Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” is a short story that explores the inner thoughts and emotions of the main character, Mrs. Mallard. The story is set in the late 19th century and tells the story of Mrs. Mallard’s reaction to her husband’s death.
The story is open to a variety of interpretations, but a biographical approach can provide insight into Chopin’s own life and experiences.
Chopin was born in 1851 in St. Louis, Missouri. She came from a large family and was well-educated for a woman of her time. She married at the age of 21 and had six children. The death of her husband in 1882 left her a widow at the age of 32.
It is believed that Chopin drew on her own life experiences when she wrote “The Story of an Hour.” The story reflects the social norms of the time period, as well as Chopin’s own views on marriage and independence.
While “The Story of an Hour” is a work of fiction, it provides a glimpse into the life and thoughts of Kate Chopin. The story can be interpreted in many ways, but a biographical approach can help to understand the author’s own experiences and views.
The Story of an Hour: Is this a narrative of metamorphosis and final liberation from a male tyrannical oppressor? This paper offers a biographical analysis of Kate Chopin’s short story The Story of an Hour, which may be seen as the chronicle of Mrs. Chopin’s life and, perhaps, as a cathartic release for unfinished patriarchal wrongs.
The biographical approach will be used to connect the life of Mrs. Chopin with The Story of an Hour. In this way, a more feminist reading will be uncovered that is perhaps more in line with Mrs. Chopin’s own beliefs.
First, it is important to note some key similarities between The Story of an Hour and the life of its author, Kate Chopin. Both Mrs. Mallard and Kate Chopin were married to wealthy men who could provide them with a comfortable lifestyle (Chopin 575). They both had children (Chopin 575; Taylor 189). And, most importantly, both women experienced the death of a husband (Chopin 575; Taylor 189).
The death of Mr. Mallard leaves Mrs. Mallard “free,” albeit for a short time, from the patriarchal oppression she has experienced throughout her life (Chopin 575). For Kate Chopin, the death of her husband also marked a period of newfound freedom, albeit one that was tinged with sadness and loss.
Mr. Mallard’s death is initially met with relief by Mrs. Mallard: “Free! Body and soul free!” (Chopin 575). This relief is quickly replaced by grief as she realizes the finality of her husband’s death. However, as she reflects on her life with Mr. Mallard, she begins to see his death as a release from the oppression she has experienced: “When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips.
She said it over and over under her breath: ‘free, free, free!’ The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body” (Chopin 575-576). In this moment, Mrs. Mallard experiences a true sense of freedom for the first time in her life.
Kate Chopin also found newfound freedom after the death of her husband. In the years following his death, Chopin began to write more openly about controversial topics such as marriage, divorce, and women’s rights (Taylor 190). These were topics that she had previously been reluctant to write about because of the potential backlash from her husband and from society at large. However, with her husband no longer alive to censor her writing, Chopin felt free to explore these topics as she pleased.
In addition, the death of her husband allowed Chopin to take on a more active role in her children’s lives. She became more involved in their schooling and their extracurricular activities, and she even began traveling with them (Taylor 190). This increased involvement in her children’s lives was something that she had not been able to do while her husband was alive.
The death of Mr. Mallard, then, can be seen as a metaphor for the death of Kate Chopin’s husband. Just as Mrs. Mallard experienced a newfound sense of freedom after her husband’s death, so too did Kate Chopin. The death of her husband allowed her to write more freely about controversial topics and to take on a more active role in her children’s lives. In this way, The Story of an Hour can be seen as a portrayal of Kate Chopin’s own life experiences.
While The Story of an Hour is clearly based on Kate Chopin’s own life experiences, it also contains elements that are not based on her life at all. For example, while Kate Chopin’s husband died of a heart attack, Mr. Mallard dies in a train accident (Chopin 575; Taylor 189). It is possible that Chopin chose to have Mr. Mallard die in a train accident because it was a more dramatic way for him to die than simply of a heart attack.
However, it is also possible that the train accident symbolizes the ways in which Mrs. Mallard’s life has been controlled by her husband up until this point. The train is an industrial machine that moves according to a set schedule and route. In other words, it is something that is completely controlled by man. This symbolism suggests that Mrs. Mallard’s life has been similarly controlled by her husband up until his death. The train accident, then, can be seen as a metaphor for the ways in which Mrs. Mallard has been oppressed by her husband.
As a nearly middle-aged, conservative, anti-feminist woman, I enjoy intellectually and politically challenging myself. The Story of an Hour caught my attention for a variety of reasons. Its ultimate tone is one of utter defeat; the writing is full with political undercurrents, imagery and symbolism are employed in amazing and creative ways; and its end message is one of despair.
The main character is a woman who, upon hearing of her husband’s death, reacts with an array of emotions that can be seen as natural human responses to loss. The story challenges the reader to analyze the inner workings of a person’s mind during tragedy, and how different individuals deal with death in their own ways.
One could argue that The Story of an Hour is a feminist piece, due to the fact that it depicts a woman who is seemingly oppressed by her marriage, and ultimately finds freedom and joy in her husband’s death. However, I would argue that the story is not necessarily feminist, but rather humanist. The story does not focus on the struggles that women face within society, but instead focuses on the inner emotions of one woman during a time of tragedy. In this way, the story is relatable to anyone who has experienced loss, regardless of gender.
The story is also interesting from a political standpoint. The undercurrents of Chopin’s writing suggest that perhaps she was not entirely happy with the state of affairs in her own life. The main character’s newfound freedom after her husband’s death can be seen as a metaphor for the struggles that women faced during Chopin’s lifetime. The fact that the main character dies at the end of the story could be interpreted as Chopin’s belief that women were ultimately powerless against the societal norms of her time.