If you want to get to know the female inner world in literature and get acquainted with a skilful manner of rendering diversity of emotions, you ought to read Kate Chopin. The Story of an Hour is one of those fascinating writings that are read in one breath, get you bewildered at the ending, and make you not just read but also reflect. This short story is devoted to the role of woman in society and family and her aspiration to independence. Employing eloquent writing manner with accurate literary devices, Kate Chopin tells us that a marriage without love can become a prison for a woman desperately striving for freedom.
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The story is told from a third-person, and the only character whose thoughts are accessible to the reader is Louise Mallard, full of lust for freedom. Other characters - Louise’s husband Brently Mallard, her sister Josephine, and Brently’s friend Richards - appear episodically. As for time frames, the story lasts only one hour of Mrs. Mallard’s life. It covers the period from the moment she learns of her husband’s death in a railroad catastrophe till the moment he unexpectedly returns alive. The narration mostly takes place in Louise’s room with “roomy armchair” and “open window,” where Louise tries to cope with overwhelming emotions and thoughts. The conflict of the story reveals between Louise and the society with its restrictions. The woman wants to be independent, but society, she lives in, will never let her till her husband is alive. It is expressed through Mrs. Mallard’s thoughts.
L. Berkove (2000) and S. Jamil (2009) note that The Story of an Hour deals with complex issues of female independence and freedom as a desirable pleasure in marriage, symbolic female self-discovery and identity. Independence for Louise turns out to be a forbidden fruit: just the first hour of tasting the joy of forbidden freedom is enough to kill her. At first, she makes attempts to get rid of such an exciting thought, to “beat it back with her will,” but that “monstrous joy” and aspiration for freedom are above her: "Free! Body and soul free!" (p.1). It is like a breath of fresh air she has not had for ages, like a gulp of water for a thirsty that reveals to be poisonous. The realization of being an independent woman grips her so firmly and fast that the sensation of freedom becomes the core of her personality at once; “But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome” (p. 2).
The main idea of the story is hidden in the monstrous joy – happiness of freedom capable to kill a diseased heart at the moment of feverish exultation: “She said it over and over under her breath: “free, free, free!”” (p.1); “She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her” (p.2); “When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease – of the joy that kills” (p.2).
Louise’s lust for freedom is rendered with a set of symbols. At the beginning of the story, it is mentioned that Mrs. Mallard suffers from a “heart trouble”. The continuation of the story shows that this phrase, a neat metaphor, is used prevalently not in medical context but is connected with the heroine’s emotional state caused by psychological factors. The “heart disease” she dies of symbolizes a strong and fatal feeling of disappointment and dissatisfaction in marriage.
It should be mentioned that symbolism in the story reveals also in the open window that shows Mrs. Mallard the blue sky of her new future and allows desirable freedom come in with the spring beauty and aroma:
There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air (p.2).
One more interesting detail is hidden within the story. Even Louise’s last name was not chosen at random. Mallard is a kind of wild duck, the ancestor of all domestic duck breeds. This wild bird may be a symbol of newfound freedom by Mrs. Mallard.
Specific literary devices, structural and stylistic techniques are excellently employed by the author to strengthen the tension and reveal the drama of the analyzed short story. The element of surprise is delicately interwoven into the whole story. The beginning of the story is marked by the surprising news for Louise. Then the reader is surprised by the wife’s reaction to the husband’s death. At the end of the story, everybody is bewildered by the astonishing surprise: Mr. Mallard is alive, Mrs. Mallard is dead, and the doctor shocks readers with his diagnosis.
Kate Chopin’s story is based on plot and linguistic paradox. Kate Chopin uses very interesting technique in The Story of an Hour, where the last words change the whole sense of the story that has two endings: the last plot motion and the doctor’s concluding phrase. Plot and linguistic paradoxes are realized in the last sentence of the story that provides us an explanation to Louise’s death. “When of the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease – of joy that kills” (p.2). With the help of such figure of speech as oxymoron expressed in phrase “of joy that kills,” Kate Chopin reaches a linguistic paradox. Doctor’s conclusion serves as an explanation at superficial level, while the plot of the story expressed in the change of Mrs. Mallard’s feelings leads a reader to another conclusion, which is hidden at deep level, explaining her death being caused by shock. In her inner world rich of emotions, Louise is preparing to a new life: “Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own” (p.1). That is why her husband’s unexpected emergence crashes her plans, breaks her dreams. Such paradoxicalness of the plot and last phrase allows us to have an ambiguous interpretation of the text, makes readers lost in thoughts, gives us possibility to define personal attitude towards described events, and activates the readers’ ideas and thoughts.
The last but not the least, the language of the story frames the readers’ understanding of the character’s inner world. The writer renders Louise’s emotions by means of language very skillfully. A bare and direct language is applied to describe her indifference to things: “And yet she loved him – sometimes. Often she did not” (p.2). Such a simple language does not mean anything more than actual words do. Bright transformation happens in the word choice when Louise’s emotions housing in her inner world are described. The words become vivid, vibrant, lively, and powerful at once.
To conclude, The story of an Hour by Kate Chopin reveals powerful presentation of emotional freedom rendered in a skilful writing manner. By means of an excellent language choice, the author helps us to penetrate into Louise’s inner world and realize how thirsty for freedom should a woman be that the shock of seeing her husband alive is enough to kill her. Kate Chopin explores female issues so masterly that it makes me willing to get acquainted with her literary works more profoundly.
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