The short story ‘The Story of an Hour’, by Kate Chopin (1894), is interesting for a number of reasons. Perhaps chief among these is the strong feminist themes that resonate from the story, which are particularly striking given that it was published at the end of the 19th century, long before feminism had become a commonplace in Academia or mainstream intellectual life. This paper will argue for a strong feminist reading of the story, one that attempts to do justice to its subtle complexities and possible ambiguities. The thesis that lies behind the reading is that Chopin was anticipating a line of thought that developed fully only much later, namely that marriage, and traditional man-woman romantic relationships more generally, can be (and perhaps ought to be) understood as a kind of slavery.
The mention in the first sentence of the story of Mrs. Mallard’s heart condition is quite significant, given the way that it ties in with the story’s rather abrupt finish. It is a difficult question, to which we return at the end of the paper, what precisely to make of the heart issue. But in any case there is arguably a clear sense in which both the first mention of the heart condition, and also the story’s termination, are of secondary importance in understanding the author’s message. What is more important, it will be argued, is the almost overwhelming sense of liberation that Mrs. Mallard comes to experience when she is told about, and has had some time to process, what appears to be the fact that her husband has been killed.
The story can be broken into three parts: (i) Mrs. Mallard’s being told that her husband has been killed in a train accident; (ii) The transformation she undergoes ...
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...n favor of a literal reading. But there are reasons not to take such a reading in this case. A minor one is that ‘heart disease’ refers to a cluster of conditions, which are themselves the actual causes of death when the heart fails. It strictly does not make sense to speak of heart disease as being the cause of death (rather than a heart attack, for example). A more important reason is that, on my reading of Chopin’s intentions, there is a sense in which it does not really matter what happens to Mrs. Mallard upon learning that her husband is alive after all. Whether she dies literally when she sees him, or only figuratively—because she realizes that she is not free after all, and perhaps never will be—does not make a great deal of difference. The crucial point is that she will not in fact ever be able to live for herself, as she had so desperately hoped she would.
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