Symbolism in “The Story of An Hour”
One prominent symbol in “The Story of An Hour” by Chopin is the open window by which the protagonist stands as the events unfold. As Mrs. Mallard’ processes’ the news of her husband’s death, “she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window” (Chopin). The open window represents the life outside her miserable life and the marriage that she always wanted. It symbolizes the freedom and opportunities that she had missed and potentially waiting for her. As she receives the news, the window is not only literal but a metaphorical symbolization of the new life that is waiting for her on the other side.
This is supported in an article by Wan, who notes that Mrs. Mallard notably locked the door behind her to close off from that past life while reaching toward the window where she could feel the freshness of nature and breathe freely (167). It is representative of the psychological state of Mrs. Mallard, where she was experiencing the emotional change as there was a barrier between the natural world and the authentic inner world of her fantasies, where she longed for freedom and self-assertion (168). The window is highly symbolic of her ambitions and struggles to reach them.
The tone and style of the story are ironic. It conveys the central theme that love and freedom are not truly appreciated until they are lost. The very last line of the report represents the irony, “When the doctors came, they said she had died of heart disease–of the joy that kills” (Chopin). The audience is left guessing whether she died of the ‘joy’ of being liberated from her marriage or the realization that her husband is alive when her happiness of him being dead had her so excited. The symbol is both fitting and not with the tone, which is ironic.
On the one hand, the open window represents hope, freedom, and goodness that was never present in Mrs. Mallard’s life, the joy that she never truly felt or experienced. On the other hand, it represents a forbidden fruit, a blessing that is just tempting her and, ultimately, in the context of the story, means nothing more than a dangling carrot of her broken dreams. The irony is prevalent throughout the plot, and it is possible that the symbol had a role in it as well.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of An Hour.” VCU Archives, 1894. Web.
Wan, Xuemei. “Kate Chopin’s View on Death and Freedom in The Story of an Hour.” English Language Teaching, vol. 2, no. 4, 2009. Web.