The Story of an Hour

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Women in 19th-Century Society Theme Analysis

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In the late 19th century, much of American society held to the deep-seated belief that women were inferior to and should remain dependent upon husbands and other male figures. On the whole, women were expected to accommodate their husbands by cooking, cleaning, and generally maintaining the household. Any employment available to them offered wages significantly less than what men earned, and women were expected to conduct their lives according to their husbands’ wishes. Most women had little or no financial or other independence, as they (and their finances) were essentially passed from their fathers to their husbands upon marriage. At the same time, the second half of the 19th century saw the rise of the first organized women’s rights movements, marked most notably by the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. “The Story of An Hour” was published in 1884, only one year after the first U.S. state granted women the right to vote, but still almost three decades before women would get the federal right to vote through the 19th amendment in 1919.

Like much of Kate Chopin’s work, “The Story of an Hour” revolves around the idea of female independence and its obstacles. The story is especially concerned with examining how a nineteenth-century woman was expected to behave in highly emotional circumstances. Louise Mallard’s heart condition renders her physically weak, further enforcing the time period’s prevailing sentiment that women should remain passive and unexcited. At the same time, one might argue that it is the diagnosis of the heart condition itself that enforces a kind of weakness on Louise based on the assumptions about women inherent in the diagnosis.

More particularly, though, through the sudden death of Louise’s husband in an accident, the story portrays a woman on the cusp of true independence in the only way that was truly available to women at the time: through the death of a wealthy husband, leaving the woman with her own fortune and no need to remarry to maintain her station in life. And so, despite her real grief at her husband’s unexpected death, Louise feels intense joy at the exceedingly rare prospect being granted to her as a woman: the chance to be “free, free.”

And yet, the story also implies the way that society, and perhaps even the world itself, resists any woman having such freedom. It does so most obviously through its literal shock ending, in which Louise’s husband turns out not to have been in the accident after all and walks through the front door, a revelation that stops Louise’s heart. But the story also makes this implication more subtly, as when Louise’s sister worries that Louise is making herself sick by remaining isolated in her room (though in truth Louise is reveling in her freedom). Both men and women of the society around Louise intervene in her life, ultimately proving that her freedom is impossible to hold.

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Women in 19th-Century Society Quotes in The Story of an Hour

Below you will find the important quotes in The Story of an Hour related to the theme of Women in 19th-Century Society.
“The Story of an Hour” Quotes

She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms.

Related Characters: Louise Mallard, Josephine
Related Symbols: Louise’s Weak Heart
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:

Louise has just been told that her husband, Brently Mallard, died in a train accident. The “wild abandonment” she displays challenges her weak heart and defies the limitations and expectations that her body and social context have placedupon her. Indeed, if other nineteenth-century women would respond to similar news with passive denial rather than with the passion Louise shows, then Louise is, perhaps, different from the average woman of her day. She seems to be somebody who, rather than refusing to accept tragedy, is willing to confront difficulty and hardship, even if this means straying from the societal norm and possibly risking her physical wellbeing.

On the other hand, though, this reaction doesn’t exactly mark Louise as someone more in touch with her true emotions than others. As the story reveals, Louise’s initial wild grief is at odds with her deeper reaction to her husband’s death: her joy at her newfound freedom. In this way, Louise’s ability to accept the truth of her husband’s death faster than “many women” who would have been in denial points to the fact that her reaction is not what it initially appears. While other women might have a numb reaction to the news that precedes grief, Louise has a grief reaction that precedes joy. This suggests a similarity between Louise and other women, in that each of their reactions to tragedy involves initial emotions that do not reflect their deeper feelings.

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It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought.

There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully.

Related Characters: Louise Mallard
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:

In this moment, Louise looks out the window, her gaze settles on the sky, and the nature of her looking out the window begins to change. Her “glance” is initially not one of deep thought or introspection, but rather “a suspension of intelligent thought.”This “suspension” of thought is a response to a feeling that Louise fears but knows is coming, and her reaction seems to be an attempt to comport herself in the way that society would expect a new widow to behave; if she is to meet nineteenth-century society’s expectations, she must repress the joyful feeling of freedom that the symbolism of springtime outside the widow portends. Chopin tacitly condones Louise’s eventual break into independence by using the word “intelligent” here, essentially making clear that to continue repressing these feelings would be unwise and unenlightened.The quote’s insistence that Louise is “waiting for” the feeling makes clear, too, that the unintelligent gaze is an ineffective defense against the powerful reality of her new feelings.

There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.

Related Characters: Louise Mallard
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:

After Louise allows herself to rather unconventionally embrace the freedom of widowhood, she considers the institution of marriage and how she now exists outside of its oppressive dictates. Interestingly enough, she sees marriage as a cruelty enacted not just on wives by their husbands but also on husbands by their wives. This “powerful will” is not specific to men; it is the direct result of the imposition of one person upon another, an occurrence inevitably and unavoidably brought about by the institution of marriage. Through this logic, it can be understood that “The Story of an Hour” champions independence above all else, making clear that humans don’t truly have “a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature,” regardless of possibly good intentions.

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!

Related Characters: Louise Mallard, Brently Mallard
Page Number: 219
Explanation and Analysis:

On the heels of admitting to herself that she sometimes loved Brently (and sometimes did not), Louise comes to the conclusion that the point is irrelevant. By calling love “the unsolved mystery,” Chopin frames marriage as a somewhat abstract concept, in contrast to the more tangible and clear concept of “self-assertion” and independence. Love, it seems, pales in comparison to freedom and self-empowerment, which is readily available if only an individual acknowledges it.

It is noteworthy that Louise recognizes her “possession of self-assertion” as “the strongest impulse of her being,” since the word “strongest” contradicts the previously established idea that women—and specifically Louise—are weak, fragile, and passive.This implies that the only reason she was previously weak was because her ability to realize her own “self-assertion” had been hindered by the oppressive qualities of love and marriage.

She arose at length and opened the door to her sister’s importunities. There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She clasped her sister’s waist, and together they descended the stairs.

Related Characters: Louise Mallard, Josephine
Page Number: 219
Explanation and Analysis:

Finally acquiescing to her sister’s plea that she come out of the locked bedroomso that she won’t make herself ill, Louise confidently stands and leaves the room—her victorious demeanor seems to defy the very premise of her needing to leave the room to avoid illness. Thatthe word “importunities” carries with it connotations of annoyance and intrusion underscores the sense that Josephine’s assumption of Louise’s weakness is at odds with reality;Chopin is revealing her allegiance to Louise and her fondness for the character’s newfound feminine confidence. However,Louise is once again portrayed as physically excited to the point of possible agitation, as evidenced by the word “feverish.” Hernewfound emotional strength and her confident demeanor are, once again, at odds with her supposedly weak heart, but in this moment it is not clear whether this puts her in danger or if it is proof that she has, until now, been overprotected and sheltered by the meddlesome and intrusive people around her.

It is significant, too, that Louise joins her sister in the hall, as this is the first time since her personal liberation that she has been in the company of others. As she “unwittingly” carries herself like a “goddess of Victory,” Louise finds herself able to disregard the expectations and limitations placed upon her by her immediate peers.