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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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How does "The Story of an Hour" reflect 1800s women's roles?

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"The Story of an Hour" reflects the theme of the role of women in the 1800s in that the key issue of the main character is her feeling of oppression caused by the expectations bestowed upon women, as well as the limited options available for them. As such, the short-lived sensation of freedom she feels when she thinks her husband has died is great enough to kill her when she finds out that it is not true.

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In Kate Chopin's short story "The Story of an Hour," main character Louise Mallard is a young wife with a heart condition who is told with extreme care that her husband, Brently, has died in a train crash.

Upon retiring to her bedroom to digest the news, everyone in the household is thinking that Louise is in danger of having a heart attack due to grief. However, to the reader's surprise, Louise actually experiences an inner joy because all this time she had been feeling oppressed in her marriage.

Louise is very specific in her introspection: Her husband loves her and has been good to her. This leads to the question: Why is Louise happy about being a widow?

Her explanation shows that the expectations and social limitations bestowed upon women in the 18oos would have suffocated any female born with an independent spirit, a more progressive mentality, or simply a desire to do something other than marry and have children.

First, she explains how much she desires freedom, something that women in her time period lack:

There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself.

Second, she mentions her desire for physical and mental independence. In the nineteenth century, women could not vote; very few could get a career; and the feeling of gender injustice must have been quite present among women with more progressive mentalities. Louise seems to be one of these women who believed, even then, that the opinions and words of males are not superior than those of females.

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.

Then, she admits a simple truth: she loves Brently "sometimes." With him gone, there is no longer any need to fake a love that is not there. She could have lived her life without necessarily marrying anyone had it been a different moment in time.

And yet she had loved him—sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter!

Finally, she reaffirms her philosophical view that love, whatever that word means to anyone, does not compare to the possession of her own self-love. This is more powerful than anything else.

What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!

With these expressions and emotions, Louise is basically showing all the things that many women of her time may have also felt. Many women wanted to live independently. Many may have even wanted to avoid marriage altogether. Sadly, with a lack of choices to advance in society, marriage was the only way for women to "do better." It would take something tragic, such as Brently's death, to finally make females feel somewhat liberated from an expectation.

"Free! Body and soul free!" she kept whispering.

Upon Brently's surprising return, she realizes that the freedom is not happening; her liberty will not manifest. The shock is such that she dies of what the others think is joy for having her husband back. The irony is that she actually dies of pain.

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