Kate Chopin’s Description of the Topic of Liberty in Women and Marriage as Depicted in Her Narratives, The Storm and the Story of an Hour
Susan B Anthony once said “Independence is Happiness,” but independence has not always been easily accessible to all genders. Chopin’s stories with strong female roles, “The Storm” and “The Story of an Hour”, express themes of female independence and marriage; they are used to convey that despite that strengths of relationships are assumed by society, they are still diminished by personal desires. Many women during this time deemed feelings of female liberation as absurd because it was counter-cultural to the stay at home wife, however, Chopin’s characters showed an opposition from the norm because they had confused emotions from uncertainty about how to react to their desires, a yearning for freedom to make personal decisions from an oppressive male dominant society, and because of physical and emotional confinement from their significant other, which followed the socially accepted behavior of women during this era.
Chopin supports the female stereotype that women are confusing when it comes to their emotions and desires, by illustrating two women that defy society by reacting truthfully to themselves, when given the opportunity. She expresses this through her lead roles, Calixta, and Mrs. Mallard, from “The Storm” and “The Story of an Hour”. “The Storm” depicts a wife, Calixta, who is left at home during a storm while her husband and son are out purchasing goods. At first, Calixta starts to get worried about her family in the storm, until her emotions are flipped by an unexpected guest arrival. Chopin brings temptation in the marriage of Calixta by placing her ex, Alcée, on her doorstep. Calixta did not appear to be disappointed with her marriage, but when given the option to stay loyal, she chose the devil on her opposite shoulder. “They did not heed the crashing torrents, and the roar of the elements made her laugh as she lay in his arms” (“The Storm”, 436). Furthermore, the main character feels a sense of excitement and independence when given the opportunity to bounce onto Alcée. This sense of independence and freedom is taken over and Calixta is no longer thinking of her marriage with her husband. Chopin shows the reader that human relationships are hard to keep strong, because of the lack of trust and faithfulness. In addition to Calixta betraying her spouse, Alcée is also duplicitous to his significant other. As shared in Alcée’s letter to his wife, “He told her not to hurry back” (“The Storm”, 437). When observing social morality, Chopin reflects how when it comes to doing the right thing, selfishness, such as preferring personal independence, is more important than one’s own marriage. Neither Calixta nor Alcée told their spouses the truth, keeping their affair under the covers. However, when it comes to “The Story of an Hour”, the lead female role senses a different kind of emotional confusion. Mrs. Mallard had just recently found out about the death of her husband and does not seem to know if she is devastated or relieved. Chopin begins to illustrate how important Mrs. Mallard’s marriage was, such as, when she hears of her husband’s death she was like “a child who has cried itself to sleep [and] continues to sob in its dreams” (“The Story of an Hour”, 425). However, she later shifts to changing her character’s emotions to relief and a sense of independence, as she said “over and over under her breath: ‘free, free, free!’” (“The Story of an Hour”, 426). The author shows how social morality is not always taken into account. Moreover, many individuals would say that Mrs. Mallard’s newly found relief and happiness is immoral. Chopin displays that some human relationships are not always truthful and people may not know what they feel until they are alone.
The desire for freedom can consume an individual, and lead to difficult situations. Chopin’s characters in her two powerful stories experienced this desire in different yet similar situations. Calixta feels the need for freedom in making her decision to be with Alcée because she feels like she cannot escape the storm, which symbolizes her affair on her husband. Chopin uses this aspiration of independence to show how females felt burdened under their husband’s rule. Marriage is being questioned, should one stay true and be miserable, or be unrestricted and jubilant? When Calixta gets involved with Alcée, she feels a sense of bliss and authorization she had not felt prior to his arrival. “Her firm, elastic flesh that was knowing for the first time its birthright… And when he possessed her, they seemed to swoon together at the very borderland of life’s mystery” (“The Storm”, 436). In addition, Chopin shares how it should be morally acceptable to be satisfied without a husband, but also shows that human affairs can be destroyed by the demand for something greater. In contrast, Mrs. Mallard, from “The Story of an Hour”, felt more of a freeing moment when discovering the death of her husband. When Mrs. Mallard’s feelings shift from sorrow to delight, Chopin is demonstrating her swing from detention to freedom. Mrs. Mallard comes to the realization that, “what could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse for her being” (“The Story of an Hour”, 426). Chopin is showing how although most women would fall in depression after the passing of their husbands, Mrs. Mallard found alleviation, which was contrary to social morality. Granted, Chopin expresses how relationships can yank you back from the sensation of exhilaration one merits. Calixta and Mrs. Mallard are similar because they both were at their happiest when their husband was out of the picture. This is an unfortunate occurrence for a female to feel, but Chopin is able to demonstrate the strong message to the readers that not all women stay quiet, some strive for independence.
Feelings of confinement can be reflected off more individuals than just those behind bars. Chopin’s characters feel different forms of internment, but both lead to similar desires. In “The Storm”, Calixta feels a sense of physical confinement through her husband when she is left alone during the storm while he and her son go out. “She stood at the window with a greatly disturbed look on her face” (“The Storm”, 435). If Calixta had not been left to think alone, Chopin shares that she wouldn’t have made the decision to have an affair with Alcée. “Alcée got up and joined her at the window” (“The Storm”, 435). With these two quotes, Chopin is showing how Alcée swooped in and took the opportunity that her husband had left behind. Although it was against the social norms for wives to go out of the house on errands, the marriage is restricting Calixta from feeling the freedom she thirsts. In addition, Chopin reveals that human relationships need to be equal to stay healthy and flourish. On the other hand, in “The Story of an Hour”, Mrs. Mallard experiences emotional confinement. When Mr. Mallard was still alive, he was subconsciously restricting Mrs. Mallard from loving herself. “There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself” (“The Story of an Hour”, 426). Chopin reveals that even though marriage is a strong bond between two individuals, independence and the freeing of emotions can provide a larger amount of contentment. Although social morality during this time shares that females should not feel restricted by their husbands, Chopin expresses that physical and emotional confinement from a man can place a woman in dark places.
Without a doubt, Chopin spoke powerfully for the women in the nineteen hundreds. Female independence and marriage are significant motifs for her pieces, “The Storm” and “The Story of an Hour”. Chopin’s prodigious characters’ confused emotions for their desires, their ache for freedom in their male conquered society, and physical and emotional limitation from their husbands, all played important roles in her message about social morality and how human relationships cripple.
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