The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin was a very influential piece of work written in the late 19th century. During this time the gender roles of men and women were very much defined. Women as a gender were very oppressed and essentially left at the hands of their husbands. While Kate herself never really experienced an issue with this, her work often reflected the real life daily struggles of the average woman. The average woman being the stay at home housewife who was charged with taking care of the domestics as well as children. Therefore, during this time it was uncommon for a woman to break out of the norm and create such a powerful work that would later influence women and their portrayal. The Story of an Hour is a short story that not only narrates the struggles of a woman who is experiencing for the first time in a long time what it is like to be free, only to have it taken from her at the end in an ironic twist.
In this story, Chopin writes about a woman with a heart condition, who goes by the name Mrs. Mallard, who receives news of her husband’s death. Throughout the story the narrator writes on how Mrs. Mallard handled the situation and actually embraced the idea that her husband was dead. After her brief victory, her husband later comes home expecting an enthusiastic Mallard only to find that the shock from his arrival kills her in what appears to be a cosmic joke.
Throughout this piece there is a sense of irony that is taking place. This however, is more prevalent in the story towards the middle when Mrs. Mallard realizes she is now free. “When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said over and over her breath: “Free, free, free!” (Chopin 37). This is ironic as the female norm is to weep over one’s dead husband, however at this point we see the complete opposite. Instead Mrs. Mallard realizes that she no longer has to be tied down to her husband. She does realize that her excitement is a little too much, but at this point she no longer cares. The main conflict in this story is one of internal context as Mrs. Mallard’s behavior deviates from the gender roles provided. This story is serving as an awakening for women showing them that there is no need for a male figure in their life. It is showing that they are much happier by themselves than with someone that as Chopin states, “there would be no power will bending her in that blind persistence…” (37). No longer should women feel as if there is no escape and that they are destined to assume the roles that they are taking. In a sense, this poem could be considered a satirical story as it not only attacks the idea of marriage, but it does so in a comedic way. Satirical pieces are usually written in order to attack certain ideas in a humorous manner in order to not draw negative criticism. While of course, there is no humor to be found in death, however the reaction to this death is what is. Mrs. Mallard is handling grief in her own way, yet it doesn’t seem that she is truly grieving. In fact, she is not only so ecstatic that her husband has passed that when she realizes he didn’t, she dies.
When looking at this text, it is possible to see the humorous aspect, however one can also take note that this could have very well happened. Women at the time were so oppressed by men that they felt that there was no escape. Therefore, by viewing Mrs. Mallard’s actions one can see that their marriage might have even been abusive to an extent. She claimed she loved him at times but in others not. This is not bounds for a healthy marriage and shows that she needed to get out of it. Her self-realization of this is what drove her to the point of excitement that she was in. The reason that she died as the story states was “of joy that kills” (Chopin 38). This joy was the joy that she felt of finally being free and it killed her when she realized that she was so close, yet so far.
Overall, the external and internal ideas of an abusive marriage and gender roles are all too prevalent. Women had very difficult times and were constantly facing oppression and abuse throughout their lives. Kate Chopin’s purpose to write this essay was perhaps to demonstrate her viewpoint and give a scenario on the effects of marriage. Doing this in an effective satirical manner, irony is shown throughout the story demonstrating that women do not need men in their lives. Women are able to overcome all obstacles, but that they needed to get away otherwise, it might very well kill them.