The short story “The Story of an Hour” written by Kate Chopin in 1894 has attracted the people even now because of the relevance of the theme involved in it in the present world. Even though Kate Chopin was a controversial writer in the nineteenth century because of her debatable stands on certain social issues, she is currently regarded as one among the greatest writers of the nineteenth century. Feminism was an unknown topic in the nineteenth century and the portraying of women’s roles in marriage and feminine identity through her short story “The Story of an Hour” has created many debates in the society at that time. This story explains different emotions faced by a woman within an hour of knowing the death her husband in the nineteenth century.
This core of this story describes a woman’s (Mrs. Mallard) reaction to the news of her husband’s (Mr. Mallard) sudden death and to the subsequent news that he is, in fact, alive. Even though initially Mrs. Mallard suffered certain agony and disgust at the death of her beloved husband, she has realized that the death of her husband made her free in her social life. In other words, the initial agony has given way for joy later. But when she realized that her husband was alive she suffered heart attack and that also out of joy of knowing the fact that her husband was alive. The immense emotional and spiritual ‘awakening’ and transformation of Mrs. Mallard, after her husband’s death, revealed the overwhelming oppression she faced during the marriage from her husband and society
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And yet she had loved him–sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being! “Free! Body and soul free!” she kept whispering (Chopin).
The initial emotion of sorrow of Mrs. Mallard after hearing the news of her husband’s death was came out of her and spiritual ‘awakening’. In other words, she was a person who respected spirituality. In other words, spirituality taught her that the husband and wife are one and the same after the marriage and they should be closely attached emotionally and physically. Christianity taught her that after marriage the wife should service the husband properly and they should unite in the name of Jesus Christ. Moreover the Bible taught her that after marriage they were not two separate entities, but a single entity emotionally or spiritually even though physically they were separated. In short, her initial sorrow with respect to the accidental demise of her husband was the result of her strong belief in the spirituality.
At the same time during the nineteenth century, women were forced to live in a male dominant society in which the women forced to limit their activities only in housekeeping cooking bearing and rearing children. They were not allowed to participate freely in social life and even the voting rights were denied to them. Employers have shown no mercy at them and discriminated them by hiring them for tough jobs and paying them less than men for the same work. Mrs. Mallard’s husband was also a typical husband of that century. He also showed no mercy at her in his dealings.
She was striving to beat it back with her will”, indicates that she is still resisting those newfound feelings that has been buried in her for so long, “free, free, free!”, she realizes in a rush of emotions that even took herself by surprise that she is no longer have to answer to anyone and give up her freewill, “ her pulse beat fast and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body”, indicated her regaining her health and lifeblood now that the emotional stress was letting up(Chopin).
The feelings expressed by Mrs. Mallard after hearing the news of Mr. Mallard was a mixed one. In fact she was in an agony whether to become sad or happy after knowing her husband’s death. It was a competition between spirituality and reality. According to the spiritual norms and religious traditions, she should feel sorrow at her husband’s death. But the life with her husband was not a pleasant one for her because of the male dominance in the society. The death of her husband made her free form the dominance of the male and her instincts forced her to become happy as she was able to lead free life after getting freedom from husband’s control.
Someone was opening the front door with a latchkey. It was Brently Mallard who entered, a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella. He had been far from the scene of the accident, and did not even know there had been one. He stood amazed at Josephine’s piercing cry; at Richards’ quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife. When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease–of the joy that kills (Chopin).
Even though the story developed through a struggle between spirituality and reality, finally spirituality succeeds in this story. The above quotes from the story clearly revealed that Mrs. Mallard faced death not because of the shock or sorrow in seeing her husband alive, but because of the joy after seeing her husband alive. In other words, Chopin tried to establish the supremacy of spirituality over reality through this story. She was indirectly saying that what we see or experience in this world is not real, but imaginary. In her opinion, the feelings or gains in this physical world are temporary and hence it is better to look for the permanent gains through spirituality.
Kate Chopin believed that all marriages even if the husbands were kind ones, are oppressive basically. Mrs. Mallard admits that her husband was kind and loving compared to the many other husbands of the nineteenth century. Still she developed a feeling of happiness in an hour after the drama of her husband’s death story. Even though Mrs. Mallard has not revealed any specific incidents about the oppression she has faced in her family life, the inherent feeling about the marriage and oppression from the male community is visible in her visible emotions. The author has indirectly expressed her opinion that even the heart trouble developed by Mrs. Mallard was as a result of both physical and emotional unhappiness with her lack of freedom after marriage.
Kate Chopin has portrayed the pathetic conditions of women in the nineteenth century through her story “The Story of An Hour”. She has argued that the nineteenth century women were at an agony of whether to feel happy or sad at the demise of their husbands. Spirituality forced them to feel sad whereas the realities they faced in their life forced them to become happy at the demise of their husbands. In other words, this story explains the immense emotional and spiritual ‘awakening’ and transformation during the nineteenth century among women community. The feminism and the struggle for female equality have started taking inspirations from the stories like these.