The Story of an Hour: A Feminist Critique
October 3, 2011
There are many ways to read a story and there are many different theories to apply to any given story. While reading Kate Choplin’s, The Story of an Hour, it is not difficult to apply a Feminist lens to said story. It is a rather somber story of a woman who thought she had her whole life ahead of her, free to do what she willed, until her husband, for all intensive purposes, rose from the dead. She is given an opportunity to see how free her life will be without her husband and his strong hand. However, this hopefulness is cut short and thus she is deprived her opportunity to experience her life in full. Though very short in length, this story exhibits a large scale sense of the suppression of women by men. It also gives a very realistic sense of what marriage really was to some, probably many, women of the time the story was written.
A key theme of the story is repression and the eventual freedom of feminine emotion. At first, Mallard is fearful of her life without her husband. The husband that suppressed her for so long. This is shown in the following line, “She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms”. Her grief is understandable, but it doesn’t last. The narration goes, “There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name”. This shows that when her grief subsided, she was able to see that there was something much better in her future than marriage. However, she was still afraid of this thing, freedom. Eventually as the story continues, she begins to wake up in a sense, “she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome”. As she beings to realize that her husband is out of the picture and cannot control her any longer, “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”. This sense of freedom is able to stave her grief and enliven her with a new feeling, a feeling of release and joy.She realizes that what she has now is more important than what she had before. Her grief subsides to make room for a much better emotion, joy.
Though story does not give it’s reader any indication of said suppression, but Mallard’s state of mental alleviation after her husband’s death is enough of an indication. Another key aspect of this story is the idea of marriage and what it meant to a woman at the time. Mrs. Mallard’s marriage is described as follows, “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”. She resolves that even though she loved him at certain points in the stream of time, that it wasn’t enough to make her wish for him to be alive again. Her possession of her new found freedom was even stronger than her vows of holy matrimony. There is also another message encoded in this story. A message that urges women to become aware of how foolish the notion of marriage is and how cherished a sense of freedom should be. As her eyes open in that moment of clarity, Mallard thinks, “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”. In this the female reader is urged to not be blinded by the idea that anyone has a right to impose their will on another. She even acknowledges that it didn’t matter if the intention was good or bad, it was still an abomination to her. However, her moment of clarity is described as brief and this is where the story takes it’s position as a tragedy.
Perhaps, the title of the story itself is an indicator of the tragic shortness of her joy.”The Story of an Hour“, an hour is a very short period of time in the grand scheme of life. Though the story does not explicitly state that the time period is only an hour, the briefness of her joy compared to the rest of her life is reflected in the use of the time interval in the title of the story. The story uses time in another way as well in the following lines, “There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself”. This line heightens the tragedy of Mrs. Mallards eminent death. She set herself out to live for herself in the future, but she never got the chance to actually do it. Her, ” fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long”. She was using all of her own will to keep her new found freedom alive and she was dreaming of all the things she was going to do. She even reminds herself of how scared she was before her husbands death, scared that her life would end up being long and how differently she feels at this new point in her life. Her joy was abound, which makes the ending of the story utterly tragic. This story is one of freedom, but a very short lived freedom. Yes, Mrs. Mallard was able to experience a sense of freedom from her husband and marriage, but unfortunately that feeling was cut short by the very man that kept her from experiencing it earlier.