Table of Contents
2. From Male-Orientation to Self-Determination - A Textinternal Transformation
3. Relation between the Historical Period and the Construction of Gender
4. Names as Symbols, Or: Emphasising the Importance of Gender
5. French Feminist Theory within “The Story of an Hour”
5.1 Maupassant’s Influence and Chopin’s Counter-Reaction
7. Works Cited
Kate Chopin, a female writer and essayist, lived from 1850 to 1904. From 1894 onwards, she was pushing her career to become a well accepted author. Three of her most striking stories - “A Respectable Woman”, “The Story of an Hour”, and “Her Letters” - were about wives and their strong individualities (Toth 171). This paper is to give a feminist reading of her short story “The Story of an Hour”, written on April 19, 1894, which is in the American literary canon today. To emphasise its significance, one should mention the publication of this short story in one of the early issues of the Vogue (Toth 172).
In her stories, Chopin dared to write about women, finding their personal freedom and choosing their own ways of liberation - very uncommon fiction in that period of time - or as Papke claims, the “first modern female literary discourse in America” (4). Whereas on the one hand, the public rights of women were slowly being gained (e.g. the vote, education, rights to their children and their own property), on the other hand private needs of women were not issues so far yet. Though she never took part in any feminist movement (Papke 2), Kate Chopin can be seen as a pre-feminist writer and her work can be treated as a feminist statement. She “however, produce[s] what one might call, for want of a better term, female moral art in works that focus relentlessly on the dialects of social relations and the position of women therein” (Papke 2).
“The Story of an Hour” illuminates how a woman, after her husband’s sudden death, finds herself freed, achieves autonomy, and starts to develop self-determination - at least for the duration of one hour, as the title proclaims. It can be seen as a description of a moment that shatters social complacency and gives birth to a woman’s self-desire and self-recognition. Chopin "offer[s] readers both - criticism of what was and implicit vision of what could be, alternative worlds imagined if only through self-annihilation” (Papke 19).
This short story is a great story in a small space, and with her specific use of language, Chopin brings significance to the reader with every single word. Though it is given very little information on the surface of the story, one obviously gets to know a lot about Mrs. Louise Mallard’s life and with her as a representative, a lot about the experience of womanhood in Chopin’s period of time.
2. From Male-Orientation to Self-Determination: a Text-Internal Transformation
“Women as dual self, a female precariously balance between submission and self will” (Papke 34). During the whole story, one can follow a red line of the main character’s development: out of her submission straight to self-autonomy and eventually to death as the last possible consequence. In the first line, Mrs. Mallard is only introduced to the reader as Mrs.; her Christian name is not given yet. The function of this use is to underline her marriage status and to fix the masculine discourse of this story from the very beginning. Mrs. Mallard is nobody but the wife of Mr. Brently Mallard, only a woman without any identification but her husband’s wife. Women in the 19th century only had two possibilities: to become a married woman or an old maid. The latter opinion was considered a failure:
"Married women were either forced into idleness or into fictitious jobs by the pride of her family or by the nature of our economic organization, there being no place in it, outside of depressed industries, for a half-time worker. Married women were considered protected at home. A wedding ring was a token of inadequacy as well as of respectability" (“Centers of Interest”).
Striking is the article ‘a’ within the message “Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble” (Chopin 352). Chopin’s goal is to emphasise a special threat weighing on her heroine, which one later identifies as Mr. Brently Mallard. Chopin’s use of foreshadowing is interesting. It is already in the very first sentence, when the reader perceives that something horrible is going to happen to this unknown woman.
“ […] her illness gradually deepens in significance from a physical detail - a symptom of delicacy and a reason to break the bad news gently - to a deeply spiritual problem. The more we learn about Brently Mallard’ s overbearing nature and the greater his wife’ s relief grows, the better we understand her “heart trouble”. Indeed, that “trouble” vanishes with Brently’s death and returns - fatally - only when he reappears” (Ewell 89).
“When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her” (Chopin 352). In this move, one finds a separation of public and private sphere, as Mrs. Mallard leaves the others and walks to another room to be on her own. Without this change of place, a development could have never started because her “husband’s friend Richard was there too, near her” (Chopin 352). He, in this situation, replaces her husband and serves as substitute of the male-centred world. In his presence, there would have been no place for Mrs. Mallard’s personal unfolding. “She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment” (Chopin 352). She is aware of the loss of her partner; by choosing another room, Mrs. Mallard slowly begins to understand her personal need: “she would live for herself” (Chopin 353). Only by being alone she is able to let her feelings flow and accept her real emotions. By changing the setting, the first step of release is done; the first explicit action of Mrs. Mallard is fulfilled.
- Quote paper
- Anonymous, 2004, “The Story of an Hour” - Kate Chopin's voice against patriarchy, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/162451