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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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What is the message of "The Story of an Hour"? Does Kate Chopin want women to come out from the shackles of man? Did Chopin have a similar life to Mrs. Mallard?

The message of "The Story of an Hour" is that inequality between the sexes, especially in marriage, creates unfavorable lives for all. Brently Mallard loved his wife, but she felt dependent and repressed. Thus, she is actually pleased when she believes he has died. Kate Chopin also experienced the consequences of inequality between the sexes in her life, and her writings respond to it.

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Kate Chopin's tale "The Story of an Hour " centers around a woman who does not realize her own dissatisfaction with her marriage until she receives word of her husband's death in a railroad accident. Mrs. Mallard's sister tries to be as gentle as she can when she...

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Kate Chopin's tale "The Story of an Hour" centers around a woman who does not realize her own dissatisfaction with her marriage until she receives word of her husband's death in a railroad accident. Mrs. Mallard's sister tries to be as gentle as she can when she tells Mrs. Mallard of the tragedy. Mrs. Mallard weeps and then retreats to her room alone.

As she sits by the window, Mrs. Mallard observes the spring day. She is a young woman yet, and her face is calm, but there is a hint in her expression that suggests she has been repressed somehow. Mrs. Mallard suddenly becomes aware that something is coming, something she is partly afraid of and doesn't understand.

Then she recognizes it. Mrs. Mallard is free. She is no longer under the will of her husband. Certainly her husband had loved her and was kind to her. She even loved him at times. Yet now she can live for herself, completely independent, able to make her own choices and follow her own paths without having to bend to the will of another. The days and weeks and years spread out before her, and she prays that her life will be long so she can enjoy what she has found.

Then, however, as her sister leads her back downstairs, the door opens and her husband walks in. Mrs. Mallard drops to the floor dead.

Indeed, Kate Chopin does seem to suggest in this story that married women are often too much under the control of their husbands. She is not saying that all husbands are cruel or that they deliberately oppress their wives. Mr. Mallard, in fact, seems to be a kind man who sincerely loves his wife. Even so, though, Mrs. Mallard feels constrained in her relationship. She always has to consider someone else and often bow to the will of someone else.

Kate Chopin married when she was twenty and had six children over the next nine years. There certainly may have been times when she felt constrained by her family responsibilities. Her husband died when she was only thirty-two, and readers may well wonder if she perhaps felt a bit like Mrs. Mallard. She never remarried, even though many women of her era did. In fact, she moved her family back to her hometown of St. Louis and threw herself into the literary and cultural scene of the city and into her writing. Perhaps Chopin had found her own freedom.

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The message of this short story is that marriage is an unjust institution as a result of the inequality of the sexes. It does not seem that Louise Mallard wanted to be married, especially considering how relieved and happy she is when she believes that her marriage is over (because her husband has reportedly died). The narrator tells us that Louise's face has "lines [that] bespoke repression," implying that she has been repressed in her marriage.

It is clear that her husband loved her, as Louise considers how his face "never looked [without] love" at her, and she thinks of his hands as "kind, tender"; through these descriptions, we know that Brently Mallard has never been a bad husband. However, she revels in the fact that there "would be no one to live for her" and "no powerful will bending hers" anymore. Louise can only really admit to loving her husband "sometimes. Often she had not." That feeling no longer matters to her, as "this possession of self-assertion" now seems to be the "strongest impulse of her being!"

Thus, it is not her husband who is the problem but, rather, the institution of marriage itself and society's expectations of women in general. Louise was likely expected to marry due to her class and sex, and this compelled her to enter into a relationship that translated to constant compromise and a lack of independence.

Ultimately, no one is served by this. Louise has felt repressed, restricted, and unfree throughout her married life. As long as young women are compelled by society to marry, and as long as marriage means a loss of their independence, then marriages will continue to be unjust and unhappy.

Kate Chopin did have a loving marriage with her her husband, Oscar, and six children. However, he did not have a good head for business, and when he died twelve years after their marriage, he left her in a great deal of debt. Chopin's writings would seem to indicate her disillusionment with women's inequality in the late nineteenth century.

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Chopin often does write about freedom in a woman’s life and how marriage can constrain that; however, this short story shows freedom a bit differently.  In describing how she feels now that the protagonist’s husband (seems to be) dead, the narrator says, “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.” We learn right after this that maybe the protagonist loved her husband, maybe she didn’t—the point is freedom from responsibility of all sorts. Women, the narrator implies, are capable of placing the same burdens on their fellow creatures as men are.  The “persistence” is “blind” as well, suggesting it is an innate quality about human behavior, not just the behavior of men.  Often Chopin seems to privilege women in her stories simply because they are much more interesting to write about than men.

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"The Story of an Hour" deals with the role of women in marriage, and this does reflect Chopin's own opinions on the plight of women in society with respect to their roles in marriage. It can certainly be seen that a she might have felt like her protagonist during her marriage. However, the Mrs. Mallard and Chopin's lives are not exactly parallel.

Chopin married a man who adored her independence and had six children, but the family struggled financially. Oscar, Chopin's husband, was not a great provider due to his poor business sense and later became ill, so it can be seen that Chopin might have felt trapped in her marriage with few options available to her. When Oscar died, Chopin was in an even darker financial state, and began writing to bring in an income. Chopin's female characters often struggle with the expectations society places on women, and seem to echo Chopin's own feelings. It would be interesting to know if she felt the relief that Mrs. Mallard does at the supposed death of her husband.

In this particular story, the woman feels a tremendous freedom when she is told her husband is dead, as if she is finally free of the obligations forced on her. Of course, the irony is, it was all a mistake and he was very much alive. This leads to her breakdown, as she thrust back into her prison of expectations.

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