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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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Historical Context

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The Woman Question

"The Story of an Hour" was published in 1894, an era in which many social and cultural questions occupied Americans' minds. One of these, referred to as the "Woman Question," involved which roles were acceptable for women to assume in society. Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species (1892) had further incited this controversy. Darwin's theory of evolution was used by both sides of the issue; some argued the theory supported female self-assertion and independence, others felt the theory proved that motherhood should be the primary role of a woman in society.

Although women were not granted the right to vote until 1920, the struggle for their enfranchisement began in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention in New York state. The passage of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting enfranchisement to black men, was passed in 1869. Several prominent feminists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, refused to support the amendment because it denied women the vote. Other suffragists argued that the enfranchisement of women would soon follow black enfranchisement. In 1890, these two factions united in the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). That year, Wyoming became the first state to grant women the vote. While the suffrage movement sought reform, mainstream Victorian culture regarded the self-sacrificing wife, dependent on her husband and devoted to her children, as the ideal of femininity.

Compare and Contrast

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1890s: The suffragist movement unites in the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Wyoming becomes the first state to grant women the vote.

Today: Although efforts to add an Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution failed in 1982, women continue to gain political and cultural independence. As of 1988, over 56 percent of women in the country hold jobs.

1890s: Though there are more women than men attending high school by 1890, higher education is largely closed to women. Employment opportunities for women include housekeeping, nursing, and elementary education.

Today: Opportunities in both education and employment are virtually equal for men and women, although many issues regarding equality remain.

1890s: Though a few women writers have achieved some degree of success, it is still considered improper for a woman to be a writer. Louisa May Alcott and Sarah Orne Jewett are two women writers who gain success and popularity.

Today: Many women writers of the late nineteenth century are being rediscovered, including Chopin, who gained popularity during the women's movement of the 1960s.

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Style, Form, and Literary Elements


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