Kate Chopin was an American author of short stories and novels. Considered as one of the earliest feminist authors of the 20th century, she was one of the most-celebrated female writers of her time. She wrote several short stories including The Story of an Hour (1894), Euphrase (1850), Mrs. Mobry’s Reason (1891), A Shameful Affair (1893), and many others. Her literature usually described her own life, reflecting the time she lived in and the life she led. When readers look into her literature, they do not only read what is on the text but also try to understand the context.
When you look through her fiction, you might notice that the contexts include the life of the author, the time it was written and the social condition during the time it was set, among others. One of her short stories, The Story of an Hour, depicts a woman’s reactions to the news of her husband’s death, upon reading which I found connections between her life and the life of the main character of the short story. Background and early life After Kate Chopin’s father was killed in a train accident, she moved into a household of women in St. Louis.
As a girl she was mentored mainly by women – her mother, her grandmother, and her great grandmother. She also had deep bonds with her family members, the sisters who taught her at school, and with her life-long friend Kitty Garasche. A lot of the fiction Kate wrote was hugely influenced by the women she grew up with, especially regarding her views about feminism, and women. In 1870, at the age of 20, she settled in New Orleans. Oscar, her husband, bought a general store in Cloutierville, but in 1882 he died of malaria and left Kate with $12,000 in debt (approximately $229,360 in 2005 dollars).
Kate Chopin was widowed at 32. She attempted to run the plantation and store alone but with no success. Two years later, she sold her Louisiana business. Her mother wanted her to move back to St. Louis. The following year, her mother died. After the loss of both her husband and the mother, Kate Chopin found herself drifting into the realms of depression. Her doctor felt that writing would be a good way for her to heal this developing depression. Her doctor understood that writing could serve as a focus for her energy as well as a source of income.
She thus indulged herself and became successful, and found many of her work getting published. However, some of her writings were far too ahead of their times and she faced lack of acceptance for almost 12 years. Literary works with examples Kate Chopin commented on the importance of describing “human existence in its subtle, complex, true meaning, stripped of the veil with which ethical and conventional standards have draped it” (1894). An interview on the PBS website for Kate Chopin says, “I think she was much more interested in the excitement, the civilization that came in her circle of intellectual friends.
That was freedom, the freedom to explore ideas” (PBS, 1999). Kate was neither a feminist nor a suffragist, she said so. She was nonetheless a woman who took women extremely seriously. She never doubted the woman’s ability to be strong. She came from a long line of strong women whom she loved and respected, owing to the affiliation with her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother. She had strong intellectual women friends. Her lack of interest in feminism and suffrage did not have anything to do with a lack of confidence in women, nor did it have a lot to do with a lack of desire for freedom.
She simply had a different understanding of freedom. She saw freedom as much more a matter of spirit, soul, and character than anything else, of living your life within the constraints that the world makes [or] your God offers you, because all of us do live within constraints. There is no indication that “she regretted her marriage, or regretted being a mother” (PBS, 1999). Early 1970s was the period thriving with women’s rights movements, and Kate Chopin was one leading contributor to the said phenomenon.
She contributed a lot through her writings about women, daytime dramas, the feminine mystique, women’s liberation, Mars vs. Venus, self-help and commentary on open marriages. You can see how Kate Chopin’s life event (train accident, A Widow, and Freedom for Women) influenced her fictions through The Story of an Hour. One of the main events in the story is a man’s loss, namely Mrs. Mallard’s husband. Josephine, Mrs. Mallard’s sister, brought the sad message that there was a railroad disaster and of those listed as killed included Brently Mallard, who was Mrs.
Mallard’s husband. In Kate’s life, there had been a similar loss. That someone was her father who passed away in a railroad accident in 1855. Furthermore, Mrs. Mallard is in due course assumed to be a widow, but readers will soon find out that Mr. Mallard is alive. In Kate’s life, her father had widowed her mother. Both had experienced what it’s like to be a widow but of course, the response to the loss may entirely be different. In the end, before she learnt of Brently’s return from the accident, Louise died of heart disease – of joy that kills.
This could suggest that she had a moment of monstrous joy, which consumed her and overwhelmed her to death. Perhaps Chopin would just let Louise die instead of seeing Brently again, causing her to remain imprisoned and be confined to her husband’s hands. Lastly, in The Story of An Hour, Chopin made no suggestion to the readers that Mrs. Mallard was sorry for her husband’s loss. Instead, she uttered under her breath, “free, free, and free! ” which suggests how happy Mrs. Mallard was to have lost her husband, because she now has freedom of herself.
The joy she feels after regaining her freedom is something which consumes her. In Kate’s life, a lot of her work mentioned the rise in the rights of women. She experienced a period where there was a decline in those rights and women were deprived of public needs like education, the right to vote, the right to property and their children. Those events drove her to write the kind of feminist text she did instead of dedicating herself to other themes. As observed, literature can bring us to the world of the author.
Literary works reflect the time, state of mind, and the life of the author. By understanding the connection between Kate Chopin and Mrs. Mallard in the short story, The Story of an Hour, it can be confirmed that the novel portrayed a reference to Kate Chopin’s life since most of the events (train accident, A Widow, and Freedom for Women) in Louise’s life are similar to, or at least greatly influenced by her own.
Chopin, K. (1894). One Story. PBS (Director). (1999). Kate Chopin: A Re-Awakening [Motion Picture].