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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin
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How does American realist Kate Chopin depict upper-class marriage at the turn of the 19th century? What does she suggest about relationships between married men and women?

Chopin suggests that women forced into roles of servitude will lose their passion and even love for their husbands along the way. Louise Mallard sees a brief glimpse of opportunity to live in self-fulfillment instead of husband-fulfillment.

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In "The Story of an Hour ," Chopin portrays the role of servitude in upper-class marriages and the effect that has on a woman's soul. In the story, Louise Mallard is told that her husband has died, and her primary emotion is one of relief. Finally, there is no...

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In "The Story of an Hour," Chopin portrays the role of servitude in upper-class marriages and the effect that has on a woman's soul. In the story, Louise Mallard is told that her husband has died, and her primary emotion is one of relief. Finally, there is no one else to serve. Finally, she no longer has to bend her will to her husband's desires instead of pursuing her own. She has played the role of a good wife for so many years, always taking care of her husband's needs. When she thinks she is finally released from this role, she feels light:

Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.

Chopin suggests that simply because women fill the roles required of them in marriage does not mean that they are happy doing so. Many times, this means giving up on dreams of their own. She also suggests that women forced into roles of servitude will lose their passion and even love for their husbands along the way. Louise Mallard reflects on these conflicting emotions, as well:

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!

Louise Mallard sees a brief glimpse of opportunity to live in self-fulfillment instead of husband-fulfillment. Although she has served her role, she did so in obligation and not out of love; Chopin suggests that marriages which hope to persist in love should allow for the self-fulfillment of both parties and not place one partner in a role of servitude of the other.

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Kate Chopin depicts upper class marriage at the turn of the 19th century as confining and largely loveless.  When Mrs. Mallard is told her husband dies, the impression given to the reader is that she is grief-stricken.

“She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment."

When she goes upstairs, however, she undergoes a change.  Suddenly, the reader realizes that on some level she is glad her husband has died. Mrs. Mallard feels free. 

“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."

This quotation shows that Mrs. Mallard feels oppressed in her marriage—as if a powerful will is bending hers.   Her realization that she will no longer have to live under her husband’s rule makes her feel free. 

“But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome." 

Mrs. Mallard reflects that her husband had always been loving toward her and that she had loved him—sometimes.

“And yet she had loved him—sometimes. Often she had not."

Chopin shows the reader the tradition of upper class arranged marriages of convenience.  Women had little choice and even less freedom.  Mrs. Mallard is overjoyed at the idea of freedom for the rest of her life, which she now hopes will be long. 

“It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long."

As a result, the shock of seeing him again kills her—a fact of which her husband is blissfully unaware. 

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