Patriarchal Society and the Erasure of the Feminine Self in The Story of an Hour
Critical readings of Chopin’s works often note the tension between female characters and the society that surrounds them. Margaret Bauer suggests that Chopin is concerned with exploring the “dynamic interrelation between women and men, women and patriarchy, even women and women” (146). Often, critics focus on the importance of conflict in these works and the way in which Chopin uses gender constraints on two levels, to open an avenue for the discussion of feminine identity and, at the same time, to critique the patriarchal society that denies that identity. Kay Butler suggests that “entrapment, not freedom, is the source of Chopin’s inspiration, for she is primarily concerned with exploring the way in which gender roles deny identity”; she continues: “yet without the entrapment, the question of identity, even the inspiration to write about identity, wouldn’t exist” (18).
Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” most poignantly balances the dual focus of her work, describing the incipient awakening of Mrs. Mallard, and thus exploring the possibility of feminine identity, even while, ultimately, denying the fruition of such an experience. Like all of her works, this short story reacts to a specific historical framework, the Cult of True Womanhood, in its indictment of patriarchal culture. As Barbara Welter notes, in the nineteenth century, “a women judged herself and was judged by her husband, her neighbors, and society” by the attributes of a True Woman which included, especially, “purity” and “domesticity” (372). The concept of purity, because it suggested that women must maintain their virtue, also, paradoxically, denied the...
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... Story of an Hour.’” CLA Journal 16 (November 1994): 59-64.
Bauer, Margaret. Chopin in Her Times: Critical Essays on Patriarchy and Feminine Identity. Durham: Duke UP, 1997.
Butler, Kay. “Freedom and Desire: The Theme of Awakening in the Works of Kate Chopin.” Critical Interpretations: Kate Chopin. Ed. Harold Blooming. New York: Chelsea House, 1989. 14-32.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Paul Lauter, et al. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. Lexington: Heath, 1994. 644-46.
Papke, Mary E. Verging on the Abyss: The Social Fiction of Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton. New York: Greenwood P, 1990.
Welter, Barbara. “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860.” The American Family in the Social Historical Perspective. Ed. Michael Gordon. New York: St. Martin’s P, 1978. 372-92.