The institution of marriage in “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin

Marriage is often described as the oldest institution. It therefore logically follows that it is one that has evolved so much over time in response to the demands of the prevailing environment. Marriage as an institution had drastically evolved in terms of its structure, its position in society, the roles of the involved parties and generally how it is viewed. Kate Chopin’s story “The Story of an Hour” written in 1894 is a depiction of marriage in a time when it was highly patriarchal (Six minute Scholar).

Even though this structure might have the order of the day in the society during that period, Mrs. Mallard is clear evidence that this did not make for a good and happy marriage. It made for one that was highly oppressive. The first sign that this was not a good and happy marriage but rather an oppressive one is in the reaction of Mrs. Mallard to the news of the death of her husband. Although she is sad and weeps at first due to the abandonment, her sorrow is quickly replaced by a vibrant feeling when she starts to feel a sense of freedom (Chopin, 1 & 2). This points to the fact that she felt repressed in her marriage and it gives her great joy to know that she now can be able to live a life of her own with her husband dead. She even no longer shuddered at the thought of a long life as she did in the past with her husband around. Oppression in this case, therefore, cannot be defined as the typical physical oppression that any individual would quickly expect but rather emotional oppression which leads her to a feeling of triumph and victory rather than that of sorrow after her husband’s death.

The open window in her bedroom is a great use of symbolism in this story, also pointing to the oppressive nature of the marriage. The open window symbolizes that things in her life are now opening up which means that they were initially closed (Six minute Scholar). It is not coincidental that it is while looking through the open window that she starts to experience a great sense of freedom and her emotions rapidly change to the positive. The oppression that comes in the form of repression as discussed above in the marriage had closed her off to various possibilities that now as she looks through

the open window, she starts to see. She now sees the possibility of leading her own life according to her own will which was nonexistent with her husband around. She was finally free from her cage.

Towards the end of the story, a great irony is brought out when the husband comes back alive and Mrs. Mallard dies. In literal terms, the cause of her death is a heart attack which is true because right from the beginning we know that she has trouble with her heart which makes it hard for her sister to break the news of the death. There is irony however is the statement ‘The joy that kills’ (Chopin, 3). This because from the background of the story, we know that it is not the excitement of seeing her husband alive that causes the heart attack, rather it is more of the disappointment and frustration of losing her newfound freedom (Six minute Scholar). This irony clearly shows that she was not happy in this marriage because the mere thought of her going back to it was the true cause of her death.

The marriage depicted in this story was clearly functional and not abusive, at least not physically. However, in it, Mrs. Mallard was a caged bird who deep down craved to come out of the cage. Oppression in this story takes the form of her being in a subservient position. It took the form of giving away her will and her life to another being due to the patriarchal structure and this result in a sad and repressed life. From the evidence presented above her marriage was clearly a bondage (Dan, 4) and any bondage is oppressive.