A Feminism and Psychoanalytical Approach to “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin

April 28, 2022 by Essay Writer

Kate Chopin was an author of American origins who was born in February, 1859 and died in August, 1904. In the opinion of a certain scholars, she is believed to have been a predecessor of the feminist movement which took place in the 20th Century. She mainly wrote short stories and novels, some of her best known works being “The Awakening”, “Desiree’s Baby”, or “The Story of an Hour”, which is analyzed in this paper. (Wikipedia, Kate Chopin) At the center of this short literary work, “The Story of an Hour”, is the female protagonist, Mrs. Mallard, who receives the unfortunate news that her husband, Mrs. Mallard, has been killed in an accident. Because she suffers of “heart trouble” (Chopin, 2015), the news must be told in a considerate way. What is interesting is the fact that she reacts immediately, weeping “at once, with sudden, wild abandonment”, and not like other females would “with a paralysed inability to accept its significance”. (Chopin, 2015) After this, she goes into her room to be alone, to collect herself and her thoughts. This is where Simone de Beauvoir’s concept of “a room of one’s own” is visible. The necessity of a private space, a place where women can be 100% themselves it is crucial for Mrs. Mallard also, because this is where she finds the most true form of herself – in the solitude of her room, where she has an epiphany.

A significant moment for the main character is here, in her room, when her feelings and thoughts come rushing in. She senses that, after her initial reaction, what she is about to feel is relief and even more, “a monstrous joy”. Her first impulse is to suppress it with all her power. This, in Freudian terms, would qualify as a battle between the SUPER-EGO and the ID. The SUPER-EGO of the character is telling her that what she is feeling is not socially correct or acceptable, and she, as a good wife, should never do that. And she really tries to suppress these feelings: “she was striving to beat it back with her will – as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been” (Chopin, 2015). She is aware of the fact that she should be mourning her husband, and she is convinced she would, because, after all, he was an important part of her life, but at the same time, “she feels elation at her newfound independence.” And she is not prepared to give it up so soon. (Sparknotes: The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin) This was Mrs. Mallard’s last attempt to stay, because the ID won and Louise was “born”. (Bloom, 2007) Kate Chopin criticizes the patriarchal society in a more subtle manner, and that is linked to the identity of the main character. In the beginning, she is presented as “Mrs. Mallard”, which means that in those moments, her identity was possible only through her husband’s, since she carries his name. Only after the revelation in her room she becomes her most true self and she has a new name: Louise. As long as she had a husband, her identity as an female was not possible. The man in her life was her identity. Chopin criticizes the phalocentrism, the fact that women cannot simply belong to themselves and the inequality between the sexes clearly visible in this situation.

Looking at the story with a Freudian eye, Mrs. Mallard is a very good example of a repressed person in an oppressive marriage. Even if her husband was not a bad or abusive man and “she even loved him – sometimes”, she feels trapped in her marriage (Chopin, 2015). This is best seen in the moments when she realized that, with her husband gone, “she would live for herself”, and “there would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence” (Chopin, 2015). It is clear with those lines that there were enough occasions in which Louise had to surrender her own wishes and preferences in order to accommodate her husband’s or had to act certain ways that were against her desires because that was required of her. This ultimately led to her suppressing the discomfort and uneasiness given by her husband or marriage and becoming Mrs. Mallard, the “acceptable” woman, perfect for the phallocentric society. (Weng, 2014) This explains why Louise is thrilled for the prospect of a long life and even prays for one, when only a few days earlier, as Mrs. Mallard, she was scarred of this possibility.

The idea of repression is reinforced when Mrs. Mallard is described by the author herself: she is young, with a “calm, fair face”, but there are lines in her face that “bespoke repression” (Chopin, 2015). Also, the “heart problem” mentioned in the beginning of the story can be interpreted as the sign of a marriage that oppressed her. Due to the imprecision of the actual illness, the “heart problem” can be interpreted both as a physical malady and an emotional deficiency regarding her husband, which determined her to repress her feelings (Sparknotes: The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin). During her time in her room, when she realizes that she belongs to herself only, it is mentioned that her “heart was beating fast” and she did not seem to have any health problems at all, even if the people around her were concerned with that. After some time, Louise decides to come down from her room. She is now transformed, she has the posture and the dignity of “a goddess of Victory”, which implies the idea that a woman on her own, with a personal identity is an extremely powerful creature, maybe even a superior person. The fact that she comes out victorious shows that there was a battle and she won it, and at some point in her life, every woman must face a similar battle.

The ending of the story is not nearly as optimistic as Louise’s attitude since her husband comes back home, alive and well, not even knowing of the existence of an accident. His entrance in the house is the moment when Louise realizes that she has to become “his wife” again, Mrs. Mallard, her socially imposed self, is obligated to surrender her freedom and identity to SUPER-EGO. But the ID is stronger and does not crumble. So the only option for Louise to remain herself is death. In her case, death may even be her EGO trying to reconcile the SUPER-EGO with the ID or it may be viewed as an escape because in death, everyone is equal: man and woman, black or white, poor or rich. But in the end, Louise remains a Goddess of Victory since she chose to defy the society’s phallocentric views and conceptions and stayed herself, even if she had to die for that.

In conclusion, Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” can be both interpreted in a feminist manner, since the main character secretly earns for equality of sexes and personal identity, not one that depends entirely on another male, but also as a battle between the conscious and the unconscious, between the ID and the SUPER-EGO of a person who listens, in the end, to the more powerful force – ID.

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