What is a critical feminist view of "The Story of an Hour"?What is a critical feminist view of the story?
This very short story, like many other works by Kate Chopin, has been analyzed in terms of feminist literary criticism despite Chopin never having explicitly considered herself "a feminist." Many of her works depict women in unhappy marriages and can be read as critiques of the ways in which marriage as an institution limited and oppressed women in the late 19th century.
In "The Story of an Hour," we find out that Mrs. Mallard, or Louise, has "heart trouble," so when her other relatives learn that her husband has been killed in a railroad accident, they have to be careful how they break the news to her. Louise feels numb and in shock at first, and she goes to her room alone to process the loss. Once she is alone, she notices the beautiful, thriving natural world outside her window, and she begins to feel hopeful. She thinks about how much time she will have for herself now that she has no husband. She whispers to herself, "Free! Body and soul free!" She knows that she will mourn when she sees her husband's body at his funeral, and he doesn't seem to have been a "bad" husband: there's no evidence he is abusive or unkind. Louise isn't sure she loved him, though. At the end of the story, Louise is very much looking forward to her future as a widow, but as she leaves her room to go downstairs, Brently Mallard opens the door and walks into the house. There was a mistake, and he was not on the train. Louise dies from the shock, and ironically, it is assumed that she died of "the joy that kills." The witnesses assume she was so happy to see her husband alive that she died of the shock. Readers know that she is shocked to learn that the future that she had just dreamed of, "all sorts of days that would be her own," will now be impossible.
A critical feminist analysis of this story would focus on the restraints placed upon women by the institution of marriage. A key moment in the story that supports this view reads,
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.
In a marriage of the late 19th century, the husband would be the one "to impose [his] will" on his wife. When Louise thinks that "A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime," the reader sees that the problem lies not with the individuals but with marriage itself. Even if the husband is kind, even if he means well, he still has the power in the relationship. Therefore, the wife is always the lesser party. She always must bend to his will; she must "live for" him rather than for herself. A feminist critique shows how marriage does not allow this woman to feel any sense of freedom or individuality. Bringing this inequality between genders to the forefront is one of the main goals of feminist literary criticism.
A critical feminist view of this short story focuses on female oppression in 19th century society and more specifically in marriages of the time. During that time period, women were owned by their husbands and had little to no control over their own lives. Chopin reveals the tragedy of this situation through an intimate exploration of the protagonist as well as the descriptive details of the story.
One indication of the protagonist's oppression is in the first sentence where she is named "Mrs. Mallard". Her husband is given a first name, but the protagonist's first name isn't revealed until much later in the story; she is only referred to as the wife of Brently Mallard. Later, as she is processing the "death" of her husband, Louise describes marriage as a "crime" - "[a] 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. " She admits that her husband wasn't really cruel to her, but just the fact that she had a husband stripped her of her identity and will. And then the conclusion of the story hits home the tragedy of Mrs. Mallard's role as a woman when again, the existence of her husband deprives her of life.
The feminist perspective that is expressed in The Story of an Hour, by Kate Chopin is the sense of freedom that Louise Mallard experiences after she is told that her husband has been killed in a train accident.
For a brief period of time, Louise celebrates the glory of being unchained from a controlling husband.