An Examination of Kate Chopin's The Story of An Hour
Catherine (Kate) O’Flaherty, better known as Kate Chopin, was born in St. Louis, Missouri on 8 February 1850 into a prominent family. Her father was Irish and mother of French decent; thus she was brought up speaking both English and French (Koloski, B. 2010). Her upbringing was much like many girls growing up in the late 19th Century. She grew up during the time of emergence for equality in America, more specifically the abolition of slavery, with feminism in its infancy. In 1889, Kate began writing fictional stories as a means of taking care of her six children after the death of her husband. One of her most controversial writings was The Awakening , in which a woman is faced with decisions against social norms and conventional gender roles (Ringe, D. A. 1972). It is evident the pronounced presence of oppression in which she would most definitely have experienced, either directly or indirectly, influenced her writing and the role of her contributions to the rise of feminism. Kate’s writing encompasses personal events and ideals within her own life.
The Story of an Hour is a short story which describes the emotional response a widow expresses both initially and within the time of an hour after she is notified of her husband’s tragic death. The thing which makes the story so attractive is the anticipation of the reaction of the widower, Mrs. Mallard. Will her heart cease to beat due to a broken heart and her affliction? Will the death of her husband anger her or will she be overcome with sorrow? Also, the imagery described is easy to imagine as most everyone has experienced these sensations, for example, “…The delicious breath of rain was in the air… and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves” (Clugston, R.W. 2010). The situation itself, maybe easy to relate to for most individuals, as most everyone has experienced the loss of a loved one. The ability of the reader to connect to the environment and the main character is engaging, enticing the reader to read further in order to satisfy their need for closure. The author takes the reader through multiple emotional twist and turns with a surprise ending. This too, is what makes the writing so appealing.
Many of Kate Chopin’s writings explore the roles of women during the late 19th Century and challenge the boundaries of social guidelines. A Biographical/Historical approach will clearly examine the motivations of Mrs. Chopin’s literary methodology. It is evident her literature was influenced by the days in which she lived. Her works scrutinize the subjects of racial and female oppression. Desiree’s Baby, LaBelle Zoraide , and Neg Creol are all literary compositions which illustrate the attitude of the writer towards racism. Moreover, The Storm , Awakenings , and A Respectable Woman delve deep into the psyche of women struggling to overcome personal struggles and moral principles of the times. Not only does the writer include subject matter which was personally significant to her, but there are hints of her private life interlaced within her literature. In The Story of An Hour, Mrs. Mallard believes she has lost her husband to a tragic railroad accident. When she was only five years of age, Kate’s father was also killed in a railroad disaster. After her father’s death, she was surrounded by strong and dominant female role models, which assuredly affirmed her realization women were capable and able to survive without a man’s support. Kate’s husband “allowed” her freedoms and although she did not consider herself oppressed, it would be difficult for her to ignore conventional social and political ideals of her time.
The Story of An Hour discovers the true thoughts of a woman who imagines her life without her husband. Although, initially she is clearly distraught over his death, the obvious anticipated emotion of a widowed wife; she is overcome with joy over the prospect of being free. “She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But 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” (Clugston, R.W. 2010).
The oppressive nature of her marriage is distinctly described in the writing. The literature also suggests Mrs. Mallard concealed her personal feelings of suppression and unhappiness, as it is obvious friends and family members expect her to be so distressed over the news, she could compromise her own health. In the end, her husband walks through the door, with no knowledge of the current events which have taken place in the past hour. Mrs. Mallard is overwhelmed with the awareness her husband is still alive; thus she collapses to her death. Friends and family are convinced her heart gave out due the overpowering emotion of joy, but that is not the case. Ironically, Mrs. Mallard acquires the freedom she so yearned for in the end. The Story of An Hour is certainly a direct example of the prominent presence of oppression of the current time period. Kate Chopin’s personal experiences in life were significantly influential in many of her writings and are evident in The Story of An Hour.
Clugston, R. W. (2010). Connecting: entering into a literary experience. In Journey into literature. Retrieved October 2, 2011, from Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
Koloski, B. (2010, May). Kate Chopin biography. Retrieved October 2, 2011, from Kate Chopin International Society website: http://www.katechopin.org/biography.shtml
Ringe, D. A. (1972, January). Romantic imagery in Kate Chopin's The Awakening. Retrieved October 2, 2011, from Duke University Press website: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2924655