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Social Commentary In Chopin's The Story Of An Hour

1893 words - 8 pages

Social Commentary in Chopin's The Story of an Hour


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 ...view middle of the document...

The remainder of the paragraph proceeds to depict how, due to his wife's "heart condition," the news of Brently Mallard's death has to be broken to her with "great care" and "as gently as possible." This portion serves to denote society's pervading stereotype of women as frail and overly emotional, as well as exceptionally dependent upon their husbands' existence for their well-being. Chopin's opening paragraph, which immediately begins to make the reader aware of society's perception of women, effectively offers numerous details that reflect the central ideas of the main theme and ultimately establishes the foundation upon which the social critique that follows is built.

As we proceed through the story, we are continually presented with instances that further exemplify the unhealthy perception of women held by society that Chopin is determined to illuminate and denounce. For example, when Josephine is forced to tell Mrs. Mallard that her husband has died she goes about doing so in "broken sentences," giving "veiled hints that reveal in half concealing," rather than telling her outright. This reinforces the idea that women were too frail to be spoken to in a direct and truthful manner, and is quite effective in that it has a woman (Josephine) exemplifying the stereotype. This exchange also reflects the pervasiveness of this perception of women, for it was universally accepted and adopted by all members of society regardless of gender. We are reminded of this stereotype throughout the rest of the story when Josephine "implores" her sister to let her into the room where she sits in solitude because she will "make herself ill," and also when Richards attempts to "screen [Brently] from the view of his wife" when he reappears unexpectedly at the end of the story.

These two consequent examples serve a dual purpose: they perpetuate the belief that women were exceptionally frail, and provide an avenue through which Chopin can denote the falsity in this belief. She accomplishes this task by changing the protagonist's reaction to this type of patronizing treatment as the story progresses. The first time that she is "gently" spoken to, she weeps "in her sister's arms," thus legitimating the idea that she does not possess the strength, physical or mental, to support herself. However, the following two times that she is treated so she defies the condescending party, telling her sister to "Go away" and asserting that she is not making herself ill, and finally by dying rather than re-succumbing to the repressive lifestyle that her husband is certain to impose upon her once again. The "progress" that Louise makes in the course of the story highlights the central idea that what society believes women need is quite contrary to what they actually require, and that if this dichotomy is not soon reconciled women will be forced to either retaliate or perish.

These ideas are intended to lead us to think about the role of women in our actual society, not...

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