The story chosen for this essay is Kate Chopin’s Story of an Hour. It a compact yet dramatically powerful short story, located in the milieu of 19th century American South. The protagonist of the story is Louise Mallard, a woman somewhat trapped in an unfulfilling marriage to Mr. Brently Mallard. Louise is diagnosed with a heart condition, making her vulnerable to sudden tragic news and events. It is in this context that the news of the demise of her husband in a railroad accident is gently revealed to her by her brother in law. (Chopin, par.2) The immediate emotions experienced by Louise were natural. She feels sorrow, loss and feels shattered. Her sobbing reflects her emotions. This much is expected behavior from a bereaved wife. But Chopin’s statement on the nature of the institution of marriage unravels in the second half of the short story.
As Louise lay sunken in the large arm chair facing her window, her mood undergoes a change. Form one of remorse and loss it suddenly senses a vista of potent joy. At first she could not locate what exactly that inner stirring is. Then occurs the moment of illumination – she realizes that she has been liberated from a lifetime of repression and subordination. She exults in the possibility of spending the rest of her life for her own sake and not for her husband or family. (Chopin, par.6) This is a strong statement by Chopin on what she thinks of the institution of marriage, especially as it applies to women. There is no ambiguity in the author’s message that women are largely repressed and oppressed in their married lives. This is despite the fact that Mr. Brently Mallard is no cruel monster. Louise admits to herself that Brently did show love towards her, though not adequately. He did fulfill his duties as a family man. Yet, and here is the strong feminist message, it was a patronizing sort of love and caring that he seemed to have displayed. He had given his own views more merit than hers and maintained inequity in the marital relationship. Perverted as it seems to the reader, what thrilled Louise is the understanding that she can spend the rest of her life as subordinate to none. She can live her life in her own terms, as opposed to the preferences and prejudices of the patriarch of the house.
Hence, The Story of an Hour is an indictment of the institution of marriage, to the extent that it affects women’s equality, liberty and dignity. The wicked irony is that Louise gets a big heart attack when her husband makes an unexpected appearance at the house (having fortuitously missed boarding the train that met with accident). It is the sight of him, and the knowledge that her life is going to remain the same, that induces a massive heart attack in Louise and she dies. (Chopin, par.9) This is a powerful statement on part of Chopin that equality, liberty and dignity are of paramount importance to women. If they are taken away, as was the case in Louise’ married life, the woman is as good as dead.
Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour, 1894. Web. 30th May, 2013. Retrieved from: <http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/webtexts/hour/>