June 29, 2015 by Pink Gunpowder
English Composition 1
In this critique I would like to examine the ways in which Chopin addresses feminism and the Institution of Marriage in her work “The Story of an hour”. According to Floramaria Deter at about.com, “Chopin actively searched for female spiritual emancipation, which she found and expressed in her writing. She looked for an understanding of personal freedom that questioned conventional demands of both men and women.”(Deter, about.com) “The Story of an Hour” is a good example of this.
When the idea of “socially imposed monogamy was introduced in ancient Greece and Rome forms of de facto polygamy (concubines, sex with slaves, etc.) were still tolerated.”(Price, Psychology Today) However, these de facto forms of Polygamy were only acceptable among men. According to most major religions as well as society’s traditional view of marriage, women were required to submit and conform to the will of their husbands. This literary piece addresses this in a very eloquent and non-violent manner.
Throughout the Story of an Hour, Chopin makes very clear her feelings, regarding the Institution of Marriage. The story begins by introducing us to Mrs. Mallard, describing her as a frail woman with a weak heart. Josephine, Mrs. Mallard’s sister, was to break the news regarding her husband’s death as gently to her as possible, “in broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in half concealing”(Chopin, 1894). When news was first received by Mrs. Mallard she had a brief moment of agonizing grief, before realizing the freedom that the death of her husband has provided. An example of her grief is stated in, “She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her”(Chopin. 1894).
While in her room Mrs. Mallard sat down in an armchair and began gazing out the window. She noticed all of the new life and energy throughout her neighborhood. This is a good example of Mrs. Mallard transforming her grief into excitement and a new beginning, “She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which some one was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.”(Chopin, 1894) S. Selina Jamel stated it best in, Emotions in The Story of an Hour, “As nature returns to life after winter, so Louise’s emotions return to life after a prolonged winter of patriarchal confinement.”(Jamel, 2009)
The statement regarding new life, the delicious breath of rain, these are all positive connotations’ regarding what is going on around her. The fact that she was able to look and see such beauty and positivity, tells me that she was not as distraught about her husband’s death as society would like her to be. Another good example of her tendency towards the positivity is when it is stated, “She said it over and over under her breath: free, free, free”(Chopin, 1894). Mrs. Mallard felt she was now free. Free from the oppression of marriage, free from the pressure to conform to another’s will, free to pursue the remainder of her life however she chooses.
Louise, as she is now referred to, has become her own person. This is significantly demonstrated in the change of reference regarding Louise. Prior to her realization that her life was now her own. She was only referred to as Mrs. Mallard, a woman with no identity or individuality, other than that of being her husband’s wife. She now has a name, an identity, aspirations, dreams; she is no longer only known as Mrs. Mallard but as Louise. The statement above correlating with the title change gives me a good idea of Chopin’s view on marriage. She states within the text that people impose persistently his or her own will onto others. She then placed this idea in the context of marriage and did not introduce Mrs. Mallard as Louise, until she had realized the potential of a life lived for oneself. “Free! Body and soul free (Chopin, 1894)”, further stresses Chopin’s feelings. This feeling of joy and freedom; however, is short lived. Upon descending the stairs of her home, Louise looked up and low and behold there was her husband, unmarked, unscathed, and alive. In that instant Mrs. Mallard returns and her dreams of Louise disappear. Once the realization of continued oppression hits, her heart gives out and Mrs. Mallard passes away. She has died of, “the joy that kills (Chopin. 1894)”.
I would have liked to have seen a little more emphasis on the ending. I am assuming Louise saw her husband but it doesn’t specifically state that she did. The deliberate omission of clarity regarding this lends itself to speculation. The reader does not know exactly what Chopin was trying to convey.
Chopin expressed her feelings regarding marriage and relationships in the Story of an Hour. I believe that this was an excellent example of how Chopin used her writing to share her displeasure in the inequality of women. It was a powerful piece of literature. Chopin managed to speak eloquently about an otherwise controversial and emotional topic.
- Chopin, K., & Chopin, K. (2001). The story of an hour. Logan, Iowa: Perfection Learning.
- Deter, F. (n.d.). Kate Chopin: In Search of Freedom. Retrieved June 29, 2015, from http://classiclit.about.com/cs/articles/a/aa_insearch.htm
- Jamil, S. (n.d.). Emotions in the Story of an Hour. The Explicator, 215-220. Retrieved June 29, 2015.
- Price, M. (n.d.). Why We Think Monogamy Is Normal. Retrieved June 29, 2015, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/darwin-eternity/201109/why-we-think-monogamy-is-normal