Women in “Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin
The story of an hour, written by Kate Chopin, narrates the story of Louise Mallard, a wife in a typical Victorian relationship who learns that her spouse has been murdered. The period in which the narration takes place unveils the miserable position of women in society, their roles, and the beliefs imposed on them since birth. Even women like Louise had little control over the situation in this period. Men and other conformist individuals expected women to meet particular objectives, such as remaining meek and obedient wives and mothers. The topic of independence is one of the most prominent topics in the given story. After the shock of learning that her husband has died evaporates, Louise realizes that she now has all the opportunities and freedoms to live the way she wants with this death.
In the very beginning, the reader has a chance to get acquainted with the main character, Loise Mallard. In the first chapter, Mrs. Mallard, the main character, appears to be a middle-aged woman who has health issues, more specifically, a heart condition (Chopin). Later, Chopin informs the readers that “she was young,” but what seems interesting is that she is characterized as having “a fair, tranquil face, whose lines screamed repression,” implying that the character is older than she appears to be (Chopin 259). Moreover, although Louise seems to be a very smart woman, the reader can see that she has little control over her life and choices. From here, the readers learn more about the predicament of the main character.
By providing a specific image of a woman of this time, Chopin appears to be depicting a social situation in reality. In this world, women could only apply for particular positions and were always paid less than men. Apart from that, the woman was also required to do chores around the house, such as cooking and cleaning. As a result, almost every woman lacked individuality and strength of character. They could only feel free when they were not around their husbands. Louise felt as if she was no longer in charge of her life whenever the spouse walked into the room.
From what is being shown, the reader can see that marriages were not always based on mutual love between two people. Marriage was about financial security, social status, and approval as much as it was about convenience. This can be seen from the details provided by Chopin. For example, the Mallards did not have any children, which leads readers to believe that they had no intimate relationship and were partners who only shared their last name. Although it is not mentioned how old the character is, Mrs. Mallard appears to have been trapped in this marriage for a long time, despite still being described as relatively young.
The second part of the story focuses more on the feelings of the character and analysis of her condition. For example, as has been mentioned before, the real age of the character is unknown. Nevertheless, readers can see that the woman already looks tired, and her face is rife with wrinkles. This might lead the reader to think that this could be the result of a challenging life. The woman’s ambitions were stifled by her husband, whom she probably did not even love. Moreover, heart problems and other possible health issues could also stem from this life, full of unhappiness. The character was emotionally drained after all these years and felt empty.
What is interesting is that her first name is revealed to readers after she learns of her husband’s death. Although the character is probably perplexed, this is the moment where the woman has the chance to find her true identity. This makes the reader go back to the title that is given to a woman after she is married, which is simply wife. Now, Louise was not just Mrs. Mallard, the wife of Mr. Mallard, but her personality.
This situation might be considered vital since it also reflects the notions of Mallard’s time. Apart from being obligated to follow the rules of society and meet the expectations, the woman is not even seen as a separate individual but rather a property of her husband. While it is normal upon marriage for a woman to carry her husband’s last name, it is not acceptable to see her as an object or a slave and let a part of her be lost. The readers only learn the name of Louise when her sister calls her after telling the news about Mr. Mallard.
The most devastating part is the end of the story. After learning that her husband had been killed in an accident, Mrs. Mallard went through shock, fear, and excitement for her future. Chopin explained that Mrs. Mallard had this “monstrous joy” and was eager to live all these years ahead (Chopin 260). Moreover, the reader can see the symbol of spring as the beginning of a new life. After Louise looks through the window, she sees that everything is blossoming. This also makes her blood warmer, and her pulse beats faster.
Nevertheless, the character was not destined to have a serene life after all since her husband walked through the door. Mr. Mallard was not killed, and after already imagining her freedom, Louise dies of the “joy that kills” (Chopin 260). The whole scene is ironic because everybody tried to console the wife when in reality, she took the truth well. Additionally, it is ironic that as soon as she is ready to start a new life triumphantly, her husband appears. As has been mentioned, the woman had heart issues and probably had a heart attack. However, the reader can only guess whether she died of not being able to live her life like this again, or she died of shock and health problems.
Hence, the character from The story of an hour, written by Kate Chopin, is an embodiment of every woman in the Victorian era. While many novels might romanticize this time, it is fraught with injustice and violation of basic freedom. The women were supposed to meet certain expectations, remain obedient, and be grateful for what they had without ever wishing for more. Louise lived in a man’s world, and throughout the plot, the reader sympathized with her. The reader feels devastated to see her struggles and dependence on her husband. The situation changes for everybody as soon as Louise learns about her husband’s death. Nevertheless, the happiness did not last long; Louise’s pulse started to beat faster until she saw her husband, who was alive. Unfortunately, the woman died, whether of heart problems or repulsion.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening and Selected Stories. Cengage Learning, 2018.