This essay was written on February 20th, 2017 for ENGL 236: Survey of U.S. Literature 2, taught by Dr. Deidre Egan-Ryan. This essay analyzes “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin by diving deeper into the ways she gave women a chance to have a voice while facing backlash because of her controversial themes and language.
The Story of an Hour
Within her lifetime, Kate Chopin completed three novels and more than 150 short stories. “The Story of an Hour,” along with her other pieces, were considered more scandalous and improper than what the American literature norm was in society at the time. “The Story of an Hour” tells of a woman dealing with her true feelings on the unfortunate loss of her husband. Chopin’s controversial perspective within her short story accurately depicts the expectations for the role of women within the late 1800’s and early 1900’s by showing the struggles women had with having a voice of their own.
In “Story of an Hour,” a woman by the name of Louise Mallard has been struck with the news of her husband’s death but had secretly grown to be relieved. Her husband, Brently Mallard had been killed in a train wreck. Once she discovered this news, Mrs. Mallard grew glum. “She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her” (425). Mrs. Mallard appeared depressed and distraught because she seems lost without her husband at first. Mrs. Mallard soon realizes that she is no longer tied to her husband and becomes excited for her future. She also knows that she is unable to voice these feelings so she hides in her bedroom. Chopin does this to allude to the societal expectation that women need to rely on men in order to live a happy life. This also appeals to the standard that women are helpless and weak when Mrs. Mallard’s cries take over her body and physically shake her. Soon after this occurs, the element of irony is added and Chopin’s story quickly becomes controversial.
Within the midst of Mrs. Mallard’s breakdown, she had a moment of insight. Mrs. Mallard realized that she was finally her own person. She was finally an individual and not tied to her husband. “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!’” (426). This represents how she had always desired to be independent and a free woman. The world Chopin lived in was centralized around the idea that an independent woman was taboo. Mrs. Mallard knew this when Chopin explained her expression after admitting she was free. “The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes” (426). She knew that her feelings of excitement were wrong because it disobeyed the social standard, but her feelings were true. She also knew that nobody could find out about her new hope for the future.
Mrs. Mallard had loved her husband but she now loved her freedom even more. She would miss him dearly, merely because she had true feelings for him. This, though, did not stop her from allowing her to feel the true emotion of excitement. “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” (426). Mrs. Mallard recognized that she, no matter what, had to accept the fact that she was now without her husband. She took this as a victory and “she would live for herself” (426). Mrs. Mallard’s personal victory gave her an all new perspective on life. This perspective also had contributed to the controversial meaning to Chopin’s story. The fact that a woman was not only without a husband but excited to be free from him was prohibited in the world Chopin was living in. Chopin did this to take a jab at the societal expectation that women cannot find be happy without men. This was a wake up call to women to start standing up for what they truly believed in and to start taking their true feelings seriously rather than allowing society to push them aside.
Although it was clear Mrs. Mallard loved her husband, it was evident she was not too keen on the gender roles in place during her lifetime which is why she quickly grew relieved with her tragic news. She understood that life was now hers. “Free! Body and soul free! She kept whispering” (426). The element of new hope Chopin brought to “The Story of an Hour” was intended to give hope to women whom of which felt trapped inside of their relationships. It was inappropriate for women to act in ways that Mrs. Mallard exemplified but it was the beginning of empowerment for the female gender.
Chopin’s story takes another ironic twist during the ending of her story. Mallard had been described as a “goddess of Victory” (426) when she had finally decided to follow her sister down the stairs. To Mrs. Mallard’s surprise, Mr. Mallard walked through the front door. There had been a miscommunication and he ended up being miles away from the train wreck. This obviously became surreal to Mrs. Mallard, especially after having come to terms with her new victory. The story ends with, “When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease– of joy that kills” (427). Chopin ended this story the way she did to give emphasis on how impossible it was to be a truly free woman. The doctors had explained that Mrs. Mallard died of happiness because women were expected to be happy with their husbands so it was expected that she was happy to see the return of her husband. Mrs. Mallard actually died because of the surprise Mr. Mallard had brought. She had come to terms and became relieved that she would finally be her own person. She would finally live a happy life the way she had always wanted to. The sight of her husband had proved that a life of her own was too good to be true. She died because of her moment of eureka when she realized everything she had been looking forward to was immediately taken from her. Chopin did this to depict the expectation men were expected to have on women. This expectation through the eyes of men was a good thing but was potentially terrifying for women.
“The Story of an Hour” tells the tale of a woman who’s day quickly went from the highest point in her life to the lowest, resulting in her collapsing and dying. This was all due to her realization of the life she was going to have when she found out her husband died. Her life was going to be incredible. Her husband ended up returning home, resulting in her dreams being crushed. The realization that occurred is one that women living in this society had for themselves as well. The dream of being free from a man was often too good to be true. Chopin explains the relief it would be for women to be their own person without a husband. The role men had was to be dominant over women so unfortunately this reality of being an individual was only a dream to most.