What might a gender (or feminist) critic emphasize in interpreting "The Story of an Hour" as opposed to a reader-response approach?

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mrs-campbell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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A feminist critique of "The Story of an Hour" would focus on the themes of female repression in marriage.  The main character, Louise Mallard, had felt repressed and stifled in her role as a housewife to the successful Brently Mallard.  In Chopin's day, women were born and bred to be married, and were supposed to be perfectly fulfilled and content in their roles as wives and mothers.  Chopin often wrote stories that flew in the face of this societal expectation--her women were discontent, unhappy, or took taboo measures to ensure fulfillment.  Louise, after her husband died, felt, for the first time in a long time, "free, body and soul free!"  A feminist critic would focus on the fact that Chopin made Louise's face speak of "repression."  It would also focus on Chopin's rather unflattering description of what married life was:

"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."

Marriage was stifling Louise's will; Brently was bending a woman's will to his own.  Feminists would take umbrance with that, and declare that for Louise to reach her potential, she would need to break free from her stereotypical role as a content wife, and life for herself.  Chopin basically calls the suppression of women a "crime" in that description, so feminists would focus on that aspect of it.

A reader-response critic would focus on what the individual brings to the reading with them, that will help them to relate or connect with the text.  Is it a woman reading the story, and if so, is she married happily or unhappily?  Has the reader experienced grief, or felt relief if a relationship was over?  Will the reader interpret Louise's freedom with dismay and horror, or will they relate to her sense of elation and being released from constricting marriage binds?  It all depends on their own personal experiences, and that will help them to interpret the text.

I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

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