Help with theme of chauvisim in "The Story of an Hour"I am writing a historical term paper on Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour." Using chauvinist society influencing this story. Need help...

Help with theme of chauvisim in "The Story of an Hour"

I am writing a historical term paper on Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour." Using chauvinist society influencing this story. Need help incorporating

I am not the best research writing when it comes to literature. I want to incorporate how society and her upbringing play a huge role in this particular story. Problem is incorporating everything together, while trying to use at least 4 secondary sources on this story also. Just looking for any additional guidance anyone can give me to help push me in the right direction. Thank you!

Expert Answers
vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have appended below summaries of some articles and/or books that discuss the issue of male chauvinism and/or female oppression in this story. These summaries come from my book Kate Chopin's Short Fiction: A Critical Companion. If your library does not have a copy of the book, you can get it through interlibrary loan and thus track down further bibliographical information.  Good luck!

Rocks 1972: Here as elsewhere Chopin shows that a loveless or oppressive marriage is unethical (119).

Skaggs 1975: This story shows Chopin’s progress in exploring the victimhood resulting from males’ sense owning women (285).

Fluck 1982: Although the tale seems to endorse feminine self-assertion, it actually shows the difficulties of achieving that goal.  This approach contributes to the complexity of the work’s artistry and social significance.  The husband’s “death” allows the wife to experience freedom without suffering blame, especially because the impulse toward freedom seems invasive and because its effects are described from a mainly external point of view.  The conclusion of the tale is richly ambiguous since the story both indulges and denies transgressive temptations (154-56).

Bonner 1983b: Chopin endorses Mrs. Mallard’s unconventional self-assertion (147).

Burchard 1984: Theme: freedom from marriage; self-determination.  The story shows that at least Chopin understands Louise’s feelings (39).

Gilbert 1984: Here as elsewhere Chopin interrogates marriage (16).

Toth 1984: Here as elsewhere Chopin employs a kind of darkly ironic comedy that also functions as social satire.  The story undercuts conventional views of what makes a woman happy (205).

Skaggs 1985: Mrs. Mallard learns that affection and comfort are no substitutes for freedom (52-53). 

Newman 1986: Like many of Chopin’s tales, this one suggests a view of marriage that seems to conflict with the views implied by some of her other stories (152).

Rosenblum 1986c: Louise is Chopin’s most potent heroine.  The story ends in irony but not in tragedy, since Louise’s death frees her from subservience.  Brentley’s supposed death, which occurs in spring, ironically signals a rejuvenation for Louise.  The closed-in house is contrasted with nature’s expansiveness.  By leaving her room, Louise reenters a kind of prison.  Chopin’s use of such imagery of nature is reinforced also by imagery of rising and falling (5: 2242-43). 

Valentine and Palmer 1987: Here as in other works, Chopin depicts a woman whose emancipation can only be temporary (60-61).

Guidici 1991: Here as elsewhere in Chopin’s fiction, a husband’s death enhances his wife’s power, even if only briefly.  After Brentley returns, Mrs. Mallard would have died figuratively if she had not died literally (29).

Mitchell 1992: Mrs. Mallard attempts to reunite a divided self that has been shaped by biology, cultural indoctrination, and marriage (60).  Her heart condition, along with social expectations and the dictates of marriage (rather than Brentley in particular), keep her in check; when she begins to realize her freedom, the experience is almost sexual.  Chopin uses the story to indict marriage and undercut romance (since the tale stresses the importance of individual autonomy).  Mrs. Mallard’s prayer that “life might be long” reflects the woman’s traditional role as creators.  The final tone is extremely sardonic and may be meant to suggest that true transformation cannot occur so quickly (61-64).

Larsson 1993: This story demonstrates Chopin’s interest in autonomy for women as well as her skepticism about conventional marriage (2: 537).

Castillo 1995: This tale undercuts the stereotype of the sorrowful widow, which was especially potent in Chopin’s era.  The ending typifies Chopin’s taste for irony (86-87). 

Tuttleton 1996: Although the sudden reversal at the end had become a formula of fiction, the ending here is effective because it is mysterious.  Feminist readings of the tale simplify the ending.  Louise is not oppressed in any blatant sense.  Perhaps she dies because she is robbed by circumstances of the possibility of willful self-assertion.  The story reveals Chopin’s insights into the depths of the human soul (183-85).

pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kate Chopin wrote about the struggle for a woman to exercise her freedom to an individual identity in many of her works.  In "The Story of an Hour," Louise Mallard gets the tragic news of her husband's sudden death in a train accident.  Instead of reacting with the usual hysterics and tears that would be expected from a woman in this time period, 1894, the main character takes in the information and retires to her room.

Her sister thinks that she is upstairs behind closed doors making herself sick with grief over her husband's death.  When in fact, what Louise Mallard is doing is sitting in a chair, looking out the window and seeing the world with new eyes, the eyes of a free woman.  She is quietly contemplating the life she will now have, a life dictated by no one but her own choice.

She daydreams about all the choices she will have, all the interests she can pursue as a widow.  She can't wrap her arms around the depth of joy that she feels at being freed from the confines of marriage.  She tells us that she did love her husband, sometimes, but mostly, she felt confined by his domination of her life.  This control that Brently Mallard exercised over his wife was just the customary husband influence over wife in the late 19th century.  He was not an abusive husband, but typical of the society at the time.

Louise Mallard, like many women of her time, was secretly burning with a desire to break free from the male dominated society that kept women in the shadows of their husbands. Women did not want to be marginalized by society, but the effort to emerge as individuals with rights would be a long one.  Even after laws were changed, the prejudice of a patriarchal society would seek to keep women in their place, in the kitchen. 

The struggle had begun some 50 years before Kate Chopin wrote this story, but it still had a long way to go.

"Although women were not granted the right to vote until 1920, the struggle for their enfranchisement began in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention in New York state. The passage of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting enfranchisement to black men, was passed in 1869."

Check the sources listed below for more information about the struggle of 19th century women.


Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Chauvinism is defined by American heritage Dictionary as "Prejudiced belief in the superiority of one's own gender, group, or kind." In light of the laws governing women's rights and the necessity of being under a man's guardianship because of the restrictions imposed by the laws, "The story of an Hour" gives a good snapshot at the personal impact of the male chauvinism (male prejudice of believing in their unimpeachable superiority over females).

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This may be a redundancy after all that has already been written, but you may wish to examine the femme covert laws of the Victorian Age.  These laws lent legitimacy to the husband's domination of his wife's life.

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The Story of an Hour

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