The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin
About the author .. Kate Chopin(1850-1904) is remembered as much as for her gripping short stories, as for her pioneering role in American feminist movement. She believed in the institution of marriage as any normal woman, but her inner self told her relentlessly that wives must have the liberty to profess their views with no hindrance, and do things they liked without seeking the permission of their husbands. Born in St. Luis, Missouri, she had a French mother and an Irish father. She was widowed prematurely, but the disaster proved to be blessing as it enabled her to plunge into writing with all her time and energy.
In her novel ‘The Awakening’, she gives enough indication about her strong belief in women’s emancipation and the idea f equality of the sexes. ‘The Story of an Hour’, she has portrayed the feelings of a woman who receives the news of her husband’s death with equanimity and subdued glee because as a widow she could live own life. The dream is shattered moments later when the ‘dead’ husband appears alive in person
The story …
Mrs. Mallard had just lost her husband in a train accident. Being widowed at a relatively young age is a shattering tragedy for a woman. Besides this, she had a cardiac history, so everyone took extraordinary care to soften the blow before breaking the news to her. It fell on Josephine to communicate the news to her elder sister. Josephine spoke in tits and bits, in indirect language, and in a way, so that the news didn’t strike Mrs. Millard too hard.
Their family friend Richards had brought the news of the train accident that had proved fatal for Mr. Millard. In the list of passengers list killed in the accident, Mr. Millard’s name surely was there. Richards had cross-checked it through a second telegram, before coming to convey the news to the bereaved wife.
Mrs. Millard’s reaction to the news was a bit unusual. She didn’t become benumbed and still, as most women react on first hearing the news of the death of their husbands. Instead, she cried loudly and wildly in Josephine’s hands. After a while, the tumult and the frenzy began to calm somewhat. Mrs. Millard rushed into her room, bolted it from inside, and locked herself. Everyone though, most likely she wanted to be left alone in that hour of grief.
Inside the room, there was a comfortable cane chair kept facing a large window. One could see trees with lush foliage. Spring was setting on. It had rained for a while. A hawker carried his ware a little distance away. Sparrows had been twittering in the eaves exuberantly. Cloud hovered in the sky. A lone singer was singing somewhere afar.
In the comfortable cane chair, Mrs. Millard seated herself as if unable to take the burden of the grief. A torrent of thoughts seemed to pass through her mind. She was sad, no doubt, but she was experiencing something different. She looked vacantly at the distant sky, gazing into the clouds. Perhaps, she was trying to imagine her life as a widow. She reminisced about her married life. It was both sour and sweet. Her husband loved her, no doubt, but disagreements often marred their marital bliss. The loss was tragic, but she must come to turns with it sooner r later. She must do the rebuilding task on her own terms, not pushed or influenced by anyone else.
She felt that she was ‘free’ at last. The thought was exciting. She saw an opportunity here –to do things she liked without being fettered by anything or anyone else’s overpowering influence. She was beginning to feel happy at the prospect of living an un-shackled life. After some serious introspection, she convinced herself that the deliverance from married life was a welcome opening indeed. She looked forward to a joyous life in the coming years.
Josephine, overcome with trepidation, was frantically trying to come in and see her bereaved sister. From outside the locked door, she screamed at her elder sister to open the door and let her in. Mrs. Millard didn’t like to be disturbed from her reverie. Optimism had returned. She looked forward expectantly to the months ahead. She seemed to have triumphed over her misfortune.
Finally, she opened the door to let Josephine in. She exuded rare self-confidence and hope. She clung to her sister and both of them went downstairs. Richard was waiting there.
Something utterly unbelievable happened. Brently Millard came in opening the front door by his key. As usual, he was carrying his umbrella and grip-sack. He looked somewhat tired. He was blissfully unaware of the accident as he happened to be in a different location when the mishap happened.
Mr. Millard had a quizzical look in his eyes. Josephine recoiled in horror on seeing him, standing before her in person. The shock was perhaps too much for Mrs. Millard. Her reverie had been smashed by hard reality.
Mrs. Millard couldn’t possibly bear it. She breathed her last.
Questions and answers …
Q1 …Why ‘The Story of an Hour’ is symbolic of modern feminism?
Answer .. From the dawn of civilization till today, women have borne the weight of patriarchal hegemony. It is rather strange, how some women have refused to be crushed under such a repressive system. God made men stronger than women, but didn’t quite prepare the latter for perpetual slavery in the guise of ‘good womanhood’. Women posses as much creativity as men do, and their urge to live life in their own terms is as strong today as it was ever. Marriage is a social contract that loses its validity when all freedoms are taken away from the weaker ex – an equal party in the contract.
Feminists, men and women alike have railed against the Victorian value system that confines the women to the four walls of the house. They are expected to take care of the house, serve all family members, and never ‘waste’ time in any hobby that their husbands disapprove of. Outdoor roles for women have seldom been accepted as legitimate or desirable. It is strange how women still manage to eke out a role for themselves outside the confines of their homes, asserting their right and place in the society.
Kate Chopin wrote ‘The Story of an Hour’ in 1894. It was published in the Vogue magazine. Mrs. Mallard is a home maker serving her over-bearing husband who decides what chores she should do, where and when she could go, and what hobbies, if at all, she could indulge in. No wonder Mrs. Mallard seethed under such a husband. She was too submissive in nature to vent her frustration, but her desire to ‘be herself’ never deserted her. The news of her husband’s death comes, but the elation in her mind drowns her grief. She feels she can take to her wings to soar into the sky. The elation is short-lived as Mr. Mallard arrives in the scene. The flame of freedom in her mind is snuffed out, brutally.
A modern feminist would instantly identify themselves with Mrs. Mallard. She was a victim of her husband’s stifling writs that ran in her house. Was Mrs. Mallard a feminist herself? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. This is why, relief and rejoicing overwhelmed her instead of grief when the news of the fatal accident came. She imagined she could follow her passions with no fetters or sense of guilt.
For modern feminists, the plight of Mrs. Mallard strikes a raw chord in hearts. In a way, Mrs. Mallard was a feminist icon.
Q2 ….. Analyse Mrs. Mallard’s thoughts when she sat behind the closed doors dealing with her grief?
Answer .. Mrs. Mallard’s marriage had not been a happy one. Her husband’s stern ways had severely clipped her yearning for carefree life. The restrictions imposed by him gnawed at her self relentlessly. She vainly craved for freedom, but she could only cringe and fret, but could do nothing else. The news of Mr. Mallad’s demise came like a bolt from the blue, leaving her a widow, and a woman without a mate. Normally, a vicissitude like this would devastate even the most strong-willed woman, albeit temporarily.
For Mrs. Mallard, widowhood brought with it the prospect of freedom that had eluded her all along. Her joy of being able to live the rest of her life on her own terms was palpable. The grief of losing her husband was surely there, but it was overshadowed by her sense of relief at being unshackled from a bondage that had proved to be insufferable.
Mrs. Mallad withdrew to a lonely corner of the first floor that offered a view of the road and the landscape in the front. Her mind was in torment, as a mix of contrasting emotions swirled inside it. She pondered her fate as a widow, the loneliness that lay ahead, and the insecurity that could bedevil her life. Yet, she saw some light too. She was on her own from then on. She could engage in her pet hobbies, visit friends, travel to places with no hindrance and none to tie her down. Her pent-up desire for being a free-wheeling woman would finally come to fruition. This was great relief, but she, obviously, couldn’t show it to anyone for fear of embarrassment. She sat thee brooding her future, but drawing solace from the fact that she was finally ‘a free bird’.