“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin is a short story about an hour in the main character, Mrs. Mallard’s, life. She is a young woman with heart trouble. When the bad news about her husband’s death arrives, her sister Josephine and her husband’s friend Richard have to break the horrifying news to her as gently as possible because they are concerned about her health. “She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment in her sisters arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself, she went away to her room alone (Chopin 15). She would have no one follow her. It was shortly after that moment that her grieving would suddenly turn to joy, which Mrs. Mallard did not even expect. However, Mrs. Mallard’s joy is not due to the death of her husband, it is due to her being free.
Some readers find her to be very selfish, cold and even heartless, to celebrate the death of another person, others may say that she was a victim, perhaps having no identity other than her husband’s name and maybe even being controlled or abused. After Mrs. Mallard goes upstairs alone, she cries and locks herself in her room. What will her life become of now that Mr. Mallard is gone? What will she do without him? She gets a feeling that she does not expect, a feeling that she even begins to fear as she was unsure of herself at that moment of the reason why. She now
feels her grief changing to joy. What is this feeling about? She cannot possibly be rejoicing at the death of her husband? “There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was to subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air” (Chopin 15). Was she finally free from an unhappy marriage, free from a controlling husband whom she hated so and would rather have him dead? Or was she simply just free to be her own person, have her own identity? Free from the worries of taking care of two, and now only having to worry about one. She was embracing her new found independence.
In the latter 1800’s, around when Mrs. Mallard lived, men and women had very specific roles. Women were completely controlled by the men in their lives. First by their fathers, brothers and male relatives and finally by their husbands. Their sole purpose in life is to find a husband, reproduce and then spend the rest of their lives serving him. Women knew they would be financially provided for, for the rest of their lives, protected from the outside world, and be viewed as having filled society's ultimate role for woman: as a loving companion to man and one who truly made a house into a warm, welcoming home. "Whatever have been the cares of the day, greet your husband with a smile when he returns. Make your personal appearance just as beautiful as possible. Let him enter rooms so attractive and sunny that all the recollections of his home, when away from the same, shall attract him back. It is the wife's responsibility to provide her husband a happy home... the single spot of rest which a man has upon this earth for the cultivation of his noblest sensibilities" (Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms, 1888). If a woman were to decide to remain single, she would be ridiculed and pitied by the community. Divorce was so scandalous and stigmatized and would not have been an option for Mrs. Mallard.
Women did not have rights or an equal say. Men looked forward to marriage because it provided for them a companion who would give them a happy respite from the harsh realities of the working world, and also provided for them a permanent sexual companion. Mr. Mallard was first and foremost the leader of the home. He was the ultimate decision maker, the provider and the protector of his family. Marriage was as much about monetary comfort, social status and acceptance as it was about possible love.
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