“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin Review
“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin has been named as the mainstay of literary studies of feminist works. It explores the complicated reaction of the protagonist, Louise Mallard, to learning about her husband’s, Brentley Mallard’s death. The main interest of many scholars and readers in the story lies in the portrayal of different waves of emotions that capture the heroine, beginning from the initial severe devastation to the conclusion that life will go on and she will live for herself. Since the story twists and turns, revealing that Brentley is alive after all, Louise’s narrative of ultimate liberation is important to discuss. Despite the ironic ending of “The Story of an Hour,” it reveals important narratives about the dichotomy of feelings that an individual may feel in the hour immediately after hearing the devastating news.
At the beginning of the story, Louise hears the surprising and horrifying news about her husband’s death. Richard and Josephine have a feeling that they should tell the news to Louise as gently as possible to reduce the risk of an adverse reaction: “it was her sister Josephine who told her, in broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in half concealing” (Chopin 1). The news was broken gently because of the assumption, even though a reasonable one, is that such horrific information will devastate Louise and have a negative impact on her emotional state.
As the news break, something more surprising and unthinkable takes place. Louise grows her awareness of the personal freedom, both physical and emotional, that she will have without her husband. Initially, the young woman does not allow herself to have such thoughts and emotions, and the idea of freedom seems shameful and unnecessary. Symbolically, the sense of freedom can be traced in the language of the story describing mundane things: “there stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair” (Chopin 1). Thus, the knowledge of her potential freedom reaches the protagonist symbolically as she begins to see more space around her, which is transferred by fewer boundaries and restrictions.
As the main character starts thinking about her freedom, the narrative progresses to reveal new hope and increased energy. These positive feelings can be traced in the further description of the environment around Louise: “the trees that were all aquiver with new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. […] There were patches of blue sky showing here and there […]” (Chopin 2). The newfound sense of calm, peace and the opening of new opportunities is evident at this point. Intelligently, Louise understands that such feelings would have been approached with criticism from the perspective of social norms (Hu). Therefore, the descriptions of nature represent the veiled hints that show the protagonist that there could be good life beyond loss.
As Louise spends time at her house, studying her surroundings and exploring the hints that make her feel liberated, the desire for self-liberation appears. The news about the death of her husband has encouraged the young widow to recognize the presence of freedom as Louise utters the word “free” over and over again, relishing it (Berkove 153). Therefore, the fear and the uncomprehending stare, which captured Louise at the beginning, are replaced by excitement and acceptance. This makes the protagonist excited about her future: “but she saw beyond that bitter moment a long progression of years to come that would belong to her absolutely” (Chopin 2). Getting a whiff of freedom and the possible new opportunities that will open in front of Louise make her accept the devastating event and get excited.
The newfound idea that Louise will live for herself after the death of her husband is the most critical passage of the short story. The vision of self-determination is the core idea of the feminist narrative as the young widow decides that her future will be defined by herself. Therefore, it is not much about no longer having her husband around, but rather it is about getting charge of her life: ““free! Body and soul free!” she kept whispering. […] here would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself” (Chopin 3). Besides, the exploration of the newfound freedom also delves deeper into marriage as being stifling for both parties.
Louise says, “here 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” (Chopin 2). This sentence is evidence of the fact that Louise never wants to explore the offenses that Brently has committed against her. Instead, she is very aware of the fact that marriage is often complicated on both sides.
The story concludes with Brently Mallard entering the house, appearing tired from travel. While it is not stated directly, it appears that Louise lost her consciousness after seeing her husband while later was declared dead of heart disease, “of the joy that kills” (Chopin 3). This ending represents the central irony of the story – as the protagonist experiences shock not over the survival of her husband but rather the distress over losing the newfound freedom.
Berkove, Lawrence I. “Fatal Self-Assertion in Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”.” American Literary Realism, vol. 32, no. 2, 2000, pp. 152-158.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” Archive. 1894. Web.
Hu, Aihua. “The Story of an Hour: Mrs. Mallard’s Ethically Tragic Song”. ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews. Web.