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Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour is one of the earliest forms of modern feminism, authored in the late 1800s when feminist sentiments were budding in literature. The introspective story continues to receive criticism and reaction, mainly due to its dense nature from the use of malady and its three-page long story. The story features three main events in Louise Mallard’s life within one day. First, it features the breaking of news about death, moving on from grief, and dying in the end. Second, Chopin packs the story with two main themes: the 19th-century woman and the repressive nature of marriage. Louise embodies these two themes, while the other three characters help make them more evident. Thus, Chopin’s piece remains among the stories that shoved freedom in women’s minds, who worked tirelessly to attain a sense of freedom as Louise shortly experiences.
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The introspective story opens with the declaration of Mrs. Mallard’s weak heart, which her sister minds when breaking the sad news about her husband’s death from a train accident. Richards, Brently Mallard’s friend, saw the news while in the newspaper room, Brently Mallard leading the list of people killed in the accident. Mrs. Mallard sinks in sadness and goes to her room for a solitary grief moment. In her room, Louise sits in a chair near an open window and begins to perceive a feeling “…approaching to possess her” (Chopin, 2018). Although she fights it at first, she finally knows it is the feeling of freedom after saying, “…free, free, free” (Chopin, 2018). In fantastic imagery, Louise’s feelings change from grief about her husband’s death to joy. Louise realizes that she has escaped the repressive nature of marriage by her husband dying. Louise keeps the joy to herself, fantasizing about her new life in freedom. She looks past her grief and sees “…a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely” (Chopin, 2018). She visualizes a life of freedom and self-fulfillment.
Her sister Josephine comes to the room to check her up because of her weak heart, but Louise dismisses her. She comes out of her room with eyes of triumph, hugs her sister, and walks down to the living room where Richards, Brently Mallard’s friend, sits. Right then, the plot twists, and Brently Mallard, Louise’s husband, walks in without any idea of an accident, shocking Louise to death. In examining her body, the doctors declare that her weak heart has succumbed to the “joy that kills” (Chopin, 2018). Indeed, the joy she feels kills her after the disappointment when her husband appears.
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The story has three main key events that drive the plot. The first key event is when Josephine breaks the bad news of Mallard’s death to Louise with the worry that she will wallow in lots of sadness, risking her weak heart. This event leads the protagonist to her room to grieve in solitude. The second key event is Louise’s time in her room, where she encounters this overwhelming feeling of joy instead of grief after her realization that she is now free to “…live for herself” (Chopin, 2018). The self-assertion feeling sets the stage for the disappointment that leads her to her grave in the following key event. The Third key event is when Louise keeps the joy of freedom to herself and walks down to the living room, where moments later, her husband appears. This event shocks her, overwhelming her weak heart, and she dies.
Chopin uses this piece with the thematic purpose of showing the societal expectations of 19th-century women. Chopin’s weak heart represents the docile, fragile, delicate, and weak perception of society about women. Not being paralyzed due to the shock of her husband’s death, like women in the 19th century, shows her intrinsic rebellion against their perception of women (Paudel, 2019). Louise also embodies the repressive nature of marriage, as seen by her overjoy of having her years to herself and not to her husband. The husband was not necessarily oppressive; however, the marriage institution has “…men and women… impose a private will upon a fellow-creature” (Chopin, 2018). The joy of losing her husband and achieving self-assertion shows Louise’s desire to free herself from the imposition of another’s will on her.
Historical Background and Critics
Chopin authored this fiction in 1894 and published it in Vogue ten years later. Vogue published the piece under “The Dream of an Hour” and later changed to the current title in 1969 (Shen, 2009). In 1895, it appeared in St. Louis Life with minor wording changes (Shen, 2009). The story’s authorship was at a historical time when feminist sentiments were feeling the public discourse in response to the suffrage rights in 1893 and the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 (Karami & Zohdi, 2015). The story fits as suffrage advocacy for breaking women’s limitations imposed by society. Many literary critics see this story as a feminist sacred text, exposing the repression of marriage that often oppresses women the most (Tahameed, 2015). Others criticize Louise’s fantasy in the bedroom as shallow egoism and immaturity that only her death gave her the unrealistic freedom she foresaw (Berkove, 2000). Nevertheless, the story is still a centerpiece in feminist literature.
Kate Chopin’s piece is an iconic early expression of feminism, worth the recognition of being one of the earliest bedrocks of the now feminism movement. The freedom Louise visualizes matches every woman’s vision then and now, which is always as short-lived as her own. Although women got suffrage rights, they did not give them the deep freedom desire women sought because society offered many barricades against the same. Therefore, this piece remains a champion of freedom ideologies in women’s minds while keeping the associated risks that come with the course toward this freedom.
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- Berkove, L. I. (2000). Fatal self-assertion in Kate Chopin’s” The Story of an Hour.” American Literary Realism, 32(2), 152-158.
- Chopin, K. (2018). The Story of an Hour. Joe Books Ltd.
- Karami, N., & Zohdi, E. (2015). Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”: A feminist interpretation. Research Journal of English Language and Literature, 3(3), 430-436.
- Paudel, K. (2019). Existential angst in Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour. Ncc Journal, 4(1), 97-99.
- Shen, D. (2009). Non-ironic turning ironic contextually: Multiple context-determined irony in “The Story of an Hour.” Journal of Literary Semantics, 38(2), 115-130.
- Tahameed, E. S. H. B. (2015). Married life is portrayed in Kate Chopin’s “The story of an hour” and Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles” play [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Sudan University of Science and Technology.