Dramatic events associated with death have always been a compelling topic in fiction. However, in addition to creating a straightforward appeal, they can be used as devices for the exploration of deeper themes. In “The Story of an Hour,” Kate Chopin uses the theme of death to successfully reveal the oppression of women by their husbands in the late nineteenth-century society.
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The short story “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin describes an hour in the life of Louise Mallard, a woman whose husband is believed to die in an accident. Since Louise has a heart condition, her relatives try to deliver the news as gently as possible to avoid damaging her health. However, after a brief period of mourning, Louise starts feeling liberated from her husband’s dominance. After a while, she exits her room with her sister only to see her husband enter the house, at which point she collapses from a heart attack. The doctors conclude that the heart attack occurred because of the overwhelming joy caused by the fact that her husband turned out alive after all (Chopin, 1894).
The protagonist of the story, Louise Mallard, is a rather unconventional character for the period. In contrast to the accepted moral standards of the time (late 19th century), she does not accept the dominance of her husband as a norm. Therefore, even though her behavior is otherwise consistent with the heroic qualities, the setting requires terming her an antihero. Interestingly, her relation to society is fairly conformist: except the last hour of her life, she appears to be discreet of the dissatisfaction with her social role and only allows the outburst of deviance after thinking that her husband is gone (Chopin, 1894). Such silent compliance was not uncommon in the era, where social norms assigned women secondary social roles. Thus, it is possible to say that the protagonist relates to society superficially on the social and moral levels.
The main theme of the story is the unfortunate position of women in the male-dominated society. The author also communicates the idea that the relationship between genders has subtle undertones that are hard to see and in some cases are invisible to an outside observer. These ideas are mainly communicated through the central character, and only in the second half of the story, where she gradually escapes the confines imposed by her marital status. As soon as this becomes apparent (closer to the ending, where she suffers a shock upon seeing her husband alive), the setting becomes equally important in demonstrating the theme: the opinion of doctors, as well as that of her sister, is openly compliant with the norms of the society, leaving Louise in the minority (Chopin, 1894). It is also possible to speculate that at least some of her relatives are equally oppressed but do not reveal they’re true feelings because of the pressure imposed by society.
The intended audience of my selection is a broad range of readers interested in the female rights movement from the historical perspective. While the described setting is relatively obsolete, it provides an accurate and accessible account of the emotional implications behind the discrimination before the civil rights movement went into full swing.
At the time of the publication, the identified social issues were both common and deeply alarming. Therefore, the author’s goal was probably to bring them to the attention of the society so that the audience could understand the experience of living a life in a male-dominated society. The death of the protagonist’s husband in this case is used as an ultimate event that could liberate Louise, and her death indicated the tenacity of the social norms of the time.
Chopin, K. (1894). The story of an hour.
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