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The Story of an Hour: A Look at Feminism in the 1800s

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Essay title: The Story of an Hour: A Look at Feminism in the 1800s

“The Story of an Hour”: A Look at feminism in the 1800s

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, feminism is defined as the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. Feminism is a major part of the short story, “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin, which is a story that portrays women’s lack of freedom in the1800s. Women had no rights, and had to cater to all of their husband’s needs. The main character in “The Story of an Hour” is a woman who suffers from heart trouble, named Mrs. Mallard. When Mrs. Mallard was told about her husband’s death, she was initially emotional, but because of her husband’s death she reaped freedom and became swept away with joy. The story is ironic because Mrs. Mallard learns her husband was not dead, and instead of exulting her husband’s sudden return she regretted abandoning her moment of freedom. An analysis of “The Story if an Hour” through the historical and feminist lenses, suggests that the story is really about women’s self-identity in the 1800s male-dominated society, and how it caused women’s lack of freedom.

During the 1800s, males dominated and were the superior gender in the

society. Women’s rights and feminism did not exist. In the 1800s divorces were frowned upon and everything was given to the males.

In the Declaration of Sentiments, Stanton enumerated specific complaints concerning the oppressed status of women in American society: their inability to vote; exclusion from higher education and professional careers; subordination to male authority in both church and state; and legal

victimization in terms of wages, property rights, and divorce (Driscoll 1).

Since males acquired all the assets and children during a divorce, a woman’s only hope to gain freedom and assets was to rely on the death of her husband. Mrs. Mallard’s reaction to her husband’s death was initially emotional: “She wept at once with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms” (Chopin 156) however she celebrates her husband’s death which indicates that she has won her freedom from her husband. “But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely” (Chopin 157). She feels free from the obligations to her husband that was forced upon her during the Victorian era and she is looking forward to the years of independent freedom that are yet to come. “There would be no one to live for 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” (157). Mrs. Mallard did not want to submit to the oppressor, who in this case, was her husband. She wanted to make her own decisions and didn’t want to take orders from her husband. She was forced to live that way because her husband controlled her. Once she found out that he was supposedly dead, she felt free from the male oppression that she had been a victim of since the day she and her husband exchanged vows. Mrs. Mallard would rather live for herself and not have to live for her husband, and his alleged death allowed her to live for herself without getting a divorce, so her society wouldn’t look down upon her.

“The Story of an Hour” was written in a time period when women had no rights in the male-dominated society, called the Victorian era. Wives were expected to do all the household chores, take care of the children, and make sure husband was comfortable and well cared for, regardless of what women

wanted to do. Mrs. Mallard was one of these desperate-for-freedom housewives. Her husband’s death made her realize his will had been imposed upon her throughout their marriage; she had no freedom and she lacked self-identity. Mrs. Mallard’s identity belonged to her husband; she was Mrs. Mallard, the wife of Mr. Mallard. She had no identity of her own, and she longed for that identity. “And yet she had loved him--sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being” (Chopin 157). Mrs. Mallard suddenly realized that she turned out to be free from her duties to her husband when he died. She became free from the chores, free from waiting on her husband and all of his needs, and free to do whatever she wants and free to have her own identity apart from her husband. From the story

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