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The Topic of Gender in Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour

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In Kate Chopin’s short story titled “The Story of an Hour”, Mrs. Mallard, the main character is shocked at the news that her husband had apparently died. Throughout the story it is revealed that Mrs. Mallard takes the news of her husband’s apparent death in a joyful matter, she sees this news as a beginning to a new life that no longer contains repression. Mrs. Mallard’s reaction to her husbands supposed death represents a symbol of liberty, she is finally free of marriage and is now an independent woman in the late nineteenth century. Later on, she is informed that her husband, Brently Mallard is alive. As a result of this news, Mrs. Mallard passes away due to a “joy that kills”. In this story, Chopin expresses a theme of female liberation and feminism. Although this story takes place in the nineteenth century, the concept of female liberation and feminism that Chopin has emphasized in her work is still apparent today, especially because sexism in society and marriages still occurs.

To begin with, Chopin’s story takes place in the nineteenth century, a time when gender discrimination against women was occurring. Mrs. Mallard seemed to have been a housewife to her husband Brently Mallard, which in current times, the role of being a “housewife” is not acceptable in society, yet it still exists in some relationships. The belief of sexist gender roles such as “all husbands should head households” will influence a marriage by negatively impacting quality of a relationship. Marital issues relating to sexism disappointingly still occur today, oftentimes this can leave a woman feeling unsatisfied with their marriage, which is why Mrs. Mallard was so gleeful to hear the news of her husband passing away.

Not only does “The Story of an Hour” tell the entertaining story of Mrs. Mallard’s reaction to her husbands supposed death, but it also reveals Chopin’s feministic views on marriage and gender. Chopin has been known to emphasize feminism in her other works of literature. According to Anca-Luminita Iancu, in her article “Teaching Kate Chopin’s Short Fiction” she explains that “Chopin was mainly known as a regional writer or local colorist…she was mostly interested in the condition and needs of women, discussing such avant-garde subjects as the constraints of marriage, divorce, adultery, and suicide”. It is evident that Chopin had a drive for female empowerment, in fact, Chopin covered the topic of marriage through her character Mrs. Mallard. Mrs. Mallard ends up feeling a sense of freedom once she hears the new of her husband’s passing in “The Story of an Hour”. This evidently reveals Chopin’s views on marriage, showing that at times, marriage can make a woman feel repressed from liberation.

Chopin was well aware of how women were treated and viewed as during her time; she was also aware that the issues women were facing at the time were not easy to solve. Especially in a society where men were in charge of making the rules and women were expected to devote their time to their husband and raising their children while also being considered their husband’s property. It is noted that “The Story of an Hour” took place during a time century when women were not treated with equality. Chopin touches on how women were seen as their husband’s property by showing the strong emotion of freedom Mrs. Mallard had felt once hearing her husband had died.

In addition, Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” without a doubt correlates to the values of feminism that are relevant today. The purpose of feminism is to shine light on the social issues that women deal with and how society can help combat problems such as gender discrimination and gender inequality. Mrs. Mallard situation in the story illustrates a theme of female liberation by emphasizing on the ideology that women have the right to feel liberated, especially in a marriage, which in Mrs. Mallard’s situation had her feeling held back at that time. As time has progressed, the views of feminism have also advanced.

According to Anne E. Ward, author of the article “Sex and the me Decade”, “the early twentieth century saw a boom in marital advice manuals attributed to a range of causes including women’s changing roles in society, the liberation of divorce laws  growing acceptance of pre-marital sex”. The values of a feminist that were relevant throughout history are still pertinent today because it helped shaped the definition of being a feminist today. For example, in Bridget Murray Law’s article “What Feminism means today”, she interviewed Kate Richmond, PhD on the topic of feminism and Richmond responded saying “We should value the groundwork the second-wave (’60s and ’70s) feminists laid for us and also become innovative and flexible to move in a direction that’s helpful for all women, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation and so forth”. This response from Richmond corresponds to the agenda feminist are pushing today.

Overall, it is evident that at sometimes life can imitate art, which in the case of Chopin’s story, it did. The topics of feminism, sexism, and marriage that were covered in Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” are still relevant today. Feminism is something that has changed as time has passed, but the basis of feminism today is still based off the issue of sexism which was vital during the time this story took place. The issue of sexism in marriages is a problem that was very normal during the time Chopin’s story took place, this dilemma is still occurring today, causing women to support the ideology of feminism.

Works Cited

  1. Beam, Christopher, et al. “Gender Differences in the Structure of Marital Quality.” Behavior Genetics, vol. 48, no. 3, May 2018, EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s10519-018-9892-4.
  2. Iancu, Anca-Luminita. Teaching Kate Chopin’s Short Fiction. East-West Cultural Passage, no. 2, Editura Universitatii LUCIAN BLAGA din Sibiu, 2015, www.ceeol.com/search/article-detail?id=522060.
  3. Law, Bridget. “What Feminism means today”. American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/gradpsych/2006/09/feminism
  4. Seyersted, Per. An excerpt from Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography. American Literary Realism, vol. 3, no. 2, University of Illinois Press, 1970, www.jstor.org/stable/27747703.
  5. Vashisth, Akanksha., and Avinash Kumar. “Sex and the Me Decade: Sex and Dating Advice Literature of the 1970s.” Journal of Human Behavior in the Environment, vol. 24 issue 3, EBSCOhost, doi:10.1353/wsq.2015.0063.
  6. Ward, Anna. “Sex and the Me Decade: Sex and Dating Advice Literature of the 1970s.” Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 43, no. 3/4, 2015, EBSCOhost, doi:10.1353/wsq.2015.0063. p. 122

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