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Critical Analysis: Male Oppression in "story of an Hour"

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Critical Analysis: Male Oppression in "Story of An Hour"

Author Kate Chopin paints the picture of Mrs. Mallard, a woman of the late 19th century, trapped in an unwanted marriage. In the story, Mrs. Mallard is comforted by her sister Josephine and Richard, her husband's close friend. Richard and Josephine must break the news of Mr. Brently Mallard's death very delicately to Louise, for she is "afflicted with a heart trouble" (362) and any distress may worsen her pre-existing condition. However, after hearing of her husband's tragic death, Louise spends time in her room basking in illustrious liberation; "spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days...would be her own" (363). To show the oppression Mrs. Mallard experiences, the reader is not even told her first name until Louise comes to the realization that she will be able to "live for herself" (363). Throughout Chopin's "Story of An Hour," men dictate the life and death of Louise Mallard; ironically, only when she dies is she truly free from the grips of male oppression.

Chopin opens "Story of An Hour" with mention that Mrs. Mallard is "afflicted with a heart trouble" (362) and must be handled with great care. In modern times, Louise Mallard's heart condition might be identified as depression. "She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression" (363). In the 19th century, where men were accepted as the sole practitioners of medicine, Mrs. Mallard's diagnosis is "heart trouble," not the heart-ache associated with depression. At the close of the story, the male doctors return to provide her final diagnosis: "When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease -- of a joy that kills" (364). Ironically, the joy of seeing her husband was not what killed Louise, it was the shock and realization that she would be bound to her husband for many years to come.

Further proof of her oppression and liberation is demonstrated when she retreats to her room alone. After learning of her husband's passing, she soon realizes Brently's end marks her new beginning. Chopin's use of springtime imagery is fantastic in expressing the way Louise now sees the world. Now nature is blooming and the sparrows are singing. Before "she had thought with a shudder that life might be long" (363). Now she saw "a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome" (363). Louise finally had a glimmer of hope now that she no longer be controlled by her husband's will: "There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds" (363).

For women in the Victorian era, getting married was virtually mandatory



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