Kate Chopin was a prolific writer of the 19th century whose short stories usually delved upon the topic of the repression of women’s rights during a male dominated era of mankind. The Story of an Hour was written by her as a way of expressing her sentiments about the unfair treatment of women during the era. The story revolves around Mrs. Louise Mallard, a woman with a heart condition living in the era of submissive wives, who receives the shocking news of her husband’s untimely demise in a railroad accident. Upon hearing the news, all her repressed emotions regarding her relationship with her husband, the loss of her individuality, his abusive statements, and everything else that she disliked about her married life came to the front and, with the death of her husband, is seemingly a tremendously heavy weight that is lifted from her shoulders. She views the death of her husband as a joyous occasion which is then shattered when her “dead husband” walks through the door alive and well. The shock, too much for her weak heart, coupled with her disappointment at the fact that her individuality will not be restored as she expected, causes her death. All of these events take place within the span of an hour. Hence the title of the short story. Other things worth noting about this story is that, aside from taking place within an hour, it is set in only one location, and does not involve any subplots that would help explain certain backgrounds of the characters. It is understood that the reader will be familiar with the era and as such does not need an explanation for any of the occurrences in the story. First published in 1854, this is only of the 100 or so short stories written by Kate Chopin that reflects the struggle of women during her time.
As I read the story and researched related opinions about the content of the story, I came to the conclusion that the thesis or claim of the story is that, due to the male dominated society existing at the time, women were relegated to the role of house-keeper and sex slave, without any rights to make known their thoughts or opinions. They were no more than minions or foot soldiers who simply followed the orders of their husbands without question or pause. However, women of the 19th century were already fighting for their rights and realized that they should be accorded the same respect as the males were. Due to this inequality in rights and treatment, some women viewed the death of their husbands as their only way out of the lop sided relationship and often saw the death of man as a happy occasion to be celebrated instead of mourned. However, these women loved their husbands, so how could they celebrate such a life changing event rather than mourning it? Did they truly love their husbands or did they love their freedom and individuality more? I am making these claims based upon paragraph evidences that can be found within the story.
As the story progresses, we realize that Mrs. Mallard loved her husband dearly and truly mourned the sad news of his unexpected death. However, in paragraph 5, discover that Mrs. Mallard’s mourning could have also been mixed with an inner sense of relief as:
She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which some one was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.
In my opinion, this specific paragraph explains quite clearly that Mrs. Mallard viewed the sudden demise of her husband as a rebirth of sorts for her. This was the day when she was born again and viewed her surroundings with a new set of eyes. A fresh and new start wherein everything seems to be new and innocent. Life would be alright and happy for her from this moment on.
Further down in the story, in paragraph 8, we learn that Mrs. Mallard had changed her personality and outlook in life upon getting married. She was a young woman who had a brightness and intelligence that she was forced to conceal in order to be the proper wife of the era. To quote:
She was young with a fair, calm, face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength. But now there was a dull stare in her eyes, whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on one of those patches of blue sky. It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought.
Finally, in paragraphs 12-14 we discover Mrs. Mallard battling between celebrating her “liberation” and the death of the man whom she loved deeply and, until her recent realization, thought she would be spending her whole life with.
There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.
And yet she had loved him–sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!
“Free! Body and soul free!”she kept whispering.
In the end, Mrs. Mallard seemingly made the choice to live free of the bonds of marriage and enjoy her remaining years as a widow. Towards the end of the story, we find out that she has begun to make plans to live her life. She excited herself into believing she was free of the normal dictates of the era and thus was already in a heightened state of excitement when her husband reappeared, alive and well. A shocking disappointment that caused her death. Not because she did not love her husband, but because she loved the idea of becoming a women free to be herself, think for herself, and decide for herself once again.