Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour epitomizes the plight of women in the 19th century, as well as in the present day. Women frequently lived in loveless marriages where they were thought of more as commodities than as people. When Mrs. Mallard’s sister tells her that her husband is dead, Mrs. Mallard sobs with what is taken for grief, which is the expected response. Mrs. Mallard feels an emotion that she possibly has never felt before - joy.
While sitting dumbstruck by the open window, Mrs. Mallard feels that there is "something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully." This something that she is waiting for is the feeling of freedom, a feeling that few women of her day could ever aspire. The thought of what freedom from marriage will bring to her overwhelms Mrs. Mallard.
That the story ends with Mr. Mallards ‘return from the dead’ and Mrs. Mallards death is typical of the endings in stories from this century. A woman reading the story in the 1890’s can identify with the elation that stirs in Mrs. Mallards soul. But Chopin reminds the reader of the futility of hope and the harm in believing that a woman could ever hope to be anything but a wife and a mother, titles with far different connotations than they have today.
However, there are readers in the present day who can emphasize with Mrs. Mallard. The day has not come yet that society looks at women as being free to pursue their lives in their own way. Many women still find themselves locked into marriages that once looked fruitful but now are loveless. Society still expects these wives and mothers to remain where they are regardless of how they how they ‘feel.'
Even today some women dream of being free from their marriages, only to find that the very freedom that they sought so ardently comes with its own price. Women today, as in Chopin’s time, find that sometimes it is just easier to be ‘safe’ than to be ‘free.'
K. Y. Hamilton, BA, MA - Copyright 2002, 2006