Kate Chopin - Critique
| The Voice Of Freedom
Story Of An Hour Critique
| Kate Chopin was a voice reaching out like ripples lapping at shore's edge. She "broke new ground in American Literature...the first woman writer in the country to accept passion as a legitimate subject for serious, outspoken fiction" (Hall. p. 153). As the frontier of our country was closing, she found a new one, but as with any new far reaching venture, her efforts were not kindly met.
Driven by an inner energy called freedom, she brought her characters to life using words like playthings, creating vivid images, topped with a flair for dialog. "Her stories are fictional songs of the self. In them, she affirms aspects of the self that conventions denied, affirms them in a way that resembles Whitman when he sings approvingly of `Forbidden Voices`" (Votteler. p. 77). Her characters "came to experience the suffering and loneliness, as well as the joy of their freedom" (Votteler. p.78).
Her own dreams of freedom provide the inspiration for all her stories. Her major theme throughout her writings was the sexual awareness of woman in a society of repression. She zeros in on the cost of self- assertion.
Kate Chopin, through her character, Mrs. Mallory, fights for the right to control her own existence. "Her name, Mallory, means male" (O'Neill), shadowing the oppression she faced by something that was very much a part of her culture, (and very much a part of the culture Chopin grew up in.)
Chopin shows us as Louise retires to her room that she is about to go on an inward journey. We are made to feel her grief, to know the feelings of loss, in a sense, a cleansing to prepare a way for a new thing, about to happen.
She sank into her chair, spent, as if all of the old must drain away and be thoroughly washed by the rain, before the new comes to fill and revitalize. "Nor does one put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst" (Matt. 9:17).
We are given a peek out her bedroom window. We feel what she's feeling—the newness, the birth of a concept, shown by a picture. She hears strains, faintly, of a song—music in her soul, faint at first; then this faint thing begins to grow. Finally, she could feel it living and breathing within her.
She sees the treetops showcasing their tender new growth and feels the full force of this newness. It becomes stronger and stronger until finally she can no longer contain it. It spills forth. "Free, free, free," she says (Meyer. p. 13). Arms open wide, she suddenly wants to encompass all that could be hers.
We are given an idea to explore: even a total dependence, a trust, a love for another individual cannot suppress the desire,—the need for individual freedom. As we continue to expand within our borders, the idea of freedom, as old as mankind, sparks anew through the voice of Kate Chopin.
More than any other story she wrote, Story of an Hour, shows the full impact of that freedom. In this context, the protagonist discovers freedom from a world of male domination experienced by women during that time in our history, and Chopin describes one woman's reaction in a very graphic way.
The "heart disease" brought out in the first sentence is later revealed to be a heart disease of a quite different nature. When freedom is introduced, the heart disease disappears, only to reappear, fatally, when she learns her freedom is taken from her when it was just within her grasp. The tone of the final line, "She had died of heart disease—of joy that kills" (Meyer. p. 13), indicates that her death was caused by the loss of that freedom. Her open window beckoned her, only to be shut, slammed, before she could get her fill.
True to short story form, the protagonist, Mrs. Mallory, was changed, profoundly.
Our forefathers lent their voices to the cause of freedom for this country. Abraham Lincoln, for the abolition of slavery, and Kate Chopin, to further freedom for women. At that time, hers was only one small voice, but it was an early example of a voice that's still being heard today as a model of spiritual and sexual freedom for women. She wrote as one woman alone, without a popular movement; she strove to create something new—herself and gave us something timeless.
Hall, Sharon K. Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Detroit, Mi. Gale Research Company. 1981.
Meyer, Michael. The Bedford Introduction to Literature. 4th ed. Boston. Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press. 1996.
O'Neill, Dr. James. (Literature Instructor). Lecture, U.C.C. Roseburg, Oregon. 30 July 1997.
The New Open Bible. Study ed. Nashville; Nelson, 1990.
Votteler, Thomas. Short Story Criticism. Vol. 8. Detroit, Mi. Gale research Inc. 1991.