During the 19th century, the role of women and men was sharply defined as a line that may never be crossed. Men were dictated to work while their wives were attending to their domestic duties. Likewise, women were forced to adhere to the standards placed on them such as preparing themselves for marriage. The ideology of this line was to represent the contrast between the two genders, both in their natural characteristics and their political power. Kate Chopin, the author of many feminist works of literature, encompasses this idea of patriarchy and systematic oppression in her short story, “The Story of an Hour.” She focuses on the life of Mrs. Mallard, a woman struggling with a heart problem and the death of her husband. This untimely death came with the unfolding emotional state of a woman oppressed by her marriage for years. It is a literary piece that reinforces the unending gender roles and stereotypes that are placed on women. Kate Chopin proves this in, “The Story of an Hour”, by focusing on the power differences in the 19th century, and how the main protagonist struggles with her own societal expectations and oppression.
Foremost, the story takes place in the 19th century which was a time that greatly expressed the power differences between men and women. Mrs. Mallard, who is the main protagonist in the story, is an example of the consequences of following the patriarchal laws and furthering these power differences. From the beginning of the novel, it was indicated that Mrs. Mallard had to compromise in order to please her husband. She gives up her freedoms, which was common for a woman in the 19th century, and loses her power in order to get married. These dynamics were set in order to place women in a lower priority power compared to men, and the narrator even states, “there would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself.” (Chopin, 1). The power that is shown here is the power of men to be able to work whereas women were set to be housewives; it is an implication of the stereotype that women should be domestic and submissive. It is also an illustration of Mrs. Mallard’s family and how deeply integrated her life was with these societal complications. Furthermore, Mrs. Mallard’s life was anything but extraordinary. In fact, Mrs. Mallard doesn’t seem to share the same love her husband has, furthering the idea of forced marriages. “She loved him- sometimes, often she did not.” (Chopin, 2) This idea of love not only proves that Mrs. Mallard does not share the same ‘emotional’ aspects that women are stereotyped to be, but it also proves that her liberation is incomparably greater than the feeling of marriage. Marriage, in other words, was the loss of this freedom and power. Additionally, the news of her husband’s death was an implication of how marriage during the 19th century was a battle of power. This is seen through the realization of Mrs. Mallard’s newfound freedom when she thinks,“‘free, free, free!’ The vacant state and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes.” (Chopin, 2). Not only does this showcase her loss of freedom in the marriage, but it is also a representation of how Mrs. Mallard feels knowing that she still has a place in society while being free. In other words, because society would not accept a divorced woman but could accept a widow, Mrs. Mallard understands that she has gained back a portion of her freedom without sacrificing herself. Moreover, this power difference during those times created a mindset in women to accept what they already have. For instance, Mrs. Mallard even determines that she no longer had a man that will ‘bend her in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.’ (Chopin, 2 ). This is not only a demonstration of how Mrs. Mallard and society thought of women as ‘property, however; it also showcases that Mrs. Mallard has even accepted that society has placed women lower than men. By the same token, the readers can view the death of Mr. Mallard as a symbol of the loss of the freedom that Mrs. Mallard had gained for a short period of time. In the story, the readers expect Mrs. Mallard to grieve at the death of her husband, however; it is obviously seen that this is not the case. In fact, Kate Chopin creates an ending with an ironic twist, where Mrs. Mallard’s death was caused by the entrance of her husband-who was spectacularly alive-causing her to die “of a joy that kills.” (Chopin, 3). Mrs. Mallard’s joy from her new-gained freedom along with the disappointment of seeing her husband was the cause of her death. In the same fashion, the title is a reference to Mrs. Mallard’s shortly gained freedom and happiness; an hour of having taken her power back. Mrs. Mallard was unhappy with her husband because of her inability to have her own opinion, and consequently, these ideologies are also shown through the stereotypes and gender roles that attack her.
From the first sentence of the story, it is implied that women have to act and be a certain way. These stereotypes are not only advocated by the protagonist but are also the cause of the emotional and societal complications in her life. Specifically, it is a physical complication in Mrs. Mallard’s life that reinforces her own gender stereotypes, something that she cannot control. For instance, Mrs. Mallard is described by the author as someone “afflicted with heart trouble,” and “great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death.” (Chopin, 1 ) Not only does this apply to her physical heart complication, but it also applies to the idea that all women are sensitive and emotional. Furthermore, it is the people around Mrs. Mallard that reinforce these stereotypes by acting this way. It is an example of the societal influence that the people around her had established. In addition to having others around her support these gender roles, Mrs. Mallard takes these reflections to the point where she strives to fight off the feeling of joy she feels after her husband’s death. The prejudices placed on her create this self-conflict in which she “was striving to beat it back with her will-as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been.” (Chopin, 2 ). Not only does this showcase that Mrs. Mallard was a ‘product’ of her time as she fights this new feeling of freedom, however; it also ironically encourages the stereotypes set upon her as the author describes Mrs. Mallard to fit the idea that all women should be powerless. As a matter of fact, Kate Chopin uses symbolism to promote this idea of self-conflict within women and having adjusted to society’s standards. For example, Kate Chopin uses the symbolism of the chair and the open window to represent the comfortable life that she has been accustomed to. The narrator says, “there stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair.” (Chopin, 1 ) The armchair symbolizes the security and comfort of the stereotypes she has adjusted to, whereas in comparison to the open window, it represents the freedom and power to break away from those stereotypes. Kate Chopin used imagery such as, “tops of trees that were all aquiver with new life,” (Chopin, 2) in the open window to promote the idea of liberation. These are all examples of breakingAdditionally, Mrs. Mallard from the very beginning is inferred as ‘not like other women,’ which is generalizing women into how they should be and act like. The narrator states, “She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance.” (Chopin, 1) The importance of these examples is shown through the liberation of Mrs. Mallard following her husband’s death, where that freedom disappears at his arrival. This not only connects to the essential fact that Mrs.Mallard’s life was controlled before death but her death itself was controlled by her husband- a man. Mrs. Mallard, as a character, is a great example of the product of years of societal repression.
As can be seen, “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin is a great example of the reinforcement of gender stereotypes during the 19th century. Kate Chopin portrays these stereotypes in her short story using the main protagonist and how they handle their own oppression. This main theme of the story following liberation versus patriarchy is portrayed in both an entertaining but educational way. Kate Chopin presents freedom as a treasure that should be taken care of, and how patriarchy is an important aspect of learning how society has evolved, and matured into something where equality is an option. The importance of spreading awareness on this topic is what makes this story relevant today as it applies to these modern issues. In order to prevent these gender roles and stereotypes from continuing to harm women and men, research is needed to be done to learn from our past mistakes.