Feminist Themes in Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour
The early 20th century America does not seem to favor women in marriage. This is shown throughout the literature of those times. Women remain submissive to their husbands out of a need to fulfill traditional values of marriage. However, beneath the suffering is always a desire for freedom. Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” and Susan Glaspell’s Trifles are actually works where the early 20th century American woman suffers in marriage but eventually triumphs over men.
In both works, feminist themes point out that marriage during the time of a highly patriarchal culture in the United States in the early 20th century has not been fair towards women. In Chopin’s story, the nature of the female protagonist Louise Mallard’s marriage to her husband is not literally told, but it can be inferred from her words and from her great desire for freedom that this marriage has not been good at all. In fact, the rather “monstrous joy” that Louise feels upon learning of her husband’s death shows the readers how bad their marriage has been (Chopin). Perhaps, most of the time, Louise has not been given any chance to prove herself worthy in this marriage. This is perhaps why, upon learning about her husband’s death, she realizes that her existence “bespoke repression and even a certain strength” and that finally “a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely” (Chopin). Perhaps, then marriage has been unfair to her throughout all these years. In the same way, the details of Minnie Wright’s marriage to John in Glaspell’s Trifles are not literally revealed. However, the fact that her husband’s death does not surprise Minnie and the big possibility that she has actually killed him actually imply that their marriage has been quite unfair to her. Nevertheless, her unexplained happiness upon her husband’s death may actually imply that she has been sad with him all along.
The injustice of marriage is also seen in both stories as marriage is portrayed as a prison that limits women. In “The Story of an Hour,” Louise rejoices because she herself does not realize that she is finally being freed from a long life of bondage with her husband. This bondage is suggested by the line where she implies that her husband’s death means that “there would be no one to live for during those coming years” and that “there would be no powerful will bending hers…” (Chopin). Perhaps, then her husband maltreats and overpowers her in marriage. This marriage is one of bondage and that explains the kind of overwhelming feeling of freedom that she herself experiences as a reaction to the news that her husband is among those who have died in a road accident. In Trifles, the prison-like nature of marriage is seen through the symbolism of the birdcage. In fact, upon seeing a birdcage, Mrs. Peters says, “Seems funny to think of a bird here” (Glaspell). The birdcage where the bird has been actually symbolizes the bondage that Minnie has experienced in her marriage to John. Minnie is also the bird that Mrs. Peters wonders about and the women eventually find. The dead bird also symbolizes Minnie Wright, who is out of the cage and into the prison. Thus, the bird symbolizes the kind of marriage that early 20th century American women used to have – a life of perpetual bondage.
Lastly, in both stories, the use of irony illustrates the feminist theme, which may specifically refer to the triumph of the female. In Chopin’s story, the irony is that Louise is the one who dies after learning that her husband is still alive. Throughout the whole story, the reader is prepared to see a Louise who is ultimately free from her husband’s dominion only to realize in the end that she dies. Nevertheless, the fact that “she had died of heart disease” is actually the ultimate freedom that Louise has been waiting for, and her triumph as a woman for no man can ever overpower her again in death (Chopin). In Glaspell’s play, the irony is that the men of the play do not realize that the women who they believe are always “worrying over trifles” are actually the ones who have found the evidence for Minnie Wright’s crime (Glaspell). In fact, since the men have not found any proof, then it is actually they who have been dealing with trifles. Moreover, the female characters Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, whom the male characters would look down on because of the former’s gender, are actually the ones who would cover up the truth from the men. Thus, these women – as well as women in general – actually turn out to be smarter. For example, Mrs. Hale covers up for the dead bird and says, “We think the – cat got it” upon being asked where the bird could have been (Glaspell). This manipulative pretense to be ignorant is actually the triumph of the woman over man’s arrogant intelligence.
Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” and Susan Glaspell’s Trifles are actually masterpieces of feminist literature. In both works, marriage is seen as a place where a woman suffers but also ironically triumphs in the end. Firstly, both works show that the early 20th century American woman is treated in her marriage quite unfairly through the feeling of freedom and happiness that both Louise and Minnie feel after their husbands have died. Secondly, women are often imprisoned by their marriage, as shown in the confession of Louise about her husband’s will overpowering hers and in the symbolism of the birdcage in Trifles. Lastly, the women in both works eventually but ironically triumph at the end of their sufferings. Louise dies but is freed from further submission to her husband’s will, while the men of Trifles are outsmarted by women who they believe are nothing but worried over trifling matters.