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In the vast world of literature, writers utilize the element of historical context in order to create a better understanding of the text for their audience. In technical terms, historical context is characterized by “the social, religious, economic, and political conditions that existed during a certain time and place”. In the short story, “The Story of An Hour” by Kate Chopin, the story represents society in the year 1894, a period of time where societal norms had involuntarily forced women to live under the impression that they should be less than what they perceive themselves to be. More specifically, women were not given the ability to go outside their private sphere, which consisted of domestic duties. In comparison to today’s time and perspective, this story goes to show how much society has progressed in regards to the plight of women’s rights and their place among the social hierarchy.
Being the main character of the short story, Ms. Mallard is a mere reflection of these gender roles seen in late 1800’s society. During this time, women were raised in an environment that had prompted them to be subordinate to men, whether this be their husbands, fathers, or brothers. Marriage and motherhood was still considered the most important job for women during this time, and this was evident in the story of Louise Mallard. “The Story of An Hour” reflects Chopin’s view of the repressive role that marriage had placed amongst the lives of very many women during that era. This can be seen throughout the plot of the story as the protagonist, Louise Mallard, feels a sense of freedom only when she had received news that her husband, Brently Mallard had died. While her husband is alive, she must live for him, and only through the event of his death does her life become her own once again.
Throughout the short story “The Story of An Hour”, Chopin illustrates Louise Mallard’s realization of her opportunity in disguise. In other words, Ms. Mallard comes to see the doors that will be open to her in the situation that her husband is gone. She states, “When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: ‘free, free, free!’. From this quote, it is evident that Mrs. Mallard had suppressed her feelings for a while. It seems as though Ms. Mallard was secretive about her feelings regarding her husband’s “death”, as the way she reacted to the situation was not the reaction that she herself had expected to feel. This was because it was not common for women to be independent during the time period reflected upon in the story. Though she was at first shocked, she learned to embrace the feeling of being free, even if it had only lasted for a small moment. This situation in the story not only highlights the desperation of women in the 1800’s to be free from their marriages but also their confinement within societal norms.
Along with that, the story further reflects upon the misogynistic time period by showing how society had downplayed the capabilities of women. In paragraph 10, Chopin writes, “She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will – as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been.” By using the phrase “powerless.. Two white slender hands” Chopin, illustrates how women were often perceived as weak individuals. Whether this be mentally, emotionally, or physically, women were not seen as strong beings, which explains the reasoning as to why it was normal for women to be inferior to men in their marriages and other aspects of life, whether this be in the education sector or employment.
Furthermore, the story represents the years surrounding 1894 as it reflected that women had no given rights, opportunities to express their viewpoints, or laws that protected them in times of separation or in cases of abuse from their spouses. This is reflected upon Louise Mallard in paragraph 13, “And yet she had loved him–sometimes. Often she had not”. This goes to show how during her time period, Ms. Mallard had been involved in a marriage that did not consist of genuine, pure love. Instead, it stemmed from a place of obligation and obedience to her husband. Since women in the 1890’s were not given rights to leave their husbands in situations where they didn’t feel comfortable, they often had to stay complacent and accept the cards that they were given. The only way they could get out of it without getting reprimanded by their peers and more importantly those in society, was if their husbands had died to uncontrollable circumstances. Thus, the only means of ‘escape’ for women in these situations was rare. With the ideology that women should be subordinate to their husbands, women were seen as not normal and a disgrace to society if they had disobeyed the guidelines that were set forth upon them.
With this overall explanation of women and their roles in the 1890’s, it makes more sense why Mrs. Mallard approaches her husband’s death the way she did in the story. The event of Mr. Mallards tragic death gave her a means to break free from the chains of her marriage. However this all comes to an end when she comes to the realization that her husband is still alive. In turn, she experiences the pain of knowing that her chances of a free life without the need of validation from a man is gone. As a result, she dies, as she could not bare to live another day knowing that she was so close to freedom, but couldn’t achieve it.
In literature, authors use their personalities, their experiences, and perspectives to establish the purpose to what they write and often times use these key elements to move and inspire their audiences . “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin gives readers the opportunity to be aware and considerate in regards to what women in previous centuries had been treated in comparison to today. In present day society, this story is still applicable to women. However, the numbers would be fairly less as the restrictions amongst marriage and divorce in most countries are not as tight as they were in the past.
Nevertheless, women can still relate to the fact that society still finds a way to disregard their accomplishments and capabilities. Though there has been improvement, women are still seen to be inferior to men in aspects such as jobs. For example, in some job sectors women are still not getting equal pay as men, despite them having the same duties and responsibilities for their career. Though the fights for equal rights for women is not over, feminist beliefs have become more widespread and each day more and more people are doing the steps deemed to order to achieve this goal.
Overall, the essay is informative and flows well. However, it would benefit from section headings, better grammar/mechanics, improved sentence structure, and more evidence that needs to be cited with the author’s last name along with the page number.
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