“The Story of an Hour” is a short story by Kate Chopin. It tackles how women crave for their own happiness instead of just adhering to the social expectations — that they will be fulfilled and be happiest only in marriage.
Chopin was born in 1850 in St. Louis, Missouri. She followed a conventional path of a housewife and a mother until her husband’s death. Her obstetrician and a family friend advised her to fight depression by writing. She took the advise to heart, and she became one of the first feminist authors and introduced the modern feminist literary movement in the 20th century.
Her short story, “The Story of An Hour,” can be viewed as a semi-autobiographical sketch of Chopin’s life. Similar to the main character, the death of Chopin’s husband pushed her beyond the roles of a wife and mother and onto the life of an artist.
The story started by introducing the main character, Mrs. Mallard, and discussing her heart condition. Richards, her husband’s friend received the news that Mrs. Mallard’s husband died due to an accident, and Josephine broke the news to her. Most wives are dumbfounded when they find out that they’ve lost their husbands — but not Mrs. Mallard. She was not paralyzed by the idea of losing the man in her life. She reacted immediately, had shown her emotions, and instructed everyone to leave her alone, so she can contemplate by herself. All these actions show that she is a woman who knows her mind — or at least starting to.
When the news sank in, she suddenly became aware of her surroundings, “as if seeing the world for the first time.” She saw patches of the blue sky — which I think represents rays of hope for independence she was craving for her whole life.
But it should be noted that she isn’t some heartless person who didn’t even mourn her lost husband. She loved him “sometimes.” And she felt the blankness and terror of losing him for the first few minutes after receiving the news. She even doubted the “monstrous joy” she was feeling — the kind of overpowering feeling that may be too fragile or too dangerous to even fathom. When she thought of seeing her dead husband’s face, who only looked at her with love, she knew that she would weep again. For what? We don’t know for sure. But perhaps the comfort of being loved and provided for can be difficult to let go, even for Mrs. Mallard whose eyes indicated “a suspension of intelligent thought.” But her doubts quickly turned into excitement when she thought of the freedom that lies ahead, when she “opened her arms to welcome the years to come that would belong to her absolutely.”
She prayed that life would be long because then, there will be no one to bend her will “in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.”
Mrs. Mallard, upon the death of her husband became her own person, with her own will, cause, and dreams. She realized that self-assertion is the strongest impulse of her being, as it should be for all women.
She kept whispering, “Free. Body and soul, free.” And Chopin finally addressed the character via her first name, Louise, and not Mrs. Mallard — her husband’s name, indicating that she is — was — owned by someone. She contemplated the beautiful days ahead that will be her own, and even prayed that life will be long — even though the same thought made her shudder the day before. That’s because now, she has a noble reason to live, not just for her husband but for herself. She won over the constraints of her gender, which hindered her ability to seek a more fulfilling life — just like Chopin did.
This is evident when Louise opened the door with a “feverish triumph in her eyes and carried herself like a goddess of Victory.”
This story, though without a happy ending, reminds us that women don’t have to stick to the norms they’re expected to live by. People, regardless of gender, are entitled to choose and be fulfilled with the life they want. Chopin is clearly a woman ahead of her time, and it is bittersweet to think that her works are still relevant today. A century after Kate Chopin’s death, her works still encourage women to break the constraints of being a woman and seek the life we truly desire.