The piece “The Story of an Hour,” written by Kate Chopin, narrates the life of a woman who managed to grasp the meaning of freedom for a short while. Such events seem unusual for the patriarchal society of the time and, therefore, are described from the main character’s perspective with the use of emotional devices. This area is typically left for women to explore, whereas reason is attributed to men, and this fact emphasizes its importance for the story (Jamil 217). Hence, Louise, the main character, when hearing the news about her husband’s alleged death in a train accident, explicitly demonstrates the expected reaction by discussing feelings in the first place rather than focusing on consequences.
Meanwhile, the emotions as an aspect of female life in contrast to that of their male counterparts highlighted by the author are significant not separately from the feminist standpoint but in combination with it. They serve as evidence of the lack of consciousness of women regarding one’s individuality inflicted by men’s supremacy (Jamil 216). In this way, the story’s underlying meaning is multi-faceted since it not only reflects the attempts to attribute the emotions solely to Louise but also indicates a misinterpretation of her actual state. From this perspective, it can be claimed that the piece written by Chopin is intended to persuade the audience of the initially disadvantaged position of females in the world by referring to feelings.
The Emotional Transformation
The main factor contributing to the stance that emotions are significant in describing a position of women in society different from that of men is a transformation occurring with Louise after hearing the news. The immediate reaction when she starts to “recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her” as freedom confirms that the character is irrational in her musings (Chopin 5). Hence, the change is pure of an emotional nature, and the time to reflect on its meaning has not come yet. At this moment, Louise, who has to “fit into the mold of hollow social conventions,” understands that the shift is inward as the external circumstances of the matter do not bother her (Jamil 216). The emerging individuality is more overwhelming than the fact of losing one’s husband, as the author shows. Therefore, the emotional process behind the events in the story is central to its interpretation as well as demonstrating the gap between male and female activity in the world.
Misinterpretations of Physical Health
The disadvantaged position of women in the story reflecting the societal conditions of the time is supported by the attitudes towards their health. As follows from Louise’s condition described in the beginning, she is believed to be “afflicted with a heart trouble” (Chopin 4). Nevertheless, this issue is not attributed to her psychological well-being but solely to her physical state. The woman is thereby denied the possibility of living under constant pressure stemming from her husband’s attitude and treatment (Jamil 216). In the continuation of this piece and, consequently, her death, it becomes clear that dying “of heart disease – of the joy that kills” is different from the original diagnosis (Chopin 7). From this point of view, the excitement following the death of Brently, Louise’s husband, is an emotional issue rather than a physical problem, and it implies devaluing one’s feelings.
Reason vs. Emotions
The discrimination against women is primarily demonstrated by denying their rationality by attributing it to men. In the story, this kind of supremacy is shown in the perceptions of the described events by the characters and their actions. Thus, their reactions to the sudden arrival of Brently Mallard vary accordingly. In this part, “Josephine’s piercing cry” is contrasted by Richards’ intention to “screen him from the view of his wife” (Chopin 7). This scene confirms the typical attitudes of people of the time towards individuals’ responses determined by gender when “the faculty of reason” is accessible only to men who are, consequently, viewed as more powerful (Jamil 215). Meanwhile, the contradictions regarding Louise’s health described above oppose this stance, as the author sees supremacy in her transition from passivity under the influence of “an uncontrollable flood of emotion” (Jamil 215). It means that the prejudice in society does not allow considering women’s approaches to life as effective in resolving matters.
Will: Male and Female Perspectives
The concept of will underpins the disadvantaged position of female characters as a purely male construct. In the short story, the author implicitly mentions the conflict of interest between Brently and Louise while the intention, whether it is good or not, does not matter for the fact of this crime (Chopin 6). As per Louise’s contemplations, no one should “have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow creature,” whereas her husband was the one violating this provision (Chopin 6). Hence, the tragic outcome is “a result of the psychological burden” rather than a mere coincidence (Jamil 216). Meanwhile, “Louise’s sensitivity, responsiveness, and mindfulness” as the precondition for it are not respected equally as men’s reason (Jamil 217). In this situation, the difference between male and female opinions is discriminatory, as the former tends to disregard feelings without a rational explanation.
A Feminist Critical Point of View
From a feminist critical point of view, the considerations presented in the previous sections confirm the improper attitudes towards women of the time. The main challenge in this respect is in the fact that “a woman was not expected to engage in self-assertion,” and it clarifies why the emotions of the main female character were particularly strong (Jamil 216). The hour when Louise begins to understand “a new identity with her newly awakened faculty of emotions” presents a drastic contrast with her old life (Jamil 217). This part shows that being “body and soul free,” which is natural for present-day people, is a unique position for Louise and other females of the nineteenth-century United States (Chopin 6). Her husband Brently is thereby depicted as one of the supporters of patriarchal culture as opposed to the idea of “a woman’s self-discovery” (Jamil 219). In other words, the feminist approach to the problem proves that male perceptions of appropriateness limited the choices of female citizens in this time period.
In conclusion, the position of women in society and the importance of their emotions for the formation of identity neglected by men are the main themes of the story. The primary evidence of this standpoint is Louise’s transformation under the influence of feelings rather than facts. Meanwhile, the emotional aspect also serves as the reason why her health issues caused by psychological circumstances are misinterpreted as a physical ailment. These considerations are opposed by men’s rationality, viewed as supreme over the female perspective, and the will attributed to the former determines their superiority. The mentioned factors are underpinned by a feminist perspective since the limitations in all of the discussed aspects are created by males.
Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour. Harper Perennial Classics, 2014.
Jamil, Selina S. “Emotions in the Story of an Hour.” The Explicator, vol. 67, no. 3, 2009, pp. 215-220.