The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin

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Analyze Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” through the feminist lens to examine the theme of female suppression.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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"Feminist lens" refers to the use of Feminist Critical Theory to examine a text for some of the issues that concerns feminist critics. Some important Feminist issues are:

  • patriarchial authority and dominance
  • patriarchal subjugation of women
  • marginalization (similar to but not the same as minority or colonial marginalization)
  • voicelessness (similar to but not the same as minority or colonial voicelessness)
  • overarching masculine ideology
  • constructions of resolution in literature
  • relationships of power in literature

To examine female suppression through a feminist lens, you might start with idea of the reflexive construct: "When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: 'free, free, free!'" As this quote shows, the narrative is constructed as an introspective examination of a young woman's feelings as she learns that her life has been altered (then the consequences when she learns it has been alteredyet  again, but there ends the reflexive analysis). Relfexivity is shown through the use of reflexive pronouns, "herself," and through the narrator's reports of Mrs. Mallard's introspective self-analysis, "she had loved him--sometimes. Often she had not." In addition to reflexive construction, the narrator displays unmistakable sympathy with and support for Mrs. Mallard when the emotional tone of the narrative soars along with the emotional liberation Mrs. Mallard feels:

... she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!
   "Free! Body and soul free!" she kept whispering.

This is a way to get you started on examining this text through the feminist lens. Much more can be done as you examine the expression of patriarchy in the narrative and its effects on Mrs. Mallard. The intriguing question that is always asked is whether her heart trouble is a symptom of patriarchal dominance or the ultimate victim of patriarchal dominance: Does he cause her heart trouble or only (indirectly) her death?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The great irony of Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour," of course, is that everyone is worried about Louise Mallard's heart when she learns that her husband has died; but the true heartbreak happens when she sees that he is still alive. This alone is enough to suggest that this story should be read as a commentary on female suppression.

After she hears the news about Brently Mallard being killed in a train crash, Louise explodes with one "storm of grief" and then goes upstairs to be alone; however, she does not spend her time or energy grieving. As she ponders the new life ahead of her, we also learn some things about her life as Mrs. Brently Mallard. 

It takes her some time to realize it, but in her new life she will be "free,...

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