In "The Story of an Hour" what views of marriage/relationships does the story present?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The historical context of "The Story of an Hour" dates back to the late 1800's, with the story having being published in 1894. The last years of the 19th century were the years of "The Woman Question", that is, when society asks for the first time whether women are worthy or capable of fulfilling other roles within society aside of those of wife and mother.

This same context serves as the conduit to the internal turmoil of Louise Mallard. As a woman of her times, Louise is one step ahead; she has a need for self-realization and identity. She wants desperately to experience life with herself as her own mistress and without having to fulfill any roles. The lack of choices in her society leads her to do what is expected of her: to be a mother and the mistress of a household. However, through the thoughts that surface upon hearing about her husband's possible death, "The Story of an Hour" presents real views that can still connect to the modern reader of the 21st century.

First, Chopin explores views of women as sacrificial creatures.  Louise has obviously suppressed herself and her emotions simply because she is a woman. Using this same premise in the 21st century, are not women also expected to be a form of sacrificial creatures? Isn't a woman expected to make sacrifices for the sake of their children, marriage and household? Is a 21st century woman who makes the choice of not marrying and having children seen with completely unbiased eyes, even in modern society? What about the concepts of females as "spinsters", "cat ladies", or even the current trend of calling women who date younger men "cougars"? Doesn't that show that there is still a pre-disposed notion that women should ALL marry and be subservient to a husband?

Second, Chopin analyzes in a lesser, but in an equally powerful way, the dynamics of the late Victorian marriage. Louise is not in love with her husband, nor with her life. She questions whether she ever loved her husband only to add "Who cares!" The dynamics that are briefly described show, however, that there was dullness and tediousness in what seems to be a system of ranks within the Mallard's marriage.

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...

This battle of wills, the imbalance of power, and the lack of self-realization is what shows that the views of marriage and relationships in "The Story of an Hour" are quite universal. The unique temperament and level of fulfillment of the individual is what ultimately decides whether marriage is even a lifestyle choice to consider. In the modern world, whoever enters a marriage without knowing himself could never succeed at it. Equally, Louise's lack of self-knowledge leads her to suppress who she is, and abide by what is expected of her by society. In Louise's world, nor in the modern world, can relationships be one-sided. Unfortunately for Louise, she had no other choice. However her issue is one that can transcend time because it is an issue that can happen to anybody.


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