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Themes in Kate Chopin's a Story of an Hour

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In a handful of the reader’s time, Chopin is able to bring out a countless amount of themes in her short story “The Story on an Hour”, that are not only controversial, but fairly ahead of her time. Chopin uses her story to represent a negative view of marriage by presenting the reader with a protagonist who is clearly burdened by emotional struggles when she becomes a wife. Devastated by the sudden news regarding M. Mallard, Louise excuses herself and immediately runs to her bedroom where we see a change in her attitude and her face off with issues such as identity, oppression, freedom, and independence.

With the large variety of themes presented throughout the story, hope is difficult to identify. While Louise is up in her room, she is staring out her window, witnessing the leaving of winter and the bloom of spring; a sort of euphemism towards the hope of her blossoming into a new person after her husband’s death. “She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which someone was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.” (Chopin 12) When M. Mallard is revealed at the ending of the story, the flame of hope that was so briefly ablaze in Louise’s heart is struck down, as well as her life.

Whereas hope is one of the smaller founding themes in this story, oppression is more blatantly obvious. It is unquestionable that Chopin’s writing implies even a seemingly happy marriage, such as M. and Mrs. Mallard’s, in a patriarchal society oppression takes place unwittingly. While Mrs. Mallard readily admits she loves her husband throughout the story, her joy is soon evident when the news her husband’s death reached her ears. “There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.” (Chopin 13) Louise, as a woman who is not happy playing the role of subservient housewife, having the hope and prospect of freedom from oppression within hands reach, she felt, as the author describes, “a goddess of Victory.” (Chopin 13)

With the theme of oppression, comes that of freedom and independence. In “The Story of an Hour”, set in 1894, for women, independence was only a thought considered behind closed doors. When alone, Louise realizes she is now an independent woman and her grief slowly disappears and is eagerly replaced with joy and excitement, while she says under her breath: “free, free, free!” (Chopin 12) Knowing the audacity of her thoughts, Louise attempts to hang on to her grief. However, once she accepts her feelings of joy, she feels possessed and overwhelmed by it and thinks to herself, “There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself.” (Chopin 13)

In short, when her husband returns home, unscathed, he unknowingly crushes all semblance of the hope, freedom and independence Mrs. Mallard had felt so keenly. The joy of independence, forbidden in a society filled with unreasonable and impossible demands on women, is so quickly ripped away from her that the brief taste of it alone was enough to kill her. In her story of an hour, Chopin manages to show us a lifetime.

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