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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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What is the view of marriage in Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour"?

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The view of marriage that is portrayed in "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin is a cynical one. Marriage is viewed as something that takes away freedom and independence.

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In the short story "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin, a young woman named Louise Mallard hears of the death of her husband in a train accident. Her first impulse is to weep, and then she goes to her upstairs room alone. She sits in an armchair observing a lovely spring day and realizes that her primary emotion is one of relief that she is now free of her marriage. From this time forward, she will be able to make her own decisions and live life as she sees fit, without her husband's

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.

When Mrs. Mallard finds out that there was a mistake and her husband is still alive, she dies of a heart attack.

The view of marriage presented in this story is an unhappy one. At the same time, it seems to be the normal state of the marriage condition for the time in which Chopin writes. In the late nineteenth century, when the story was written and published, it was expected that husbands make most of the decisions in a marriage and that wives be subservient to them.

However, even if the domination of wives by their husbands was common and expected, it was still difficult for wives to accept and often left them in a state of quiet despair. That's why Mrs. Mallard rejoices in her freedom when her husband dies. She realizes that she sometimes loved him, but "often she had not." She would weep for him at the funeral, but she would also look forward to a long and happy life, at last free from the oppression of her husband's will.

We see, then, that the marriage that Chopin presents in this story is typical of the late nineteenth century, but it is also a profoundly unhappy and dissatisfying relationship with no prospect for a better situation for a woman.

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I would argue that the view of marriage showcased in this short story is a cynical one. It portrays the institution of marriage as something that brings limited joy at the immense cost of one's independence and freedom.

While Louise Mallard is initially heartbroken upon hearing the news that her husband, Brently, has died in a train crash, her heartbreak quickly turns to joy. The expectations of traditional marriage have become something like a noose around Louise's neck, and the sudden realization that she is free from it opens her mind to a world of possibilities about what the rest of her life could be like. For the first time, she is free to contemplate a future in which she does not have anyone else to factor into her decisions, and for Louise, this is extremely liberating. She tries, but fails, to return herself to a state of of grief in the aftermath of this epiphany.

While attempting to process her husband's death, she realizes that for her, self-assertion is far more important than love. While her husband had loved her and had been good to her, the price of her independence had been great.

Her joy is short-lived, however, when it turns out that the news of Brently's death had been untrue. With the shock of realizing that her husband is still alive and well and that the telegram pronouncing his death had been sent in error, Louise has a heart attack and dies.

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"The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin portrays one significant hour in the life of the protagonist of the story, Mrs. Louise Mallard. The narration is third person with a limited omniscient narrator telling the story.

Louise has two problems at the beginning of the story.  She has some kind of serious heart problem, and she has just been told her husband, Brently, was killed in an accident. Of course, Louise initially cannot contain her grief.  Soon, she goes to her room to rest and contemplate this life altering news. 

From the few details provided by the author, the marriage between Louise and Brently had not been unhappy.  They are apparently upper middle class with Brently as some kind of professional man. Brently believed that Louise had to be watched and cared for because of her illness.  Louise probably would have described it as smothered and mothered.

The reader learns that Louise knows that her husband loves her. Louise does have feelings for her husband.  In fact, she states that sometimes she loves him and sometimes she does not.  On the other hand, Brently apparently had complete control over Louise as she describes his "powerful will bending her." His intentions were to protect her; however, to Louise, it was a crime to impose one person's will on another person. In those late 19th century standards, their marriage was probably typical. The man ruled the home and the marriage.  The woman's purpose was to take care of the house and serve the man in all ways. 

Louise knows that she will weep for Brently again when she sees him in his coffin. Lovingly, she describes his hands as kind and tender. 

She knew she would cry 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.

The one thing that Louise is absolutely sure of is her desire for freedom: from her marriage, from the confinement for her illness, to do whatever she wanted. This she describes as a "montrous joy" because it comes from her husband's death but her complete happiness to be free.

Nothing really matters because in the end Louise is shocked by Brently's return and her loss of freedom. She falls down to the floor dead from her heart disease.   As Chopin states: she died from the "joy that kills."

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