How is the theme of repression developed in The Story of an Hour?
Repression is a powerful theme in Chopin's "The Story of an Hour." We come to understand this as we see Mrs. Mallard's thoughts when she believes her husband to be dead, and if we have any understanding of the time in which the story was written and takes place, this further reinforces this theme in the story.
When Mrs. Mallard recovers from the initial shock of the news of her husband's supposed death, she gradually begins to experience joy in the freedom that she believes is now to be hers. There is no indication in the story that Mr. Mallard was an ogre, by any means, and she acknowledges that she sometimes loved her husband. But what does come across is how repressed Mrs. Mallard has been in the marriage. The first mention of this occurs in the description of her, as "young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression" (para. 8). The central passage in which this becomes quite clear occurs after she has opened her arms wide to welcome her new freedom:
There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. 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 as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination (para. 12).
If Mrs. Mallard could not live for herself, if her husband was imposing his will upon her, she was clearly repressed. We know she is young and attractive, capable of joy and even wild abandon, and we see that Mr Mallard has repressed much of what is within her, even if his intentions were not "cruel."
We also know that in 1894, when this story was published, wives were mostly mere appendages of their husbands, having few if any rights and expected to be dutiful wives. They were meant to reflect their husbands' values and ideas, not to think for themselves or, at the very least, not to act on or express any contradictory ideas. In many ways, they were treated and regarded as children by their spouses and by society in general. Repression of women in that day was the norm, not the exception.
Poor Mrs. Mallard is an icon of the repression of those times. Chopin, for whom the repression of women was a central concern, has painted a vivid and dramatic portrait of the costs of repression for women.