Kate Chopin was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1851 to Eliza Faris O’Flaherty and Thomas O’Flaherty. Her mother was a member of the prominent French-Creole community whilst her father was an Irish immigrant who had successfully established himself as a merchant [which invited him to partake] in various business ventures. Thomas had been a founder of the Pacific Railroad. During the train ride of its inaugural voyage, the train plunged into the Gasconade River, due to a bridge collapsing. Kate Chopin was [merely] a child when her father died. Having to go through the motions of her father’s death, Chopin developed a more intimate relationship with her mother who had grown more religious. Moreover, she also began to develop a strong connection to her great grandmother who aided her with her studies at the piano, the language of French, and moral counseling.
Chopin developed an infatuable love for reading and a large appetite for fairy tales, religious allegory, poetry, and novelists ranging from Walter Scott to Charles Dickens. That love would later increase due to the loss of her great-grandmother and her half-brother. These losses propelled Chopin to delve more deeper into literature. She excelled in her formal studies at [her] Catholic school, gaining a repute as a proficient and creative storyteller. Chopin graduated from the Catholic school in 1868, and for the next two years, she enjoyed life as a belle in St. Louis’s high society, earning admiration for both her beauty and her wit. Her love for reading flourished, as she did it religiously, not limiting her interests to the classics, but embracing the works of many contemporary writers. Moreover, Chopin continued to devote herself to music, often practicing the piano and polishing her craft as a pianist.
As she enjoyed the frivolity and stature of the St. Louis society, Chopin became increasingly independent in thought and action. She began to question Catholicism’s implicit authoritarianism, which dictated subservience for women to male domination, whilst showing awareness of the idiocies involved in socializing. With her awakened conscience, Chopin’s pursuit of life’s withheld freedom allowed her to adopt a habit of smoking cigarette’s and walking unaccompanied through the city—habits which were most unusual for young women. She found it important for herself and women in general, to maintain solace and independence. Doing so, allowed one to experience the world in a manner that does not necessarily fall within the ruling of societal norms. There becomes an encompassing support that not only promotes the entitlement of individualism but celebrates the autonomy of a woman’s mind.
Women are virtuous gifts that are declined of freedom and self-expression. Their expenditure regarding freedom itself, has always been frowned upon by society and its moral obligations to uphold the esoteric relationship of master and servant. Kate Chopin understood this and made a strive to raise awareness through the publications of her work. “A Story of An Hour”, is a prime example. The protagonist, Mrs. Mallard, having heard the news of the passing of her husband, instantly gains freedom from her husband and her marriage. However, when the news turns out to be false and a case of mistaken identity, the wife immediately dies. Chopin uses gender to show the obscurity of life and the societal imprisonment women remain dormant in, whilst having the main character’s death symbolizes the extent to which female roles are defined and described.
The purpose of exchanging wedding vows is to vocalize the representation of the love promised unto each other. When one says, “I do,” they fail to realize that they are spiritually biding themselves to another person, till death do they part. This is the obscurity of life and the societal imprisonment women linger in. Mrs. Mallard briefly recognizes this, when she realizes, “There would be no one to live for her during those years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have the right to impose a private will upon a fellow creature” (Chopin 2). The dedication to uphold the vows of a marriage, enables a woman to lose themselves throughout its entirety. In this instance, Mrs. Mallard felt empty even though she was free—by the death of her husband, from doing society’s bidding of how to live and to be happy.
According to the article, “Women in Very Low-Quality Marriages Gain Life Satisfaction Following Divorce” by Kyle J. Bourassa, David A. Sbarra and Mark A. Whisman “Poor quality marriages [are] harmful to those involved. This is [a resultant] of life transitions, which suggests that leaving from higher quality marriages evidenced lower happiness” (Bourassa K., Sbarra D., Whisman M. 1). In this brief instance, Mrs. Mallards, did not know how to cope with the loss of her husband. His death symbolized their divorce. It pricked her mind as to how she would transition from a life of bondage to a life tranquility and independence. The feeling of happiness, she was not familiar with, but after recanting her thoughts of her life being over, she happily welcomed them. Thus, the transition from “[L]eaving a highly stressful social role (e.g., a low-quality marriage) to positive outcomes” (Bourassa K., Sbarra D., Whisman M. 1), began.
Gender and gender roles often initiate the course of life for women. It is an exchange of one’s liberty for servitude that engulfs the possibility of ever understanding and feeling what it is to live, rather than surviving through the flinging’s of man’s arbitrary control. According to the article, “When Women Get Mad” by Katha Pollitt, “Being a [women] is about pleasing men: what they think of you and want from you and how you negotiate that in a world that does not want to hear about the darker side of what that can mean” (Pollitt 1). Chopin confirms this accordingly in “The Story of An Hour” when Mrs. Mallard acknowledges the fact that her marriage, was often times one-sided and required that obedience be met. Such obedience entailed pledging false emotions that weren’t necessarily the feelings of Mrs. Mallard, but societal expectations she needed to uphold, as a wife. Chopin states, “She knew she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead” (Chopin 2). Thus, one is able to see the explicit bereavement being forced upon not only Mrs. Mallard, but women as a whole.
Men are scoundrels of the earth. They effortlessly penetrate a woman’s independence through the ramifications of financial stability—postmortem feelings that only occurs after the expulsion of what was lust, cradled by a means to free their hearts of her world. According to the article, “Characteristics of Women With Children Who Divorce in Midlife Compared to Those Who Remain Married”
Traditional gender role beliefs emphasize the dichotomy between the husband, as the breadwinner, and wife as homemaker, and the power that each role holds. Men tend to resist changes in established gender roles because they benefit from maintain the status quo. Therefore, as wives’ attitudes become more nontraditional, their marriages are likely to become less stable. In contrast, women with traditional gender role beliefs tend to be comfortable with deferring power to their husbands, which stabilizes the marriage. [T]he husband’s gender role beliefs are a strong determinant of marital stability. When the husband is more traditional than his wife, she resists what she perceives as inequities I the relationship. [Conversely], women who perceive inequity in their marriages experience higher levels of stress, worry, and anxiety and lower levels of sexual satisfactions, martial happiness and marital stability (Hilton J.M., Anderson T.L. 1).
In other words, men are perceived as lionhearts by society. There need to meet status quo, is evident. In the midst of this bigotry, their demeanor and gender role grant them an excuse from ethical and moral obligations of a women’s wellbeing. Though not directly stated in “The Story of An Hour” one can assume that Mrs. Mallard’s husband never catered enough to her emotional and communal comfort. Thus, her death was eminent. At the beginning of the story, Chopin, states “Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with heart trouble” (Chopin 1), therefore, any news of tragedy or news of the highest contentment would cut her life span within an instant. When she accepted the news of her husband death, she was most happy. However, seeing her husband alive and well, brought back the insignificance of marriage that would have crippled her “suspension of intelligent thought” (Chopin 1).
How we are perceived by society, dictates our inability to look past the gender roles and stereotypes placed on us. We become a product of norms that limit our ability to think for ourselves. Kate Chopin’s work is centered around this idea, for she understood that life itself should not be limited to our gender. There is much more to living. How we choose to live, will, indubitably redefine our existence within society. We spend much of our time cradling trauma in hopes of it maturing into a child we proudly call rehabilitation. It is our way of comforting ourselves from the denial that we will be sane once again. However, Chopin illuminates the idea that is it is okay to say no the façade you humbly cater to. They too, will slowly begin to consume you until you become a frivolous being without a heart to love and be independently at peace with yourself.
“Kate Chopin.” Authors and Artists for Young Adults, vol. 33, Gale, 2000. Gale In Context: Biography, https://link-gale-com.bcc.ezproxy.cuny.edu/apps/doc/K1603000607/BIC?u=cuny_bronxcc&sid=BIC&xid=b12c9fce. Accessed 11 Dec. 2019.
POLLITT, KATHA. “When Women Get Mad.” Nation, vol. 307, no. 10, Oct. 2018, pp. 3–4. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=132140437&site=ehost-live.
Bourassa, Kyle J., et al. “Women in Very Low Quality Marriages Gain Life Satisfaction Following Divorce.” Journal of Family Psychology, vol. 29, no. 3, June 2015, pp. 490–499. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1037/fam0000075.
Hilton, JeanneM., and TamaraL. Anderson. “Characteristics of Women With Children Who Divorce in Midlife Compared to Those Who Remain Married.” Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, vol. 50, no. 5, July 2009, pp. 309–329. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/10502550902766365.
Resident Writer Camois Foster