At one level, Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" seems to be one of the first examples of feminist literature, as it is an attempt to expose the plight of married women at the end of the 19thC., who were often treated as chattel (or, belongings) rather than equal partners. At this time, for example, women in the US still did not have the vote; with minor exceptions, their employment opportunities were limited to low-paying needle-work and mill work, jobs that paid them about 12.5 cents per day--much less than men made. Women were, especially in the middle classes, expected to stay at home, produce and raise children, and provide moral and religious leadership for the family.
The story begins with the presumed death of Brently Mallard and the conventional expressions of Louise Mallard's grief:
She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister's arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone.
Louise Mallard's response to the news of her husband's death is just what one would expect--she cries violently at the shocking news (which turns out to be wrong) of her husband's death, a response that seems completely understandable and, more important, expected.
While she is alone, however, Mrs. Mallard begins to see that her husband's death has had an unanticipated, but ultimately desirable, consequence:
She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will.
"This thing," of course, is the realization that her husband's death has freed her from a marriage to which she is not totally committed. At this point, we are prepared to discover that her marriage is particularly bad and perhaps that her husband is abusive or unkind. Instead, we read of Brently Mallard's "tender hands" and "the face that had never looked save with love upon her." Clearly, Louise Mallard's incredible epiphany as she contemplates a future without her husband, which has opened her eyes to new vistas of personal freedom, is not the consequence of a terrible marriage. What, then, has engendered such a sense of freedom?
Chopin's story is not about a bad or abusive marriage, in particular. Rather, its real subject is the institution of marriage. Mrs. Mallard, whose husband seems to have loved her dearly, loves her husband "sometimes." but not always, an indication that her marriage was, like many 19thC. marriages, not a love match. For her, this marriage of convenience represents repression not just for her but, more important, for her husband, as well:
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 no less a crime. . . .
Louise Mallard's incredible sense of freedom has nothing to do with a marriage, or even her marriage, but everything to do with freedom from the imposition of someone else's will upon her. Marriage--her marriage, anyone's marriage--creates the framework for one person to impose his or her will upon another, but it is the loss of one's freedom of will, not the fact of a marriage itself, that has repressed Louise Mallard. One could say that the Mallard's marriage, which is a good marriage (in conventional terms) cannot, in Louise Mallard's view, be a "good" marriage because there can be no truly good marriages.
In one sense, then, it is correct to say that "The Story of an Hour" discusses the repression of women in marriage. The historical reality is that women often suffered in their marriages in the 19thC. because their rights as individuals were limited by repressive laws. But in another sense, perhaps slightly deeper, one can argue that Chopin's real concern is the loss of freedom for both men and women within the framework of marriage--the imposition of private wills "upon a fellow creature." The phrase "fellow creature" implies equality, and it is reasonable to say that Chopin's story is about men and women as equal victims of a repressive institution.