The Death Of Louise Mallard And Female Identity In The Story Of An Hour

2147 words - 9 pages

In Chopin’s thousand work short story The Story of an Hour, the protagonist Louise Mallard is afflicted with heart trouble but learns that her husband has died in a railroad accident. Upon her husband’s death, Mrs. Mallard catches a glimpse of what independence feels like, but it is quickly taken away from once her husband returns unharmed. Chopin’s feminist ideals form the basis of this story where she explores female identity in a patriarchal society. For women of her time, marriage could be likened to prison where only death could set their “body and soul free” (Chopin 237). Considering the status of women in the late nineteenth century, Louise Mallard is a sympathetic character; she represents the oppression of women and the futility of asserting female identity in a patriarchal society.
Kate Chopin’s works explore female identity in a patriarchal society and place emphasis on women’s self-worth. In Louisiana, where Chopin lived at the time, wives were considered to be the lawful property of their husbands. They were bound to serve and love their husbands with no way of being independent without social stigma forcing
them to be submissive. It is important to note that her stories were written before the feminist movement of the late nineteenth century began. Chopin, a free spirit who would passionately argue with strangers about political and social matters to the dismay of wives in her social circle, was ahead of her time. Unlike Louise Mallard, Chopin became an independent widow after the death of her husband Oscar Chopin, which was considered immoral in her time (Seyersted 62). She did not want to lose her independence and wanted to live for her writing (Seyersted 62).
With this in mind, it is odd that Chopin chose an ending where Louise Mallard drops dead at the sight of her husband. Chopin could have utilized an ending where Brently Mallard is truly dead and Louise is finally able to assert herself in this society to drive her feminist ideals home, but that would have been too radical for readers to digest at that time. Critics praised her brilliance, but they were “horrified by the heroine’s self-indulgence, and the author’s objective treatment of it, and they admonished her to go back to the description of ‘sweet and lovable characters’” in one of her previous works (Seyersted 5). This criticism left her particularly distressed, which may be a factor in why Louise Mallard does not get the chance to indulge in her newfound independence. One can assume that though Chopin is an all-out feminist, she was still somewhat controlled by patriarchy, and this control spills over into this short story.
For instance, a typical trope of the turn of the century is that women were weaker both physically and mentally. Feminists might object to where Chopin writes, “She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will – as powerless as her two white slender hands...

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