THESIS: Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour’ describes the various emotions that Louise Mallard, the wife in the story, suffers, when she hears about the news of her husband’s death. Louise suffers from a heart condition; thus, her sister is forced to inform her of Brent’s death in the gentlest way possible, so as to not aggravate her. Feminist themes, such as the struggle for women’s independence and freedom in a world dominated by their husbands, are revealed in the internal conflicts of the female protagonists in Kate Chopin’s short stories. In one of her most famous works, “The Story of an Hour,” Mrs. Mallard, the protagonist, undergoes various kinds of feelings at the same time, ranging from resentment and sadness to joy and liberating feeling.
I. During this time, marriage was considered an arrangement between a man and a woman, where the main goal was to meet only the husband’s needs.
A. In the past, the idea of marriage was to accomplish all of a husband’s needs.
B. Women did not have the right to think and feel for themselves; and so women could do a lot better without a man.
II. Women, who were trapped in a marriage arrangement, have a wide range of emotions.
A. Because most women feel that they have only given and not received the same kind of affection in marriage, this story gives an insight into how women lived unhappy lives in America, while facing the pressure of living within a fairly patriarchal society.
B. Chopin’s story provides several examples of these feelings, when she describes Mrs. Mallard’s unhappiness in her marriage.
III. The liberation movement helped uplift the social conditions of women. The story by Chopin was inspired by the social movement in the U.S. to seek women’s rights.
B. Louise is excited after she grieves for her husband’s death, which suggests that she feels relieved.
C. At the same time, Louise’s husband’s death was shocking to her, leaving her on her own to figure out if she is capable of earning her independence.
IV. Marriage before women’s liberation was an emotional turmoil for most wives, as they were torn by their sense of duty to their husbands and their desire to be free.
A. A revolution of emotions within Louise represents how women thought about marriage and how her marriage becomes different for the women during the time.
B. Female authors, like Chopin, through their works, have accomplished assisting women in realizing their needs and desires.
C. Thus, Louise’s liberation is exciting for her, and so the shock of seeing her husband alive again leads to her untimely death.
D. The ambiguity of this story comes at the end, when readers think of the reason why she actually died.
E. Though her death seemed to be caused by the effect of completely joy, as the doctors have claimed, she actually died from the horror of being trapped as a wife again.
Ticking Towards Oblivion
“The Story of an Hour” is a short story written by American author Kate Chopin. The story was originally titled “The Dream of an Hour” because it encapsulates the liberation that a woman feels when she finds out about the death of her husband, and this very topic made the story a topic of controversy in the 1890s because women were not given as much freedom at the time. Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” describes the various emotions that Louise Mallard, the wife in the story, suffers when she hears about the news of her husband’s death. Louise suffers from a heart illness; thus, her sister is forced to inform her of the death in the gentlest way possible, so as to not aggravate her. Feminist themes, particularly the struggle for women’s independence and freedom in a world dominated by their husbands, are revealed in the internal conflicts of the female protagonists in Kate Chopin’s short stories. In one of her most famous works, “The Story of an Hour,” Mrs.Mallard, the protagonist, undergoes various kinds of feelings at the same time, ranging from resentment and sadness to joy and liberating feeling. (“Literary Analysis”)
In “The Story of an Hour,” Louise does not seem to care much about the life that her husband lives and maintains an avant-garde sort of thinking. As a wife, she feels she has reached the saturation point of her marriage, having only given and not subsequently received the same kind of reciprocal feelings by her husband. Chopin indicates this when she writes: “There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.” Louise does not feel any freedom as a wife. Because of marriage, her husband controls her life. This unhappy emotion has been portrayed very well by the author and has helped to provide an insight into the kind of unhappy lives that most women in America and abroad, at the time, were facing due to the pressures of living within a fairly patriarchal society. Louise is living within the purview of reality after which she exerts imagination to think of life after her husband’s death. She experiences a wide array of thoughts and the feeling of living without his presence in her life, which initially toppled her world upside down (Seyersted).
Louise Mallard is an intelligent and independent woman, who is waiting to be given the opportunity to live life based on her own free will; thus, upon hearing about her husband’s demise, even though she cries dramatically in front of her sisters, she feels a sense of newfound elation: “She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life” (Chopin 442). Spring represents new life. Chopin has also described her heart problem very aptly, suggesting the depression or oppression that the woman has faced in her life because of her marriage, which has led her to feel so low. As a result, she is justified for not feeling grief-stricken, because as a widow, she is free to control her life (Toth 252-53). Chopin’s story supports the Women’s Liberation Movement in America in the 1960s and helps to depict a radical manner of thinking, where Mrs. Mallard is invigorated by her newfound sense of freedom, something that she is not accustomed to earlier. This sense of excitement consumes her, until she no longer feels confused on the proper reaction to her husband’s death. The proper response is joy, because she finally earns her freedom.
During the 60s, there were few writers that motivated women in order to move out of their comfort zone and try something new without the support of their men, and Chopin was one of those few writers that accomplished giving women a different sense of thinking (Toth 253). She did not advocate living without one’s husband as many critics might think; however, she simply stated that there was much that a woman could do without a man by her side – to begin with, think and feel for herself rather than include her husband in every matter that concerned her. The theme of this story signifies the power that a woman has within herself to lead her own life without the support of her husband. Women at the time were so tied up with the institution of marriage that they had no time for themselves. They were like robots in the hands of their husbands and spent their lives trying to please them. Stories like these, however, helped them discover that they could unravel their own lives without having to depend on their male counterparts all the time and that they need not carry out a traditional manner of thinking, when it came to directing their lives (Cunningham 48).
Feeling liberated outside marriage is a theme of women’s freedom. “Body and soul free!” (Chopin 442). Louise repeats this freedom of her body and soul to herself again and again and this statement helps her convince herself of the new independence that she has just earned. Only when Brently, her husband, walks in does Louise feel her life rushing out from her. However, the irony is that Louise does not die from joy, as doctors claimed, but actually from the loss of joy (Berkove 152). Brently’s death gave her a glimpse of a new life, and when that new life is swiftly taken away, the shock and disappointment of not having it anymore is what leads to her untimely death. She already drinks the “very elixir of life” (Chopin 442) as a widow, and so without it, she is dead.
In “The Story of an Hour,” Chopin gets the readers thinking of why Louise died. She wants reader to understand whether the cause of her death was sadness, due to her husband’s apparent death, or freedom from the bondage of marriage. Louise reminds most women around the world about the kind of pain and suffering that women are put through within the ideals of marriage. Her marriage proves that marriage is an institution where husbands have free will and freedom, while they subjugate their wives.
Louise is forced to live under the wings of her counterpart and sacrifice and compromise her life in order to fit that of her husband’s (Berkove). Chopin, however, helped women in the era to know that a woman is not bound to her husband’s whims and fancies. A woman’s wedding ring shaped in a circle depicts life going round and round in an everlasting circle, however it should not confine them to only taking care of their husbands and losing their personal emotions at the same time and thus Kate, through the eyes of Mrs. Mallard, portrays a different image altogether, where a woman might actually feel liberated without having the presence of her husband all the time. (“Kate Chopin “The Story of an Hour”)
The style of writing in this story is a simple, yet abstract form, where the author has tried not to give the story away by leaving her readers pondering over the end of the couple within the story. Chopin has made use of a dramatic way of narrating her tale which is, indeed, descriptive in nature. A number of excellent analogies and picturesque situations have been provided in the story to help readers imagine the kind of life that Louise, as well as most other wives at the time, has gone through. The irony of the story also talks about how, should she break free from the clutches of patriarchy, she will have no one within society that accepts her (Cunningham). Mrs. Mallard accepts that she does feel a revelation upon hearing about her husband’s death, but is she strong enough to sever all ties with him and lead a life aloof from everyone else? The cause of her death is then perhaps the shock, coupled with her husband’s arrival and her understanding of being bound with those shackles, even after her death.
Berkove, Lawrence L.”Fatal Self-Assertion in Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour.” 2000. American Literary Realism 32.2 152-158. Print.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” Literature: A World of Writing. Ed. David L. Pike and Ana M. Acosta. Boston: Longman, 2011. 442.443. Print.
Cunningham, Mark. “The Autonomous Female Self and the Death of Louise Mallard in Kate Chopin’s ‘Story of an Hour.'” English Language Notes 42.1 (Sept. 2004): 48-55. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Vol. 110. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Print.
Seyersted, Per. “An Excerpt from Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography.” Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography. Louisiana: Louisiana State U P, 1969. Print.
Toth, Emily. Kate Chopin. New York: William Morrow, 1990. Print.
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