Laura's life in The Hours mirrors many depictions we've seen of housewives in the 1940s. She and her family live in a pristine house in a pristine suburb. She is mother to a son and has a baby on the way, she is wife to a war hero husband, and she is living the life society has sold to women as the ideal American dream. The messages she has received are that any woman should be happy to live this life and that caring for her children, husband, and home should be enough to fulfill her.
The life of a caretaker and housewife is not enough to fulfill Laura, nor many other women, but this was not often openly talked about in the 1940s and Laura is left to her own resentment, guilt, and despair at feeling trapped and wanting to escape her "ideal" life.
She wonders, while she pushes a cart through the supermarket or has her hair done, if the other women aren't all thinking, to some degree or other, the same thing: Here is the brilliant spirit, the woman of sorrows, the woman of transcendent joys, who would rather be elsewhere, who has consented to perform simple and essentially foolish tasks, to examine tomatoes, to sit under a hair dryer, because it is her art and her duty. (chapter 3, paragraph 14)
Laura bakes a cake for her husband's birthday, hoping that it will fulfill her desire for creative expression, but she is unsatisfied with the result. She knows that her husband will praise her work regardless, but she does not want empty praise. She wants to be recognized for her actual skills and creative talents. She both wants to be the perfect mother and wife and wants out of those roles that threaten to suffocate her. The cake serves as the ultimate symbol of Laura's internal turmoil and loss of her former self. We watch her go from struggling to get out of bed in the morning, to finding hope in the cake project, and finally, to feeling comforted by the thought of death—all in the span of a day.