Like most of Chopin’s work, this story is a major sociopolitical force that confronted gender inequality and female powerlessness when women’s suffrage and feminist movements had barely started in the United States. The author’s life significantly influences the story, particularly her defiance of conventional gender roles. In most of Chopin’s writings, she asserts personal opinions in support of women’s sexual freedom and independence and confronts the female roles she considers repressive. The story of an Hour is, therefore, among Chopin’s numerous efforts to address the plight of women.
Similarity with Chopin’s Life
The short story reflects the author’s view that marriage is repressive in a woman’s life. Although the female protagonist loves her husband dearly, she rejoices once the storm of grief regarding her husband’s death subsides. The protagonist keeps whispering, “Free! Body and soul free!” and shows “a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory” (Chopin). Instead of remaining a grieving widow, Mrs. Mallard celebrates the death of her husband because it promises a newfound freedom that a woman in this era can only achieve through her husband’s death.
Similarly, while the unexpected death of her husband Oscar was devastating, the author eventually embraced the subsequent freedom and even went as far as engaging in an affair with a married man. Unlike most New Orleans homemakers within her social circle, Chopin had always been a free spirit. She smoked and participated passionately in discussions regarding social and political issues, which was uncommon for women in her days, and hence considered scandalous and unconventional.
Notably, married women were considered their husbands’ property and were totally without status or rights. Patriarchy facilitated male domination that oversaw rigid control over female thoughts and actions by enforcing religious and legal sanctions on married women. Consequently, married women had limited control of their bodies, procreation, home decision-making, and property within their marriages.
Because women were considered their husbands’ legal property, they had to only live for their men and families while they (husbands) were alive. Chopin illustrates this by writing, “There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself” (Chopin). Women got to live life for themselves following the demise of their husbands, which shows why both protagonist and the author celebrate the newfound independence following their husbands’ deaths.
The literary devices Chopin uses in the story describe the protagonist’s feelings after her husband’s death provides the freedom most women in this era desire. Chopin uses personification to attribute human characteristics like behavior and emotions to inanimate objects. For instance, she writes, “When the storm of grief had spent itself, she went away to her room alone” (Chopin).
Here, the author assigns human behavior to a storm to emphasize how relieved the protagonist eventually becomes once she discovers her newfound freedom after receiving the news of her husband’s death and grieving momentarily. Personification is, therefore, an effective application use of figurative language Chopin uses to make or illustrate the point of female oppression.
The author uses situational, dramatic, and verbal irony throughout the story. Situational irony highlights the protagonist’s implausible happiness she experiences once she realizes that her husband did not die in the accident. Mr. Mallard’s friends try to get him out of his wife’s way because her heart’s condition subjects her to the ‘joy that kills’, yet his return will kill the freedom his death would have brought. Irony mostly occurs because the protagonist’s feelings and behavior contradict the audience’s or characters’ expectations. Overall, the main purpose of irony in the story is to explain the theme of female oppression.
Chopin also uses similes to compare objects and create vivid images in the readers’ minds. For instance, Chopin writes, “…and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory” (Chopin). Here, the author uses the device to help readers understand the protagonist’s happiness once she realizes she is a free woman despite being recently widowed. The device, therefore, enriches and supports the theme of the plight of married women during the author’s time.
Female oppression and powerlessness is the main theme in Chopin’s story. A woman’s role in the 19th century was limited to the sphere of domesticity, where female virtue was associated with submission, piety, and domesticity. Men and women existed within different spheres, with women occupying the domestic and private spheres encompassing caring for their households and childbearing. Such gender expectations left women with limited rights and were considered under coverture when married because they became the man’s property. Chopin writes, “But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely” (Chopin) to show how being widowed promised Mrs. Mallard freedom from the shackles of knowledge because she would reclaim her life and live for herself. Chopin, therefore, writes to challenge the woman’s place in society by focusing on the protagonist’s powerlessness and her relief when she thinks that her husband’s death saves her from a marriage she does not want to be in. Chopin also shows that women can be strong if conditions are right and human as she confronts the conflict between female oppression and male dominance as she highlights the protagonist’s change from the point she is told that her husband is dead.
Conclusively, The Story of an Hour confronts female oppression and male dominance that always led to women’s powerlessness in the 19th century. Chopin uses various devices, including similes, irony, and personification, to enrich and support this theme and contribute to the feminist efforts toward women’s suffrage. The story is also significantly similar to the author’s experience, especially her defiance of conventional gender roles that prevailed during her time as well as the sexual freedom and independence she gained after her husband’s death. The narration is, therefore, among Chopin’s numerous efforts to address the plight of women and an invaluable force that contributed to gender equality efforts despite its controversy.
Chopin, Kate. The story of an hour. Jimcin Recordings, 1981.