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Growing up, I always noticed that men and women were treated differently by society where men were presented as powerful and women as powerless. Back then, the future was more promising to men than women because right after graduating from college they were able to get hired quickly. Meanwhile, women used to hang their diplomas in their houses where their future belonged. For example, “The Story of an Hour” which is a short story written by Kate Chopin, published in 1894, is about a woman named Louise Mallard who is celebrating the death of her husband, instead of mourning him. In the late 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s, women were so used to being dependent and submissive to their husbands’ demands that it was seen as normal by society. Mrs. Mallard was more happy than sad about her husband’s death because she could finally be free from what her society expected of her as a female. Based on what the author exposed in the story, I believe that the theme of the story is gender confinement because it shows how Mrs. Mallard was trapped within her marriage and had no free will. Using literary terms characterization and imagery and both the traditional and sociological critical theory approaches will show how this theme is present throughout the story.

In the past, widowed women were considered fragile, society felt that they should spoil them and also kept an eye on them. This is true of Mrs. Mallard because one way Mrs. Mallard’s character is restricted as a female is through her illness. In the first paragraph of the story, it says, “Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death” (2). Chopin portrayed Mrs. Mallard as a woman with heart trouble, which made her even more fragile and hard for her to handle bad news. However, the sad news of her husband’s death did not have any negative impact on her; she simply saw the beginning of a new life on her own. Based on Chopin’s story, we could see in the late 1800’s it was common for widowed women to be treated as children; they had no rights to express their feelings because family members and society knew better what was best for them. Furthermore, in the second line of the story, Chopin reports, “It was her sister Josephine who told her, in broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in half concealing” (2). When we focused on these words ‘Broken sentences’, and ‘veiled hints,’ they showed how careful Josephine was, fearing that something terrible might happen to her sister because of her heart problem. It also implies that women in her society were a bit broken and needed to be spoken to in simple phrases. Normally, when someone loses a loved one, people always expect him or her to be inconsolable, but this was not the case for Mrs. Mallard who pictured herself finally free. The fact that women were dependent on their husbands so for society it was hard to imagine a woman without her husband. On the contrary, in paragraph one, it is reported, “ her husband’s friend Richards had only taken the time to assure himself of its truth by a second telegram, and had hastened to forestall any less careful, less tender friend in bearing the sad message” (2). It is understandable that Richard was shocked and wanted to protect Mrs. Mallard, a frail woman, from the bad news of her husband’s death before someone else wrongly announced it to her. Meanwhile, being so overprotective and by not waiting longer to announce the news caused Mrs. Mallard to see a lot of opportunities ahead of her. This proves that before announcing any kind of news to others it is always better to make sure that it is accurate, so people won’t be disappointed.

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Through imagery, the reader can see that Mrs. Mallard’s character is impacted by the restriction she has in her marriage. Meanwhile, marriage is the symbol of unity between a man and a woman which makes them one and equal. It was not viewed that way back then in a such patriarchal society where men prevailed over women. The man was portrayed as the ruler of the house, while the woman was there to follow and obey him. Chopin describes, “There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair” (2). Why would Mrs. Mallard have a comfortable, roomy armchair facing the open window in her room? This demonstrated that she was a housewife who probably spent most of her time in her room when her husband was at work. We could see she explored the outside world from her open window and her comfortable roomy armchair. That room was where she found her freedom, where she could be herself, where she could express her feelings. When Chopin wrote this short story, it was a time when women used to stay at home to take care of children, clean the house, do laundry, and make sure there is a delicious meal on the table for the family. That was what the future held for women. Meanwhile, men were exposed to the outside world and they were free to do whatever they wanted to. It was her husband “who entered a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella” (5). Compared to Louise, who stayed in the house, her husband went to work, he was the provider. Back then men had more opportunities than women. They were able to find a job right after College which was not even the case for women. Men did not only have opportunities they were also in power; women depended on their mercies for everything. Even though a woman was working, she could not have a bank account without her husband’s authorization. Whether she had worked hard to make her money it did not matter, her husband still had to apply for a bank account for her. This showed that women were psychologically, emotionally, and physically paralyzed by how society treated them. In this line, Chopin states, “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!” (4). Why would the author describe love as an unsolved mystery in a relationship where two people are married and live together? For Mrs. Mallard, love had no significance when it came to her freedom. Even though love existed, it did not matter as long as one imposed his superiority over others. She did not want to spend her time wondering if she had loved Mr. Mallard or not while she could definitely take this time to think about her dream that would finally come true which was her freedom. In the time of Chopin, some women were well treated and loved by their husbands but still, they were limited to the exterior world, they were limited to what men were able to do, and they were also controlled by men. Nevertheless, in another line, the author states, “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” (4). Based on the description of Mr. Mallard laying in the coffin we could acknowledge that Mrs. Mallard was not in an abusive relationship because she said her husband had always looked at her with love. As long as she was longing for her independence, she also recognized that his husband’s hands were tender, and kind which showed that he was not a rough and abusive husband. However, his love was not that important to Mrs. Mallard because she could not do things the way she wanted to. Back then a person’s gender showed who was in power and who was the victim of the system in a relationship.

Mrs. Mallard’s society impacts her character’s gender identity. Whether a woman was from the upper class or lower class, whether she was educated or uneducated, women all over the world were conditioned to always depend on their husbands. In paragraph nine, Chopin declares, “There would be no one to live for, during those coming years; she would live for herself ” (4). It takes the will of two people to make a relationship work which was not the case for Mrs. Mallard. Even though Mr. Mallard loved her wife, it bothered Mrs. Mallard that she had to submit to her husband. Society represented women as being frail, incapable to think and act right which caused their rights to be taken away. Fortunately, some women were strong enough to fight for their rights which caused things to improve today. In another line, Chopin adds, “There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence which men and women believe they have the right to impose a private will upon a fellow creature” (4). Mrs. Mallard blamed men and women to think that it was fair to control someone how they felt like. Also, she advocated for her feminist rights which were violated by society and her husband. Now that her husband died in a train accident, she could finally live for herself. After all, she would not have to please him anymore. According to society, a female can’t ever realize anything without a male figure. In addition, in paragraph eleven, Mrs. Mallard says: “Go away. I am not making myself ill” (5). It clearly showed that she did not want to be bothered by anyone not even her sister Josephine who was worried that she could possibly hurt herself because of her husband’s death. In fact, she was tired of people treating her like a child. She was tired of people violating her autonomy. She felt that she did not have any rights; people knew better how she should live her life. Also, she did not see the death of her husband as others saw it. Therefore, Chopin reports, “When the doctors came they said she had died of her heart disease – of the joy that kills” (5). On the contrary, it was an opportunity for her to finally gain her freedom. The irony is that she was not happy at all to see her husband alive however she was happy to contemplate the beginning of a new chapter of her life without her husband. On the contrary, she did not die of the joy that kills she died of disappointment. Additionally, she realized she could never get away from what society expected her to be as a female. Actually, she realized her dreams would never come true, she would go back to be the prisoner and the submissive woman she used to be.

It is very powerful the way that Kate Chopin uses characterization and imagery to expose the issues of widowed women, the role of women within marriage, and women’s rights in society in the late 1800s, and 1900s. It showed that in an hour things could drastically change in someone’s life. When the story was written women did not have any rights, and they could not express their feelings. I believe if society treated women differently at that time, Mrs. Mallard would have never preferred her husband’s death over her freedom. All of these happened because there was no communication between the couple and women were not allowed to let their voices be heard. The story, also showed how society could affect someone’s life and how someone could be a victim of society’s norms. Also, it proved that we need to be careful how we spread the news because if Richard did not announce Mr. Mallard’s death so quickly, Mrs. Mallard would have never had that many expectations which led to disappointment and caused her death.

Works Cited

  1. Chopin, Kate. “ The Story of an Hour, ” Class Handout. ENG 102 A2. Fall 2019.

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