings. The author paints the situation in a positive light, indicating that it is okay for Calixta to be enjoying her free night. Calixta is actually the embodiment of Kate Chopin’s own beliefs. She was tied in a marriage in which is happy but not fully satisfied. She still desires fulfillment outside of it. She gains that by her sexual relation with her old lover and this makes her experience emotions of happiness and freedom that she had not felt in a long time. Kate Chopin actually used the theme of a storm to put forth her views about marriage and how it can take away the excitement from the individuals’ lives. (Petry 1996)
A similar theme was found in another short story, “A Rose for Emily” by William Faukner. Although over here, the author was a man, but he also formed his story along the lines of the independence of women and having them be in control of their own lives, to the point of insanity. He has not necessarily written on this theme in a positive light, rather he has portrayed the subject in quite an eccentric manner. Emily is seen to be a tradition, someone who follows her own rules, free from the usual laws of the society. She has made her own world, a bubble which no one can penetrate. Change does not affect her, people do not affect her. She goes on living her life on her own terms. She does not seem to be aware of the changing society around her.
Moreover, she is also shown to be independent and controlling, to the point of being psychologically disturbed, by the fact that she kills Homer, her boyfriend, to keep him next to her for all her days. The consequences of that do not scare her, what people may say about her does not affect her. She is found to be necrophiliac, someone with extremely controlling sexual attraction towards dead bodies.
She never submitted her behavior to the consent of anyone else and carried her eccentricities proudly. She was indifferent even towards the law, as was shown by her refusing to pay her taxes, and by her not stating the reason for buying poison.
She keeps her true self hidden so beautifully and mysteriously all her life that when she dies, it is the curiosity of the people, rather than their regard for her, that tempts them to attend her funeral and find out what she had been hiding all these years. She never lets anyone see her true colors, which is a task in itself for a woman of that time. (Nebeker 1970)
In conclusion, as we can see, all three of these short stories are linked together with one common theme: the independence of women, regardless of whether it comes about in a positive or negative manner. In “A Story of an Hour”, we read about a woman fantasizing about her freedom and independence, and it elates her so much that she can let it compensate for her husband’s death . In “The Storm”, we get to know a woman who tastes short lived independence and self fulfillment, through a deceitful act. In “A Rose for Emily”, this independence is taken to an extreme where the woman thinks she is so independent that she can live by her own rules, have no regard for the law, and for those around her. She feels herself to be so in control that she thinks owns the right to kill whoever she wants to, and keep their body all to herself.
All three stories follow the same theme but depict it in different styles and manners, so as to help the readers understand better the societies of that time and how the societies and their structure affected the status of women.
Arensberg, Mary, and Sara E. Schyfter. “Hairoglyphics in Faulkner’s “a Rose for Emily”/reading the Primal Trace.” Boundary 2. 15.2 (1987): 123-134. Print.
Nebeker, H. E. Emily’s Rose of Love: Thematic Implications of Point of View in Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”. The Bulletin of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association, 24, (1970) 1, 3-13. Print.
Petry, Alice H. Critical Essays on Kate Chopin. New York: G.K. Hall, 1996. Print.
Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1969. Print.
Kate Chopin’s Life and Personal Influence. [email protected], 2008. Internet resource.
Wolff, Cynthia G. “Kate Chopin and the Fiction of Limits: “désirée’s Baby”.” The Southern Literary Journal. 10.2 (1978): 123-133. Print.