Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”: A Reflection of Female Independence and Feminism in the Early 19th Century
Kate Chopin is a well-known figure in the feministic genre in literature (Showalter 31). Her most notable works that describe her independent thinking with regards simply ‘regarding’ to the role of women in society are “The Awakening” and “The Story of An Hour.” For this essay, the latter shall be the topic to be discussed, too prolix (never refer to your own essay – ‘for this essay,’ etc) as well as its components that are relevant to elements of fiction. In “The Story of An Hour”, the central theme is female independence, and its forbidden nature due to the restriction of what society expects and/or dictates based on sex/gender use one word or the other; avoid ‘/[ , especially if marriage is involved. Louise has been married to Brently Mallard for many years, and the story progresses from the moment she heard of her husband’s demise due to an accident from Josephine and Richards. As she was suffering from a weak heart, the two discussed how to break the news gently. Expectedly no such word! As would be expected…, Louise was in grief, but it was replaced by excitement and relief after realizing her newfound freedom, despite putting up a fight against such feelings at first, trying to “beat it back with her will” (Chopin n.p.). For an hour these events were revealed, until finally Brently suddenly appeared at the doorstep, shaken but alive, and Louise died of heart attack after seeing him. Everyone thought it was because of a joy that kills, when the irony of it all was that Louise was killed when the joy of being free and the promises of life it brings were taken from her in an instant.
While the story does not suggest malice in on, not in Louise’s part, especially since she did feltdid feel grief after hearing the horrible news of Brenly’s supposed death, the excitement and happiness that Louise felt after the realization of impending freedom upon the release of herself from marriage, tells a lot about the forbidden pleasure of independence, especially for women, on in, not on that day and age (Cantarow 32). The story by Chopin was released in the early 19th century. American wives during this period were both socially and legally bound to their spouses, much more so to their social and financial status, while widows gain much more legal freedom and control of their lives because they do not need to follow anyone (Koloski 6). Chopin did not explicitly cite that the situation in reality is indeed reflected in the text, but it takes only a bit of learning about Kate Chopin, her works and the type of society and age she lived in to be able to compare the themes of her stories to what is happening in reality (Walker 95).
There is no evidence as well that Brently oppresses or abuses Louise, but the realization of freedom upon the death of a husband tells that the marriage in its basic is indeed oppressive, not only for Louise, but for Brently as well, as Louise has suggested:
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. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination (Chopin n.p);
therefore establishing Louise’s outlook about marriage as stifling for both couples, regardless of gender, and proving Louise’s self-determined nature and strength. As Chopin wrote:
There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself (n.p).
This emphasizes the idea that no matter if Brently has showed good intentions throughout their marriage, Louise’s nature puts solitude as equivalent to being charge of her own life, hence her happiness and hope for a brighter future upon the learning of her husband’s (mistaken) death.
Louise, undoubtedly, cannot reveal the hidden feelings of happiness she felt to the world, but in her musings has repeatedly uttered the words “Free! Body and soul free!” which, given the situation, will definitely put her against the judgment of public. Her holding on to the hope of a brighter future of being free and independent, and once again the shipmaster of her own life and affairs, is a greater example of feminism in an age and society that is highly patriarchal (Walker 95). Chopin’s use of symbols, such as the open window, and Louise’s emotions as she looks at the scenes outside of the window, all point to “freedom” as its symbolic meaning:
She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air (Chopin n.p).
Cantarow, Ellen. “Sex, Race, and Criticism: Thoughts of a White Feminist on Kate Chopin and Zora Neale Hurston.” The Radical Teacher 9 (1978): 30-33.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of An Hour.” 1894. Web. 15 July 2017.
Koloski, Bernard. Kate Chopin: A study of the short fiction. No. 65. Twayne Pub, 1996.
Walker, Nancy. “Feminist or Naturalist:” The Social Context of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening”.” Southern Quarterly 17.2 (1979): 95.
Showalter, Elaine. “Women’s time, women’s space: Writing the history of feminist criticism.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 3.1/2 (1984): 29-43.