, Vol. 71, No. 2, 85–89, 2013
CTaylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0014-4940 print / 1939-926X online
Speed That Kills: The Role of Technology in Kate
Chopin’s THE STORY OF AN HOUR
Kate Chopin, railroad, technology, telegraph
Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” has been taught and analyzed al- most exclusively from a feminist perspective. As Lawrence Berkove writes, “There has been . . . virtual critical agreement on what the story says: its heroine dies, ironically and tragically, just as she has been freed from a constricting marriage and has realized self-assertion as the deepest element of her being” (1). Louise Mallard’s sense of joy at her husband’s apparent death, and her own death at his return, have become an archetype of femi- nine self-realization and the patriarchy that is always there to extinguish it (e.g., Harlow 501). Indeed, the feminist images of the story are so power- ful that I believe critics have overlooked another theme. “The Story of an Hour” can be read as a protomodernist text. As also seen with later mod- ernist writers, technology and the societal changes caused by technology play important roles in Chopin’s story.
“The Story of an Hour” was first published in
in 1894. More
than a century later, now in the midst of our own technological revolution, it is difficult to grasp how fundamentally nineteenth-century technologies were altering the world in Chopin’s time. Before the railroad, traveling was extremely difficult and dangerous. In the 1850s, it took an average of 128 days to traverse the Oregon Trail (Unruh 403), with a mortality rate of 4% to 6% (Unruh 408). The transcontinental railroad, completed in 1869, allowed the same journey to be made, safely and much more comfortably, in less than a week (Cooper). Perhaps more importantly, during the 1890s trains started to become part of daily life. In 1889 the first interurban electric 85
rail lines were laid, and by 1894 hundreds of miles of track were being added every year (Hilton and Due 186–87).
Communications underwent an even more dramatic acceleration. The completion of the first successful transatlantic cable in 1866 meant news that had previously taken a week or more to travel between Europe and the Americas could now be sent nearly instantaneously. Like the railroad, while the initial invention had occurred years earlier, in the 1890s telegrams went from novel to quotidian. In 1870, Western Union relayed 9 million telegrams. By 1893, they were sending more than 66 million telegrams annually (United States Bureau of the Census 788).
Later writers would explore the effects of these and other technolo- gies. In his 1909 “Futurist Manifesto,” Filippo Marinetti gushes, “Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have cre- ated eternal, omnipresent speed.” Not all writers would be as optimistic as Marinetti. A few decades after “Hour” was published, World War I would provide striking evidence of the destructive power of new technologies, and writers like Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot would lament the new world that man had created. In “Hugh Selwyn Mauberly,” for example, Pound claims that the world experienced “Fortitude as never before / Frankness as never before, / Disillusions as never told in the old days” (81–83). Pound felt that technology led to a world “as never before” but that these changes led to a “botched civilization” instead of a technological utopia (89). “The Story of an Hour” can be read as a precursor to these more techno- phobic works. The story begins with news of Mr. Mallard’s death in a railroad disaster—received by telegram. This may be a commentary on the literal danger of riding trains in the 1890s, but we can also see the railroad’s role in the story as a more subtle warning. While we don’t know for certain why Mr. Mallard would have...
Cited: 32.2 (2000): 152–58. Print.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.”Wikisource. Web. 19 Jul. 2011.
12.3 (1986): 501–24
Stanford UP, 2000.Google Books.Web. 21 Jul. 2011.
Vol. 2. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, 1975.
Google Books.Web. 21 Jul. 2011.
The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840–60
Urbana: University of Illinois, 1993.
Please join StudyMode to read the full document