Marital Oppression in "The Story of an Hour"

Topics: Woman, Wife, Marriage Pages: 5 (1810 words) Published: April 10, 2006
In "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin, we are introduced to Mrs. Mallard, an unloving, heartless, woman who is overjoyed by the passing of her husband—or at least that is the common misconception. Mrs. Mallard although perceived as inhuman is actually more human than most would like to believe. While her actions may seem questionable or even to be condemned, they are hardly unthinkable in light of the issues involving marriage and the woman's role throughout history. The story itself presents a valid argument in favor of Louise as she is portrayed as the oppressed wife finally set free after her husband's death. In the beginning of "The Story of an Hour," Mrs. Mallard is just a typical wife. It is not until she hears of her husband's death that she then simply becomes Louise, now an individual, no longer overshadowed by her husband. Following her husband's death, Louise feels she will no longer suffer a "powerful will bending her" (14), thus indicating she had lacked a voice in the marriage. Chopin clearly indicates this lack of freedom and individuality in Louise's marriage stating, "[. . .] that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow creature." (14). This statement reflects how men and women oppress each other, denying one another freedom and a sense of identity. This is in line with the common view that women lost their individuality because their, "legal existence had been extinguished by the status of marriage." (Robson). Next, we learn that Louise actually begins to accept, even enjoy the notion of a life by herself, as Chopin writes the years "that would belong to her absolutely [. . .] she would live for herself." (14). Louise would now be free, her own identity, with a renewed sense of self-assertion. "Free! Body and soul free!" (15). This newfound freedom is in effect a new motivation for Louise. Before experiencing such freedom, Louise was petrified of the thought of life being long; now however, she felt herself wishing, even praying for life to be long. This is evidenced with the following quote, "She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long." (15). This depicts an ever embracing Louise, finally liberated of the powerful institution of marriage. What is more, this quote serves to further support the idea that Louise indeed felt trapped, she was unhappy and yet, the thought of her husband dying hadn't crossed her mind, only the relief from her own passing was her wish. Moreover, "The Story of an Hour", shows that Louise felt her husband's domination through the "powerful will bending her" (14), later she is in "this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being." (15). This last statement indicates this newborn contention in Louise, made only possible by Mr. Mallard's death. In Mr. Mallard's death, Louise finds herself being able to assert herself in unimaginable ways; Mrs. Mallard is no longer limited to the confines of her marriage. Ultimately, all of this new brazenness and freedom is dependent on Mr. Mallard's death, thus one would not have occurred without the other. The fact that Louise on her own indicates the bending of her will to her husband's depicts the hard reality of women and the passive persona it entails, completely in contrast to this new person emerged—Louise. Louise would now only live for herself, something that was previously unimaginable and unattainable. After years of marital confinement and oppression, Louise is suddenly a free woman; the emotion is so exciting that it cannot be hidden and is so profound that Louise dare not oppress it. The character of Louise is not uncommon, even in the modern world of today there are still many women who assume a subordinate role, which is visible in still highly traditional societies such as that of Islam or Latin cultures. In fact,...

Bibliography: Chopin, Kate. "The Story of an Hour." Literature for Composition. Ed. Sylvan Barnet et al. 7th ed. New York: Longman, 2005, 13-15.
Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1963.
Kearl, Michael C. "Marriage and Family Life." A Sociological Tour Through Cyberspace. 16 Nov. 2005.
Mink, Gwendolyn. "The Reader 's Companion to U.S. Women 's History: Legal Status." Houghton Mifflin Study Center. 19 Nov. 2005.
Robson, Ruthann. "The Reader 's Companion to U.S. Women 's History: Marriage." Houghton Mifflin Study Center. 19 Nov. 2005.
"Women in Society: Britain." Facts On File Inc.. 16 Nov. 2005. 'women%20in%20society%3A%20britain '.
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