Feminist analysis of K. Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”

This story in and of itself seems to be rather straight forward with an ironic twist and some feminist undertones. The time in which it was written, women didn’t have much in the way of power. Actually, in the 1890’s, they had no power in society or in their own lives. The fact that the other characters are so delicate in handling the protagonist Mrs. Mallard, shows both concern for her because of her heart condition and the fact they were conditioned by society to believe women were weak and unable to handle such devastating news without reacting badly.
The lines below are her being afraid of her own emotions, of her own relief about her freedom simply because it had been drummed into her for her whole life that she was to not have positive emotions about such an event like her husband’s passing.
“Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will–as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been.”
Also, the author has a more stark point about the powerlessness of women with the line
“…as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been.”
Along with the fear of her own emotions about her husband’s death she has this sense of helplessness when it comes to controlling anything at all in her life. The character of Louise Mallard also realizes that she didn’t always love her husband, sure she did sometimes, but it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows.
The character then has a very feminist like epiphany. She realizes with the death of her husband she is free to live her life as herself without having to obey his will anymore, free to be herself. Yet, as has already been mentioned, she is scared at first at such a revelation because she had been conditioned all of her life that it was natural for men and women to marry and for the men to control the women until the day death did they part. I support that with these lines from the text:
“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. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination. “
However she does see this as her becoming more enlightened on how life worked. She is happy after finally coming to this conclusion though she knows she will still mourn her husband,
“She knew that she would weep again 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. “
Yet she is still happy to be, as it is written in the story,
“Free! Body and Soul free!”
Another reason it is extremely easy to get a feminist reading of this story would be how the sister is portrayed. Josephine is what would seem to be the typical patriarchal woman, seemingly having accepted her role as submissive to men and that women are weak. This is able to be gotten from how she acts whenever her sister locks herself in her room, convinced her sister isn’t strong enough to work through her grief alone.
“Louise, open the door! I beg; open the door–you will make yourself ill. What are you doing, Louise? For heaven’s sake open the door.”
While it is able to be seen as sisterly love, it is also, partially societal conditioning. Josephine is also described in a weak position. She doesn’t speak directly to her sister about the death of her husband she, instead, uses “…broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in half concealing.” She is also kneeling at her sister’s door. I think this particular position was chosen to both show how worried the character of Josephine was about her sister’s well-being. It also showed how weak the character was from the fact that kneeling is an act of submission.
Whereas the character of Richard, the friend, is portrayed as strong almost in direct contrast to the two female characters initially, as he came to prevent any “less careful, less tender friend” from trying to break the news to the weak woman character of Louise Mallard. He is further shown in a position of power by the fact he was in the newspaper office and heard the first report of Brently Mallard’s “death” for knowledge is power.
The conclusion of this story is ironic yet at the same time thought provoking. With rumors of Brently Mallard’s death being extremely over exaggerated and his wife dying from the shock of seeing him alive after accepting he was dead. The irony is actually two-fold: Brently isn’t the one dead at the end of the story, Louise is and Louise is free from her husband’s control at the end of it too, just not in the way she had originally thought.
The fact the doctor’s describe her heart attack as “the joy that kills” shows patriarchal bias that she died from relief and/or overwhelming joy that her “beloved” husband wasn’t actually dead after all. Her thoughts earlier don’t seem to match this assessment. As I have already pointed out, she was able to admit she didn’t always love her husband. My textual evidence,
“And yet she had loved him–sometimes. Often she had not,”
This is why I believe that she died from shock of her husband being alive. True, she would have been slightly happy to see he was alive. However, I believe shock was the ultimate factor in her heart going into arrest because when I’ve been really happy, I can’t remember having my heart palpitate much, but if, say, something were to startle me, I find my heart beats harder. Therefore C.O.D. was the shock of seeing Brently Mallard.
Having the woman die at the end may not be very feminist, per say, but the fact her death implies she was still free from her husband it is still slightly feminist. The story rich with textual clues that hint at feminism, some more overt than others, The Story of and Hour lends itself very easily to a feminist reading.

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1 Comment

  1. hpowers1968 said,

    October 19, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    100/100

    I love this phrase: “a very feminist like epiphany”


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