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“The Story of an Hour”: Feminist Perspective

Free Literature Essays

“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin

“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin is an example of a feminist short story, which is aimed at expressing the hidden feelings of all women in a men-dominated marriage. When interpreting the story from the feminist perspective, one can notice that the protagonist discovered some new thoughts and emotions about her existence after her husband’s death. The story represents a traditional family of the end of the nineteenth century characterized by a working husband and a housewife. In fact, one can meet such families in modern societies as well. Nowadays, many women stay at home and raise children, while their husbands work and earn money. The protagonist of the story was one of such housewives who had no chances to have an independent life. A feminist interpretation of the story focuses on women’s suppression in a family and society. Even if a husband treated his wife well, she could not feel free in their marriage and was unable to make her personal decisions. As a result, when analyzing the story from the feminist view, one can state that the tragedy of female oppression and discrimination is the central theme of the narration.

Feminist theory is focused on equal treatment of men and women in society and marriage. According to Butler, women are the main subjects of feminism (2). Moreover, women are regarded as some existing identities, who can initiate their goals and discourses and defend their rights. In Chopin’s story, Louise Mallard did not show her feminist views. On the contrary, she just listened to her husband and performed all her family duties. At the same time, the woman felt subconscious that she was oppressed. The author writes, “She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression” (Chopin). The woman is shown as an appendix to her husband who wanted to be free but did not understand her desires. One can observe her confusion in the following phrase: “There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know” (Chopin). Thus, Louise was afraid of her hidden wishes to be released from her family burden, which proves that she was subjugated by her husband, though she did not acknowledge it.

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Mrs. Mallard is shown as a woman who differed from traditional women of those times. For example, her sister Josephine belonged to those women who attached themselves to their husbands completely and did not live for themselves (Wan 167). Consequently, Josephine could not imagine that Louise was glad that her husband died. Louise, in turn, “was drinking a very elixir of life through that open window” and dreamed about her novel life (Chopin). Mrs. Mallard’s reaction to her husband’s death can be explained in the following way. The woman lived in a patriarchy, which means that her rights were ignored and her voice had no meaning. Besides, the politics of patriarchy was aimed at benefiting the men and to make detriment to women (Klocke 1). The supporters of the Feminist theory would interpret this situation referring to the whole society. Thus, the problem was not in Mallard’s marriage but in the community they lived in. Probably, the husband of Louise was not as bad as he seemed. However, he acted in the same way the other men did because he was raised in such an atmosphere. Therefore, one cannot judge Mr. Mallard for the fact that Louise felt oppressed due to the fact that the politics of patriarchy were a part of the system.

One can argue that there was no evidence of Brently’s negative attitude toward his wife. The readers observe a single day of Louise’s life, and nothing is said about her husband and their marriage. However, some critics argue, that “Mrs. Mallard’s reaction to her husband’s death is enough to persuade the reader that she has been subject to such an unfair way of treatment” (Sabbagh and Saghaei 297). Moreover, the other critics claim that the whole story was a radical “attack on marriage, on one person’s dominance over another” (Sabbagh and Saghaei 297). If Chopin did not want the readers to think about her story in such a way, she would describe Louise’s reaction differently. However, the author was a feminist herself, and she made her female characters emancipated and passionate to reveal her personal desires in the narration.

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Another way of interpretation of Chopin’s story is a contrast between a marriage and a liberation. At the beginning of the narrative, the readers discover that Mrs. Mallard “was afflicted with heart trouble,” which meant that her marriage made her weak (Chopin). Moreover, she is introduced to the audience as Mrs. Mallard but not Louise, which means that her husband’s name was of higher importance, and her name was so insignificant that the readers discovered it later. When Louise was told about her husband’s death, she preferred to go to her room alone instead of sharing her grief with her sister. Such action may be interpreted as a sign of weakness she developed in her marriage. She used to be alone while her husband was at work. As a result, she concealed all her emotions as she had never shared them with Brently. Suddenly, Louise recognized freedom and gained some hope for a better future: “She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life” (Chopin). The sense of liberation replaced her sense of being a wife, and the woman did not want to return to her family life. Although Louise experienced some inner-self conflict in the beginning, she realized that her opinions mattered and saw the benefits of her husband’s death. She thought, “Free! Body and soul free!” (Chopin). Such thoughts meant that Louise regained her life and received her desired liberation eventually.

The ending of the narrative can also be commented in different ways. The supporters of patriarchy would argue that the woman died of joy when she saw that her husband was alive (Sabbagh and Saghaei 301). They would also identify her heart disease with the cause for troubles in the family. However, from the feminist perspective, the woman died of frustration. Besides, her heart disease could be interpreted as a reason for her unsuccessful marriage. First, Louise obtained freedom and independence and freed herself from her husband’s oppression, and after that, she saw him alive. Louise felt that she would lose her identity again, and her heart could not endure such pain and disappointment. Thus, the feminists would blame society for suppressing women’s rights in patriarchal marriages. Probably, the masculine view of the story can also exist; however, there is not enough evidence that it is right. On the contrary, the story is full of evidence that supports the feminist perspective.

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Some critics can find another way of understanding Chopin’s story. For instance, one can interpret Louise’s reaction to her husband’s death as a display of insanity or abnormality (Sabbagh and Saghaei 301). Moreover, the description of Mr. Mallard’s “face that had never looked save with love upon her” proves the readers’ suspicions (Chopin). The woman loved the men only sometimes, which was also not understandable for the audience. Therefore, one can suppose that Louise had some mental problems, which caused such a reaction to the horrible news about Brently. Some people can also blame the protagonist for being selfish as she thought only about her benefits but not about her husband’s death. However, from the feminist view, if the woman lived in oppression, she had the right to think about herself but not about her spouse only. Moreover, Louise imagined that she would feel sorry for Brently and would even weep over his body if she saw his dead face. However, the sense of liberation and full independence prevailed.

“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin can be interpreted in different ways. However, the most appropriate way of understanding this short story is the feminist view. The supporters of feminism claim that the story reveals the truth about the patriarchal marriage of those times. Moreover, the marriages, in which men dominate over women and oppress them, exist in present societies nowadays as well. As a result, it is evident that many women cannot endure such an attitude and strive for freedom. Louise Mallard was one such women who wanted to be independent but could not do anything while being married. However, when her husband died, the woman felt free and found some hope for a better future. Her sense of liberation proves the fact that she felt suppression in her marriage. Even if her husband was not as bad as he seemed, Louise could not live in such oppressive conditions as she was different.

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To conclude, the story is a great example of male tyranny and female repression in a marriage. The author was a feminist, so she described her character as a feminist as well. Louise did not know why she felt so bad in her marriage, and she managed to comprehend the truth about herself only after her husband’s death. Thus, “The Story of an Hour” reveals the tragedy of women’s suppression and men’s domination, representing these themes from the feminist perspective.

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