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A Feminist Reading of Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour"

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"The Story of an Hour"

"The Story of an Hour"

About Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin, born on February 8th, 1850, is credited with being one of the first popular feminist authors of the 20th century. After the death of her husband, Kate moved in with her mother (who shortly died thereafter). She was left to raise her children alone and was suffering from depression. Her doctor and good friend recommended she fight depression by writing. They advised her that writing would be therapeutic, healing, and might provide her with much-needed income.

By the 1890’s Kate began writing short stories that constantly appeared in literary magazines. Chopin had a beautiful gift with her words, she used irony in her writing to reveal a strong hidden message against the traditional roles of women. She was never credited for her work as a novelist which caused her discouragement regarding being accepted as an author. She was also considered to be too far ahead of her time. She ultimately wrote hundreds of short stories that incorporated the realities of women’s rights and their portrayal in society.

Chopin knew her audience

Chopin knew her audience

A Feminist Perspective

In the short story, Chopin reveals a deep-rooted problem that women faced in marital relationships. Even though Chopin did not think of herself as a feminist, she often depicted women in unequal roles in their marriages. As in "The Story of an Hour" she plotted the idea that women were oppressed through unhappy marriages. Through this idea, she voiced that marriages were institutions that put restraints upon women. Husbands held the power and often imposed their will on their wives. The wives had no other choice but to bend to the husband's will. Even if the husband were gentle men, women had no sense of freedom or individuality and were inferior to men. Unfortunately, women had no control over their lives, they were slaves whose only main priority was to live for their owner (husband) rather than themselves. Thus, it brought an unhealthy balance between both society and marriage.

Are married women free?

Are married women free?

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About Marriage

In "The Story of an Hour" we are told that the protagonist suffers from a heart condition and she was carefully informed of her husband Brently's death. In the course of an hour, we see the protagonist named Louise go from a weak person to a stronger woman. She contemplates her newly found independence and is delighted over the thought of being free. This surprising reaction reflects the feeling women in the late 19th century had toward marriage. Through this, Chopin voices that marriage meant men had total control over women. The women were not allowed to have their own identity, thoughts or purpose.

In Louise's case, her husband's death frees her from the restraint of marriage. Her once forbidden pleasure of independence will no longer hold her back. For just an hour, Louise experiences and praises her freedom that is no longer chained to her husband's control. As she looks out the window we realize how marriage made her into someone who did not have an identity. She has lived a life that has given her limitations, that she was only her husband's wife and nothing more. She believed for a brief moment that she no longer has a man that will "[bend her] in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature." This demonstrates the patriarchal ideology that was the norm in the late 19th century.

Conclusion

Louise was an example of an average housewife who was not allowed her own identity and freedom. I believe Kate had a connection with the story and the main character. When Louise felt a brief moment of sadness at her husband's death and then have it replaced with happiness, this reveals how truly Kate felt when she heard the news of her husband's death. Kate felt restrained in her marriage, even though she truly loved her husband, she was not happy. Even though "The Story of an Hour" is a fictional story, it speaks loud about the life of women in the late 19th century.

Citations

“Kate Chopin.” Short Stories and Classic Literature, americanliterature.com/author/kate-chopin.

The Gale Group Inc. “Chopin, Kate.” Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Encyclopedia.com, 2018, www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chopin-kate.

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