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Kate Chopin: "The story of an hour" - An Analysis
Analyse av Kate Chopins novelle "The Story of an Hour"
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Back in 1894, the American writer Kate Chopin wrote the short-story "The Story of an Hour". Chopin, born O’Flaherty, wasn’t renowned as a writer during her time, but she has achieved recognition in the 20th century especially with her 1899 novel "The Awakening". Her stories about strong women have really been paid attention to in relation to this century’s sexual liberation debate.
This short-story revolves around what goes through a person’s head when informed that a close family member has perished. However, I wouldn’t say that this is the theme of the story, which I’ll get back to. Louise Mallard is a young, yet married woman who suffers from heart trouble, and that’s why her closest relatives feel that they have to break the news to her as gently as possible. Immediately after hearing the shocking news, Louise starts crying, and storms into her room. Since Louise spends the majority of the short-story in her room, this is the setting of the story. Noone really knows early in the story how Louise really feels about her husband dying. But the author certainly gives some evident hints.
The fourth paragraph’s content, which revolves around the period of time where Louise has just entered her room, is fairly surprising. Everyone would expect Louise to weep with agony and pain, but instead she sits calmly down: "There stood, facing an open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair." The interested reader will already here discover that something is terribly wrong, since a word like comfortable is used. A newly widdowed woman would probably not look upon a chair as comfortable shortly after receiving the terrible news; the most likely reaction would rather be to smash the chair into pieces! From her position in the armchair, she suddenly starts studying the nature outside the window: "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 some was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves." All these descriptions are beautiful images of life, making the reader quite confused until Louise’s reaction is explained. As Chopin puts it: "She said it over and over under her breath: ’free, free, free!’" This feeling; freedom, is obviously something Louise hasn’t felt for a really long time. She now rambles on about that she loved him, but now she is perfectly happy and more than that with the fact that she had regained her freedom. As Chopin puts it; "What could love (..) count for for in face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!" Louise now has more positive energy and vitality than ever, and even calls herself a "Goddess of victory". Her sister, Josephine, is worried about the amount of time Louise has spent in her room all alone, and anxiously knocks on the door, asking whether she’s alright. Feeling better than ever and imagining a new life filled with happiness and freedom, she willingly opens the door and descends down the stairs.
Josephine and Louise are, together with Brenty Mallard (her husband) and his friend Richards, the only characters mentioned by name in the short-story. And according to the guidelines in which a short-story optimately should follow, having few characters with personal traits is entirely correct. The author doesn’t tell a lot about Richards, but the other characters can be personalised easily. I won’t describe Louise here, since it’s fairly easy to decide what she’s like by reading the rest of the analysis. It seems to me like Josephine is a typical sister, and presumably the oldest of the two. She’s extremely worried when it comes to exposing Louise’s fragile heart to pressure and sudden shocks and surprises, which generally shows that she loves her sister wholeheartedly, and doesn’t want something bad to happen to her.
Apparently, Brenty doesn’t treat his wife particularly well. Louise is unhappy with her marriage, and doesn’t feel a bit free. Generally, women weren’t liberated during the 19th century. Traditionally, they did all the hard work in the house. Female liberation wasn’t put on the agenda until the 1960’s. But I think it’s all fair and square to say that Brenty lacks some humanitarian values that are important to be successfully married. The end of the short-story comes extremely surprising to the reader and is fairly unimaginable to Louise, hence her reaction. Her husband didn’t die in the railroad disaster after all; he stands at the bottom of the stairs, eagerly waiting to embrace his seemingly dear wife with love and compassion. The fact that Brenty returns is clearly the turn in the plot.
Spotting her supposedly dead husband again makes Louise’s heart condition unstable, and she dies momentarily. This is undoubtedly the climax of the plot, although the situation is in the very end of the story. Chopin’s use of words in the end of the short-story is pretty neat: "When the doctors came they said that she had died of heart disease - of joy that kills."’
I’d say that this short-story has a certain ironic feel to it. The way Louise handles the tragic news is ironic, because the reader expects her to react in an entirely different way. And to top it off, ironic-wise, Louise is the person that dies in the end. Kate Chopin has written the story using an omniscient point of view, which works well. Her style of writing is gripping, and she describes the characters and the scenery thoroughly well throughout the story. The fact that she uses an omniscient viewpoint but nevertheless saves the information that Brenty wasn’t a participant in the railroad accident at all until the end of the story shows that a story written using an all-knowing style doesn’t necessarily have to end predicably.
So now even the title of the short-story makes sence - it describes the one hour she spends dreaming about her new life in freedom, from getting the incorrect death message until tragically passing away herself. She lived in the true sense of the word, with will, ambition and joy, for one hour only. In my opinion, the theme of "The story of an hour" is that women that lived a hundred years ago didn’t feel free. They felt that they weren’t able to do what they wanted to, since their family duties took too much of their time. Another possible theme is the irony of fate, since Louise’s dreams eventually took a wrong turn and turned out to become her destiny.
Women had, as aforementioned, literally no rights whatsoever at the time this short-story was put on paper. The situation has changed almost dramatically
today. This short-story was written at a time where it was common sense and tradition that women were inferior to men in status and opportunities. Today,
women can be found almost everywhere; even in prominent positions in large corporations. They have struggled to achieve more opportunities and rights, and
they’ve come a long way, but they haven’t quite reached their target. In the story, Louise desperately wants to get more freedom, but it’s once she thinks that
her husband has died that she starts dreaming about it. That shows that she has an enormous respect for her husband, and doesn’t dare to do anything that
breaks or is in variance with his rights, restrictions and groundrules. Today we have procedures and laws regarding women’s rights when it comes to feeling
trapped in a marriage and urging to end it. Getting a divorce from one’s husband is about as easy for women nowadays as opening a can of beer.
Nevertheless, Chopin’s story tells a lot about the situation women were in a century ago, and its morale has blossomed lately following the recent liberation
debate. "The Story of an Hour" has probably inspired a great deal of women to oppose their husbands if they feel like their marriage isn’t quite as jolly as it
ought to be.
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