Kate Chopin is an outstanding American author of novels and short stories. She is currently recognized as one of the first feminist writers of the 19th century as in her works, she focuses on women and their controversial position in marriage, and social oppression. For this essay, two works of literature by Kate Chopin, “The Story of an Hour” and “A Respectable Woman,” will be observed to identify several significant elements. The positions of both short stories’ main characters in marriage will be investigated to compare how both women choose to solve their challenges.
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The Story of an Hour
In this story, Chopin describes Louise Mallard, who eventually is informed about the death of her husband in a railroad disaster. She starts to cry at first, though, later, when she stays alone, Louise starts to give a new meaning to this incident. She suddenly discovers that she feels extreme relief, happiness, and freedom as she became a widow. For one hour, Mrs. Mallard is planning “a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely” (Chopin, The Story of an Hour 2).
She feels an overwhelming joy and cries out that her soul and body are free (Chopin, The Story of an Hour 2). However, when Louise and her sister, Josephine, leave the room and walk downstairs, the husband of the main character, Brently Mallard, steps into their home. When Louise sees that he is alive, she gives a piercing cry and dies from a sudden heart attack.
A Respectable Woman
Mrs. Baroda is a wealthy woman who lives at the plantation with a loving husband, Gaston Baroda. When he decides to invite his college friend, Gouvernail, to have a rest from overwork, Mrs. Baroda is disappointed as she forms an image of Gouvernail as a cynical and unpleasant man (Chopin, A Respectable Woman 1). Instead, Gouvernail turns out to be “a lovable, inoffensive fellow,” however, the main heroine finds him uninteresting (Chopin, A Respectable Woman 1).
Nevertheless, when she gets a chance to talk with her guest privately, she is captivated by his voice and wants to “draw close to him and whisper against his cheek—she did not care what” (Chopin, A Respectable Woman 3). Mrs. Baroda restrains her impulse and goes to the city the next morning. She returns only after the Gouvernail’s departure and informs her husband that she overcame her dislike and would like to invite his friend to visit them next time.
Analysis of Short Stories
Both stories depict women who are not satisfied with their marriage to a greater or lesser degree. In “The Story of an Hour,” the author focuses readers’ attention on a disturbing contrast that exists between Louise’s family life and happiness, and its intensity results in the death of the heroine. She experiences a limitation of freedom and the oppression of her identity, and her emotional reaction signifies her actual attitude toward her husband and her marriage. Despite the doctor’s words that it is a “joy that kills,” Louise’s tragic end is caused by her inability to accept the fact that she recently acquired freedom will disappear (Chopin, The Story of an Hour 3).
All her expectations are shattered as her husband returns home. Louise is not terrified by Brently’s death, she is excited and inspired, however, the loss of her dreams kills her as her heart cannot surpass the climax of happiness and a subsequent disastrous disappointment. Louise’s death symbolizes her way of escaping this challenge.
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In “A Respectable Woman,” although the main heroine is surrounded by her husband’s love, she does not have strong emotions in her marriage. Nevertheless, her experiences are limited in a way she finds unacceptable. Mrs. Baroda considers her sudden impulse and the desire of closeness that she feels toward another man as “some battles in life which a human being must fight alone” (Chopin, A Respectable Woman 3).
Unlike Louise Mallard, who gets a chance to compare the limitations of her family life with a tremendous joy of freedom from it and does not agree to resign, Mrs. Baroda chooses her husband. However, her decision remains unclear and controversial, as her suggestion to invite Gouvernail again may signify her wish to ignore marriage bonds and expand her horizons through an affair.
In “The Story of an Hour,” the main heroine gets a chance to compare the limitations of her marriage with the happiness of freedom from it. She dies when she realizes that her expectations are shattered due to her husband’s return. In “A Respectable Woman,” a wife may have a wish to ignore the bonds of her pleasant marriage and expand her horizons through an affair. Both women are not satisfied with their marriage to a greater or lesser degree and feel that their identities and experiences are limited. Nevertheless, in “The Story of an Hour,” Louise’s death may be regarded as an escape for freedom that she cannot reach in another way, while Mrs. Baroda in “A Respectable Woman” chooses family life and a subsequently hidden self-discovery.
Chopin, Kate. A Respectable Woman. Louisiana State University Press, 2006.
Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1894.