What is the oppression of women in "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour," the oppression of women isn't super blatant; there is a woman who is unhappy in her marriage, and has a rather unusual reaction to news of her husband's death.  She is, after the initial grief and shock, actually overcome with a sense of freedom.  This is not because she was abused, or because her husband was an awful tyrant; in fact, as Louise Mallard (the wife) thinks of him, she realizes that "she had loved him, sometimes," and she knew that at the funeral that she would

"weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead."

So, her husband was kind, and he loved her, showing her love in every glance.  However, this did not keep Louise from feeling oppressed.  She lived an era when women were born and bred to be married, to serve their husbands, to be mothers and housewives, and to submit their will to the head of the household.  So even though Brently Mallard was "kind," Chopin alludes to the fact that his wife was repressed (she had a face "whose lines bespoke repression") and who resented the

"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" that often came with marriage."

So, the suppression in this story is subtle; it is seen in the stereotypical roles of women that existed in that time period, and in a woman who was not happy playing the role of subservient housewife.  Freed from that role unexpectedly, Louise Mallard feels like "a goddess of Victory" as she looks forward to her life as a "free" woman.  I hope those thoughts help; good luck!

epollock | Student


A more precise term for Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" is repression and not oppression.

The first sentence of the story proves to be essential to the end, though during the middle of the story the initial care to protect Mrs. Mallard from the “sad message” seems almost comic. It is usually assumed, too easily, or possibly incorrectly, that Mrs. Mallard’s “storm of grief” is hypocritical.

If you notice that the renewal after the first shock is stimulated by the renewal of life around her

“the tops of trees . . . were all aquiver with the new spring of life”

and that before she achieves a new life, Mrs. Mallard first goes through a sort of death and then tries to resist renewal: Her expression “indicated a suspension of intelligent thought,” she felt something “creeping out of the sky,” and she tried to “beat it back with her will,” but she soon finds herself

“drinking the elixir of life through that open window,”

and her thoughts turn to “spring days, and summer days.” Implicit in the story is the idea that her life as a wife—which she had thought was happy—was in fact a life of repression or subjugation, and the awareness comes to her only at this late stage.

The story has two surprises: the change from grief to joy proves not to be the whole story, for we get the second surprise, the husband’s return and Mrs. Mallard’s death.

The last line

“the doctors . . . said she had died . . . of joy that kills”

is doubly ironic: The doctors wrongly assume that she was overjoyed to find that her husband was alive, but they were not wholly wrong in guessing that her last day of life brought her great joy.

The text clearly says “she had loved him—sometimes.” The previous paragraph in the story calls attention to a certain aspect of love—a satisfying giving of the self—and yet also to a most unpleasant yielding to force.

Kate Chopin's stories of women who lead contradictory and somewhat unsatisfying lives are wonderful lessons for students to choose friendships, loves, and acquaintances carefully.

Read the study guide:
The Story of an Hour

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