Kate Chopin is a feminist writer in the sense that she vigorously advocated and hankered after female spiritual liberation. She did not emphasize her beliefs and conceptions in her writings but she has taken into account the ideas of feminine individualism and personal autonomy at the start of twentieth century. Her feminist approach was quite different from the contemporary feminist writers who primarily concerned about the social elevation of women but she craved an understanding of individual sovereignty by penetrating into the conventional needs and wants in the male domain of social life. Helen Taylor proposes, “…shared her concerns with questions of sexuality, bourgeois marriage and woman’s role (p.157). All these facets of women life is comprehensively discussed by her.
Moreover, Chopin’s idea of feminist emancipation is not limited and of debase nature. Her approach is not restricted to physical liberation but she broadened it to intellectual as well socio-political autonomy. She was of the view that psychological and intellectual emancipation is the primary requisite that would bring forward the social and physical freedom.
Social standing of females was a favourite subject to the writers at the start of 20th century. Society was dominated by patriarchy, male chauvinism and supremacy whereas women were perceived as fragile and dependant. In “The Story of an Hour,” Kate Chopin manifests these themes by means of imagery and characterization. She had enough literary skills and intellectual strength to express these ideas in her writings at a time when writing about these issues was considered a taboo. In her anthology, she clearly illustrate that women are quite accomplished at showing strength and independence. Chopin skilfully utilizes imagery and vigour of her female characters to track female pains to flee from the debase character that societal compulsions have mandated to agree to. She takes into account their pathos and miseries implying that social compulsions are profound, rooted into the intellectual and institutional make-up of human beings and thus can not be easily swayed.
In the leading story of her anthology, The Story of An Hour, she begins with portraying the socio-psychological afflictions of her protagonist, Louise. She describes her as “afflicted with a heart trouble” (Chopin, 170), symbolizing the feebleness and fragility attributed to females at the turn of the last century. But as the story progresses, her characterization turns from feebleness to potent one. For example, when her sister discloses death of her husband in “…veiled hints that revealed in half concealing” (Chopin, 170), she shows strength. Her relief at the news further manifest the fulfilment of her longing for emancipation, both physical and psychological. Contemporary society and reader do not presuppose this outcome i.e. a woman being capable of dealing with such ruthless realities of life, due to their pre-conceived notions. But Louise thinks that “There would be no powerful will bending her in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow creature” (Chopin, 172).
All short stories in the anthology give an idea about the social particularly male response to each difficult situation that a woman faces. Society is too myopic that it only takes a stereotypical view of the situation. To remove or minimize the stereotypical effect, Chopin instigates a elementary change in her disposition as society fixes firmly to its typecasts, disinclined to admit change easily.
Chopin, Kate. The awakening and other stories. New York, Holt, Rinehart and
Taylor, Helen. Gender, Race and Region in the Writing of Grace King, Ruth McEnery
Stuart and Kate Chopin. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State UP, 1989