Story of an Hour Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1720 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Sports - Women

Story of an Hour (written in 1894) by Kate Chopin could be the story of any married woman in the days when divorce was only possible if the woman could prove adultery, and was always accompanied by a social stigma that made the woman "a grass widow." Most of the time, women had to accept their lot even if the man turned out to be a drunkard who spent all his money on booze and let the children go hungry (Campbell, 1989). Even if he beat her, this was not considered grounds for divorce because a man's home was his castle. That meant he as king and could do most anything he wanted there. In this essay, it will be argued that the main character, Louise Mallard, secretly hated marriage and had difficulty adapting to the demands of married life. We will explore the status of women in the 19th century when the story was written and show the story as a reflection of women's status.

According to Kirtzner & Mandell (Eds) (2004), the author, Kate Chopin (1851-1904) didn't start writing until after her husband died. The story, therefore, may express her own experience and feelings in relation to the lack of freedom for women that marriage brought. Campbell (1989) argues that many women chose not to marry in those days because they wanted their freedom. The cares and responsibilities of running a household and raising children prevented women from engaging in public activities, such as holding a job and in creative endeavors such as writing. The author may have wanted to write for many years, but wasn't free to develop her talent until after her husband died.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Term Paper on Story of an Hour Assignment

For middle class women, it wasn't proper for a woman to have a job. It reflected negatively on her husband's ability to take care of the family and the public sphere was considered an inappropriate place for a woman to be. At home, women were protected from the "evils of the world" (Welter, 1966). Only poor women took jobs, and only women without husbands had the freedom to pursue a career (Campbell, 1989). Society deemed that a true woman was above all, domestic. She was also expected to be pious, pure and obedient (Welter, 1966).

Psychologist Abraham Maslow devised a hierarchy of human needs in which the need for self-actualization was at the top (Boeree, 1998, 2006). Women were largely prevented from satisfying the need for self-actualization because of what being a wife and mother demanded -- marriage was supposed to be the focus and reason for her whole life. It seems likely at the beginning of the story that Louise Mallard embraces this 19th century consciousness of what true womanhood is, that she has indeed tried her best to be domestic, pious, pure, and obedient. Otherwise, why the overwhelming awakening she experiences after she learns that her husband is dead from a railroad accident, and why the internal struggle as the realization hits?

She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will [italics mine] -- as powerless as her two white hands would have been. 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!"

It appears that she has never thought about her freedom before. Deneau (2003) argues that the realization Mrs. Mallard has amounts to a supernatural experience, and points out, "If immediately after learning of the death of her husband Louise had gone through a rapid logical process leading to a celebration of her total freedom, she might have seemed to be a hard, calculating, and therefore unsympathetic woman" (p. 211).

Deneau (2003) also argues, "Clearly what occurs is some type of sexual experience," either accompanying or causing the experience of awakening and the realization: "Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body" (p. 210) implies the aftermath of orgasm according to Deneau. However, the experience of enlightenment is a spiritual experience -- more like the Holy Spirit descending upon human thought and clarifying what was previously muddy and unclear.

Mrs. Mallard sees her life and her desire to make something of it -- something more than drudgery, obedience, and being a second-class citizen -- as suddenly a real possibility. She sees herself as somebody. It is like she has been given back her identity. She will no longer be Mr. Mallard's wife but somebody in her own individual right. Surely, this is the revolutionary idea for her that causes a physical reaction. She has been released from prison and never thought she would be!

That her realization is not a sexual experience is implied in the statement she makes about "love." "What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being." In Chopin's other work the unsolved mystery is sex, at least, according to Deneau (2003) and how could the experience of Enlightenment she has just overwhelmingly had be sex, if sex is still an unsolved mystery when the experience seems to have put everything into perspective for her? Plus, the phrase self-assertion implies she has found her identity and discovered who she really is.

She realizes she now has what she has always wanted -- freedom. It is not that she hated her husband or wished him dead. "She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead." From this, we can definitely assume her husband didn't abuse her; he loved her. And yet, the institution of marriage itself has held her in bondage. She cannot do the things she would like to do, go where she wants, keep her own hours, or be free because all her time and attention belongs to her husband. "...she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome."

Probably, Mrs. Mallard kept it a secret from herself that she wasn't happy. She accepted what society said the role of a woman was and should be. Perhaps repressing her real feelings is what caused her illness and led to her heart ailment. Heart trouble may be Chopin's metaphor for dissatisfaction with "love" and all the limitations imposed upon her as Mr. Mallard's wife. Secretly, she really hates -- not her husband but -- the institution of marriage, and wishes for freedom, but it would have been unthinkable in those days, impossible to leave him and go out on her own. This is implied in the statement, "And yet she had loved him -- sometimes. Often she had not."

We can only conjecture what those times were when she did not love him. Men often belittled the accomplishments of women or patronized a woman by labeling what she did "cute" as though she were a child. Perhaps it was when he treated her like a child that Mrs. Mallard didn't love her husband. Or maybe, it was when he wouldn't let her do what she wanted. Welter (1966) states submission, or obedience, was the most feminine quality a true woman was supposed to possess. "Men were supposed to be religious, although they rarely had time for it, and supposed to be pure, although it came awfully hard to them, but men were the movers, the doers, the actors. Women were the passive, submissive responders." Later, in the same paragraph Welter adds, "Woman understood her position if she was the right kind of woman, a true woman" (p. 159).

George Burnap, lecturer and "marriage expert" at the time, described the 19th century woman: "She is in a measure dependent. She asks for wisdom, constancy, firmness, perseverance, and she is willing to repay it all by the surrender of the full treasure of her affections. Woman despises in man every thing like herself except a tender heart. It is enough that she is effeminate and weak; she does not want another like herself" (cited in Welter, 1966, p. 159). It is because of this view of herself as effeminate and weak that Mrs. Mallard is at first frightened when she learns that her husband is dead. She is utterly dependent upon him. What will she do without him? Isn't her "head almost too small for intellect but just big enough for love?"(cited in Welter, 1966, p. 160).

At the same time, she can't love him all the time because she is really at his mercy.

She has to obey him. He is the person responsible for her well-being. He makes the money and has all the power. Society has relegated her to being his support staff. When she realizes her life… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Story of an Hour" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Story of an Hour.  (2007, April 30).  Retrieved November 27, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Story of an Hour."  30 April 2007.  Web.  27 November 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Story of an Hour."  April 30, 2007.  Accessed November 27, 2020.