IN "The Story of an Hour," Kate Chopin tells the tale of a woman who learns of her husband's untimely death, seeks solitude in which she proceeds to reflect upon this incident and its implications, has a life-altering/-giving epiphany, and proceeds to have all of the fresh hope and elation that had accompanied this experience dashed when her supposedly dead husband appears alive and well at her door, thereby inducing her sudden death. Read in isolation, it seems as if this is merely a detailed account of one woman's reaction to the death of her husband and, on a basic and concrete level, it is. However, to grasp Chopin's intended themes and to gain a true appreciation and understanding of the piece, we must consider it within a broader context. The author dexterously weaves a great deal of social commentary and feminist ideas through her work which may only be perceived if we consider the prevalent stereotypes and social expectations of women at her time, and the implications of such ideas. Upon doing so, we are able to see that Chopin has created a piece that vividly contrasts the true needs and wants of women with those that an oppressive society has imposed upon them, and the ultimate implications of this.
Though it is camouflaged as expository material, the contents of the first paragraph of the piece are actually a description of the way that the society of Chopin's time perceived women. It begins with the word "knowing," which reflects society's belief that it, not the women themselves, knows what is best for them; already we can begin to see the aforementioned theme beginning to take shape. We then proceed to make the acquaintance of the protagonist Louise Mallar...
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...er that their future freedom and individuality was in, and also to denote such a condition to society as a whole so that it might cease to foster its false and detrimental stereotypes of the female populous. Chopin recognized the disparity between the true needs and wants of women and those that society forced upon them, and provoked women to speak out against such oppression by pointing out the negative consequences that would result from their continual acquiescence. The central themes and social commentary conveyed through Chopin's vivid imagery and meaningful diction lead both past and present readers to reflect upon the role of women and society's effects upon those of all gender, race, and ethnicity.
Chopin, Kate. "The Story of an Hour" in The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Per Sayersted, ed. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969. 352-54.
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