Oppression of Women in Chopin's "The Story of an Hour"
In an age where bustles, petticoats, and veils stifled women physically, it is not surprising that society imposed standards that stifled them mentally. Women were molded into an ideal form from birth, with direction as to how they should speak, act, dress, and marry. They lacked education, employable skills, and rights in any form. Every aspect of their life was controlled by a male authority figure starting with their father at birth and persisting through early womanhood into marriage where it was the husband who possessed control. Men believed that it was the law of the bible for one of the two parties to be superior and the other inferior. Women were ruled over as children and were to be seen, but not heard.
Author and feminist Kate Chopin lived in the height of the Victorian Era and was a first-hand witness to the suppression women endured and accepted in the late 19th century. Unlike most women at the time, Chopin was far from a conformist. Kate showed increasing concern for the plight of women in Victorian age America and she responded with scandalous writings dealing explicitly with love, sex and marriage. In one of her more famous short stories, The Story of an Hour, her refusal to be silenced is all too evident.
Chopin presents a character known simply as Mrs. Mallard. The lack of personal identity is evident in this name. Not once in this story is her first name mentioned illustrating the lack of individuality possessed by these women. The name also reveals another element in the formula representing the ideal Victorian housewife. Mallard ducks are docile, unthreatening creatures that when in flight, fly in form...never wavering from their perfect V. This loyalty to conformity and meekness was the ideal society demanded. The similarity between mallards and women is striking and it is appalling how men ruled over women as if they were masters of animals.
Upon hearing of her husband's death, Mrs. Mallard was faced with conflicting emotions that she does not quite understand. It was all too clear to her how she...