In Kate Chopin's "Story of an Hour" the author portrays patriarchal oppression in the institution of marriage by telling the story of one fateful hour in the life of a married woman. Analyzing the work through feminist criticism, one can see the implications of masculine discourse.
Mrs. Mallard's medical diagnosis is an example of the male-dominated society in which she lives. They are able to tell her that she indeed has a heart condition, but are unable to treat her effectively, portraying how ineffectual male patriarchy is in the life of this woman in particular. Mrs. Mallard is expected to fulfill the stereotypical role of "the angel in the house." She should acknowledge that the comforts in her life are all gifts from her husband, and should make it the primary goal of her life to please him in any way. As a dutiful wife, she must be content in serving and obeying her husband and children. On the other hand, there is the "madwoman in the attic" who breaks free from the constraints set upon women. This woman is seen as a "monster" and "sexually fallen" for simply desiring to have a life outside of her family (Bressler 178). Mrs. Mallard falls into both categories. Though she feels oppressed by her husband, she stills acts as the "angel," faithfully staying by his side despite her unhappiness. However, Chopin provides the reader with small indications of the "madwoman" even before Mrs. Mallard receives the news of her husband's death. The Mallards have no children, which signifies an unfruitful marriage. According to the same male-dominated medical society that is impotent in treating her heart condition, the failure to produce children would have fallen on Mrs. Mallard (Wald 2).
Oppressed by these unrealistic expectations, Mrs. Mallard keeps her thoughts hidden from her husband. On the outside she is a representation of the "angel" but inside her thoughts are akin to those of a "madwoman." The reader does not discover her stifled feelings until Mrs. Mallard retires to her room. Here, Chopin uses imagery to reflect the new, hopeful deliberations that go through Mrs. Mallard's mind. The "open window" is the time that has suddenly opened in front of her, "all aquiver with the new spring life." "Countless sparrows" singing outside show the countless number of days that she suddenly is looking forward to living because she will finally be allowed to live for herself and not her husband. The "madwoman" can finally be free. She now desires her life to be long, whereas before she had "thought with a shudder that life might be long." The psychoanalytic model by Showalter analyzes the fluidity of female writing as opposed to the rigid writing structure of males. Chopin's graceful language inspires the reader to share in Mrs. Mallard's joy as she partakes in the "very elixir of life through that open window."
Some critics argue, however, that "the story's themes of autonomy and identity are undermined...