‘The Story of an Hour,’ is short story written by Kate Chopin and published 1894. This story focuses on a series of emotions that the main character, Louise Mallard experiences on learning that her husband had died in a train accident. Since Louise has heart problems, her sister takes extreme precaution of informing her of the news in the gentlest way to avoid causing her further health problems. On receiving the sad news, Mrs. Mallard proceeds to lock herself in her room to mourn her loss, but after a while, she starts to experience feelings of excitement. She concludes that the benefit of her husband’s death is freedom; free body and soul. At the end of the story, it becomes apparent that Mr Mallard was not involved in the railroad accident and was indeed alive. When he arrives home, Mrs. Mallard suddenly falls down and dies. The real cause of her death is unknown and is left for debate because it could have been due to her heart ailments or psychological issues. It is probable that her death could also be due to the realization that she will not be free after all since her husband is still alive. From this short story, it is evident that marriage is oppressive and freedom from it is sweet, a topic that is linked to the Women’s Liberation Movement.
Mrs. Mallard is of the opinion that marriage limits both partners (Chopin, 1894). The story does not tell us that Mr. Mallard mistreated his wife in any manner for her to harbor such feelings because the story focuses on only on an hour’s time. She even admits to liking him at some point. The author utilizes this style usefully because she does not tell us if Mr. Mallard of Mrs. Mallard treated each other badly, it focuses on a person’s inner desire for freedom. The story’s point of view is that of the wife. It is obvious from the story that her longing for freedom far outweighs her love and feelings for him. This is a very controversial suggestion that goes against the beliefs of the society considering that the setting is the 19 century when the society was still conservative and family values were of utmost importance; to prefer a free life instead of being in a marriage that keeps her at home most of the time.
She says “there would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow creature.” During the writing of this story, the theme of marriage versus freedom was common. Marriage becomes an obstacle to women who desire to achieve set objectives that look beyond marriage. She continues to say that even if the intention of exerting another person’s will is not bad, it is equivalent to a crime.
Her reaction is not malicious at all because she is certain that she will cry during the funeral, but she sees that her husband’s death is release from oppression. She does not specify the way marriage oppressed her but concludes that marriage generally stifles both partners. She is about to suggest that she too oppressed her husband as much as he oppressed her. The thought that goes through her mind shows the general oppressive nature of all marriages because they deny people their independence. The forbidden fruit of independence is granted to Louise under special circumstance, the death of her husband. She views her life as a personal possession and her newfound freedom as her lifeline. Consumed by this emotion, she even prays for longer lives that will enable her enjoy this freedom. The return of her husband snatches this newfound freedom from her. The forbidden freedom quickly fades as it appeared, but that loss was enough to kill her.
Mrs. Mallard’s weeping about her husband’s death shows the dichotomy between happiness and grief. She spends almost three quarters of the story crying or either contemplating about crying. The thought of her new freedom is the only thing that stops her. Crying is used by the author to represent her marriage life, which will soon be over because she will be free from the clutches of marriage. On hearing the death of her husband, she consciously cries because of her grief, but when she goes to her room to continue mourning, her crying becomes unconscious. It shifts from emotion to a physical reflex. In her thoughts, she imagines crying over her husband’s body, but she does not think about any crying because of the happiness that comes from being free.
Louise’s perception of her husband’s death is fostered by emotion instead of rationality. Before her husband’s death, her life lacked emotion and she even wondered if it was worth living. This repression of emotion can represent her repressive husband although we are not clearly told in the story. Mr. Mallard had until his death repressed and denied her freedom. Her new freedom comes with an influx of emotion that represents the death of the figure, Mr. Mallard. Initially, she feels fear when she learns of her husband’s death, but then feelings of joy overcome her.
The oppressiveness of marriage is further highlighted by the author through withholding of the protagonist’s first name until paragraph sixteen. This can be taken as a deliberate move to show that before the death of her husband, Louise lacked her own individuality and identity; she was just Mrs. Brently Mallard, an appendage attached to her husband’s identity. While mourning for her husband and regaining her freedom, she also reclaims her identity. It is at this juncture that her sister calls out, “Louise, open the door” (Chopin, 1894).
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The quotation “she breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had though with a shudder that life might be long” (Chopin, 1894) further shows how marriage had repressed Louise. This quotation is found close to the end of the story and it reveals the degree of her joy. Before the death of her husband, Louise saw her future as that of dullness, dependence, and full of oppression, but after the death of her husband, she is free, independent. Before, she hoped that life will be short, but now she is praying for a longer life. This passage further shows how she appreciates her newfound happiness. Instead of worrying of a lonely life, she in fact anticipates it eagerly.
Symbolism is also a style that the author uses to show the ambivalence of Mrs. Mallard towards marriage and lack of happiness due to the absence of freedom. Her heart problem is the first thing that a reader learns of Mrs. Mallard, and it is the same thing that makes the announcement of her husband’s death a threatening issue. A person suffering from heart ailments will not handle such news well, but Louise manages it due to the realization that her husband’s death was a new chapter of freedom in her life. Since there is no clear diagnosis of her death, it is apparent that the sight of her husband was enough to kill her. She was shocked to realize that her new freedom was short-lived, and her heart could not handle it. It is ironical for the doctor to conclude that excessive joy killed her because it was the loss of that happiness that really killed her. It will be right to conclude that the loss of her much desired independence was the true cause of her death.
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The open window that she looks out through for considerable lengths of the story also represents the freedom that was beckoning after the death of her husband. The view from the window provides her with a blue sky, treetops, and fluffy clouds. She can hear people talking, birds’ chirming and the smell of a potential rainstorm. All the feelings that she experiences, point to a new life of joy that is characterized by spring. Spring is a season of rebirth, and Louise is reborn because she has new energy and perception of her life. Once she analyses a new feeling, she realizes that the open window is the source of her new rejuvenation. It provides a clear and bright view into the future, which is not riddled with the demands of a husband. It is therefore not a surprise that when she turns from the clear view of the window, she hastily looses her freedom.
“The Story of an Hour” has been related to the Women’s Liberation Movement that characterized the United States in the 1960s. This was a movement aimed at granting women more freedom in America. This is a radical story that deviates from societal norms to show the desire for freedom by married women. Louise, a woman who had been restricted by marriage has an untraditional reaction to the death of her husband. She feels that the death has granted her a deserved freedom from men. This is one of the key concepts of the feminist movement; therefore, the story is a significant literary work that highlights a woman breaking away from the norms of the society.