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Women in Late Nineteenth Century America
Kate Chopin Revealed in Her Own Words
CULTURAL CONTEXT FOR "The Story of an Hour"

When Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening appeared in 1899, it was condemned for its vulgarity and banned from libraries. Chopin herself was chased out of many social clubs she had frequented with some regularity, and still other places refused her outright. Why? In her novel, as in “The Story of an Hour,” Chopin created an unconventional lead female character with a voice of her own. This voice dared to defy the patriarchal dominance that had been so prominent in American society since its birth.
American women in the late nineteenth century did not talk openly about sex or even walk down the street while visibly pregnant. They discussed their social condition only in the way that it related to their husband’s prosperity or failures. They talked about politics, athletics, the arts, and even literature to show their knowledge of these subjects, but not to offer their opinions of them. Chopin’s Louise Mallard was controversial not only because she has a voice, but also because that voice says she is “free.” That a woman could find joy upon learning that the husband who loves her unquestionably has died was a shocking proposition, even if perhaps many late–nineteenth–century women could empathize.

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Contributing author: Molly Kalkstein

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