Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”

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“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin (from the “The Seagull Reader”) was a surprisingly interesting short story. The subject matter is a controversial one in any era, so I cant imagine what people thought when it was read in the “spring of 1894” (page 120).

The story begins when Mrs. Mallard is told by her sister and and her husband’s friend, that they have read in the paper her husband was killed in a train accident. Immediately, she is hysterical. As the text puts it “she wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms,” an excerpt that I thought was extremely powerful (page, 121). The words “wild abandonment” certainly do their job in portraying the heart break of the moment, because they are so strong. We are given a vivid image when Chopin says: “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, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dream” (page 121). I found the authors ability to give a clear image of the scenario extraordinary!  As a mother I know exactly what she means about a child crying themselves to sleep.

Next, as Mrs. Mallard retreats to her room she begins to realize just what her husbands death means; which is where we see glints of the underlying feminism in the story. In a time when women were quite frankly enslaved to their husbands, she has been given a unique “get out of jail free card” of sorts. The text explains that ” she was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength” (page 121). The repression being that she has been held down or chained by her husband, and the strength hints to the reader that perhaps there is something more to her than just a common house wife. This is then confirmed later when you read that “she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: “free, free, free!” (page 122). Although she loved her husband, or at least as she puts it: “sometimes. Often she had not,” she cant help but feel a growing excitement that she is going to get a chance at a type of freedom women of her era just didn’t get. Though this sounds harsh its not meant to be. She loves her husband, but believes that any marriage is somewhat oppressive. Mrs.Mallard puts it: “kind intention or a cruel intention the act seems no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination” (page 122). In other words, even the happiest of marriages rob you of your freedom. She has an epiphany type moment as a result of Mr. Mallards death. The fact that she is sitting by an open window seeing an array of lovely things bustling outside, like patches of blue sky and distant songs, is a symbol of the exciting life awaiting her. Its like shes looking out that window into her future, or as the story puts it: ” drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window” (page 122).

I loved the word choice in the excerpt : “she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air” and “she was striving to beat it back with her will” (page 121). The feelings of grief are strong but the freedom awaiting her makes it difficult for her to help from becoming excited; though she is fighting the them because she feels guilty. I  can relate to this right now because I am in the process of moving to Portland. Our moms both live here and are devastated we are leaving, especially because of the grand-kids. However, we are so excited for a new adventure…which can be misunderstood as us being happy we’re leaving our mothers. Mrs. Mallard  isn’t happy her husband died, but rather that she is suddenly free to please only herself; which was an unheard of opportunity in her time. She says, “she knows she will weep again when she sees his kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead” (page 122). So we know she is upset he has died.

Finally, before leaving her room “she breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that light might be long” (page 122). This part was horribly sad in a sense, because to her marriage meant giving up fulfilling your dreams. Then as she comes back downstairs the door opens to her husband standing there. He is unaware of the accident and was actually no where near it. At the sight of him Mrs. Mallard dies of what the doctors say is “of the joy that kills” (page 122). Yet, really it is the sudden loss of complete joy that stops her already trouble afflicted heart.

What a powerful story! So many women in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s probably were surprised by it. But I wonder if their shock was because a women would react to their husband’s death in such a way, or that someone was saying what they all were thinking out loud. This story seems significant to me because it marks the turning point in history when women started to realize that something was off with the way we were being treated; and started to play with the idea of having their own dreams and goals beyond the kitchen and the bedroom.

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15 thoughts on “Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”

  1. Hi Rachel,
    I love how you referenced the image of Louise with her head thrown back in the big chair “like a child”. I loved this reference and didn’t know quite how to tie it in to my post. I found this image portraying Louise as a child extremely powerful. It alludes the audience to further recognize that Louise Mallard’s vulnerability and innocence. Attaching her to a childish image leads us to believe that she is not suited for the role of a wife. It further leads us to believe that in this marriage she is treated as a child and is expected to follow the parental role of her husband.
    In Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” we again see the wife demeaned to the role of a child. This seems to be a role that many women were trapped in during the nineteenth century.
    Great Post!
    Carrie

    1. That’s so true, both stories do seem to have a lot in common as far as underlying messages go. Specifically with the way they viewed their husbands. Although that could also stem from the fact that I don’t think man women were marrying for love in those days.

  2. That image of her sobbing like a small child is a very strong one. The story continually alludes to her youth and inexperience. In the 1800’s, people rarely married for love, and were instead married out of convenience or to elevate their position in life. She clearly married a man who was considerably older than her, which makes me wonder if perhaps she married him because she was looking for someone to take care of her. The irony here is that she found what she was looking for, and felt repressed by it. Of course, had she not died, she would have probably squelched her disappointment that he was still alive and they would have lived out their lives together, simply because they were married. I think you are right when you say that even a good marriage is a kind of repression, because there is always some small compromise involved.

  3. Hi, Rachel.

    When you say, “So we know she is upset he has died,” what was your reason for that statement? I only ask this because of the intention behind why she would weep when she sees his body if she was miserable in her marriage. Would she weep because it’s what people expect? Would she weep because he was truly a kind soul and undeserving of death for her to feel this free? There’s a question of authenticity to the weeping sentence for sure.

    Women during that time were shocked because Mrs. Mallard’s honesty was too raw for their sensibilities. Her reaction was too much of a contrast to the etiquette and conditioned behavior of women in the late 1800’s. Also, many women probably jumped on the critical bandwagon because they didn’t want to be singled out. I’m almost certain that many women identified with Chopin and Mrs. Mallard, but couldn’t admit that for fear of criticism. It’s classic projection.

    1. Hey Vone! I say we know she is upset because the excerpt right before says: “she did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and exalted perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial.” She also calls his funeral a bitter moment. I feel like at first she is questioning whether or not she is some sort of beast for being happy at her husband’s death, but then realizes she’s still going to be heartbroken at his funeral. Also, she is hysterical when she first hears the news until she has the realization of her freedom.
      Women of that time were probably pretty brainwashed, but I think deep down a lot of them would probably react just the same; especially since not many people were married for love.

      1. You’ve honed in on an interesting conflict here, I think. Even as she embraces, with joy, her newfound freedom (her permission to live out her own humanity, really!), she hadn’t lived in hatred of this man and hadn’t hoped for his death. I’m sure there’s also a longing for the familiar at play, a sudden shaking of her experience of the world.

        While it’s true that among members of the upper classes, marriages at this time were somewhat unlikely to come about as a result of love, I’m less convinced (personally) that it would make much of a difference in this case. Fascinatingly, there’s not much support for the assumption that marriages which are chosen by the parties tend to be any stronger or longer-lasting than those which are arranged. It seems there are other essential ingredients that make a partnership satisfying and sustainable for both parties. I would posit that, in this case, it’s the expectation that women will subjugate their humanity that contributes most strongly to Mrs. Mallard’s reaction.

      2. That’s true, I’ve heard that in a lot of arranged marriages love grows between them eventually. I think that even if you are not lusting after each other, there would be a certain respect or perhaps a friendship that would evolve. Your comment about the sudden change made me think that maybe the fear of being alone might have been part of her becoming so upset, until she realized what that means. I’m currently watching the first season of “Downtown Abby” and it reminds me of Mary (if your familiar) saying that women like her have no life until they get married. I can’t imagine having my life revolve around getting married, but I certainly can understand not wanting it to.

    1. I love it! But I’m trying to catch up so I can watch season three but I can’t find season two!!!! Yes, the women are really similar since they are in the same time frame. The whole marriage subject is definitely parallel.

      1. If you have and .edu email, you can sign up for Amazon Prime student, free for 3 months the $39 a year after. Includes free two day shipping and textbook discounts. They have season two streaming and you can download the app and watch it on your iPad, which I did earlier this week. Such a great show and definitely reflects the themes of this story, especially season two.

  4. Thank you for all of your intelligent comments! I’m writing a paper in my high school sophomore english class regarding the controversy of this text. This helped tremendously!

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