The Story of an Hour
In Kate Chopins The Story of an Hour the author tells the story of an hour in a womans life. Though the reader is allowed only an hour into the characters life much unfolds in this hour. The story starts immediately with the narrator describing the main character Mrs. Mallards heart condition. Throughout the story Mrs. Mallards life before this hour remains somewhat ambiguous and little if any information is given directly to the reader, however, much is implied. After Mrs. Mallard is told of her husbands death and overcomes the initial shock she is surprised by her inner feelings of joy and freedom. This unfolds into a story of a womans chance at liberation that she had not thought possible while her husband was alive. The story ends when Mrs. Mallard is surprised to see her husband walk through the door, in fact, she is so surprised that she dies of a heart attack. She couldnt live with the dreadful realization that once again her life was not hers and she would go back to living her oppressed life.
The story starts with the narrator explaining the care everyone took in breaking the news to Mrs. Mallard of her husbands untimely death; this implies the severity of her heart condition. She may have been overly dependant on her husband due to her heart condition and this fueled her resentment. Her dependency also could have led him to be extremely protective of her. Though she describes her husband as loving she does not feel free and with his death comes the relief of a new life she had only dreamed of before. Her husband was possibly over bearing due to her heart condition, and since in the 1900s divorce was not possible and women were expected to obey their husbands, this causes her great resentment. Mrs. Mallard clearly emphasizes that her husband was a loving husband stating that he never looked saved with love upon her (Chopin 13). There was also no indication of physical abuse because she describes his hands as kind and tender (Chopin 13) and she does state that she had loved him-sometimes (Chopin 15). Therefore, her resentment and the resulting happiness that overwhelmed her with the news of her husbands death were not due to any mistreatment on her husbands behalf.
Mrs. Mallards resentment towards her husband was from her own feelings of repression. When she hears of her husbands death she wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment (Chopin 3) and a storm of grief (Chopin 3) overcomes her. It is not until she is alone with her thoughts that she feels a monstrous joy (Chopin 12) from the news of her husbands death. Throughout the story she is described as repressed, her emotions are also repressed. She did not expect those strong feelings of joy from the news of her husbands death because she was conditioned to keep her true emotions to herself. She was not able to be herself in her marriage because of her husbands powerful will bending her (Chopin 14) that she no longer felt that her life was her own. She is relieved that finally she would live for herself (Chopin 13) during the coming years after her husbands death.
She begins planning her new life without her husband and is very optimistic. She sees this as a new beginning and feels free. She whispers to herself Free! Body and soul free! (Chopin16) as she envisions her new life. She breathed a quick prayer that life would be long. It was only yesterday that she had thought with a shudder that life would be long. (Chopin 19). This describes a woman who was trapped in her own life and was miserable but was helpless to change her circumstances. The news of her husbands death allowed her the freedom of a new life she had never thought possible. She feels triumphant and victorious that she outlived her husband as if she saw him as an opponent and not her husband. This new life and new freedom and the opportunities she now thinks are possible come crashing down when she discovers to her horror that her husband is actually alive.
The details of Mrs. Mallards last thought or expression when seeing her husband walk through the door is not given. However, Mr. Mallards friend Richards tries to block the view of Mrs. Mallards face. Richards did not want his friend Brently Mallard to see the look of horror that was probably on Mrs. Mallards face when she saw her husband walk through the door. Richards could have also been shielding his friend from Mrs. Mallards goddess of Victory (Chopin 20) look that she had as she carried herself down the stairs. She was not the grieving wife walking out of her room that she was going in. Though no information is given on the couples last look at each other, it is told that Richards was too late (Chopin 21) implying that Mr. Mallard saw the expression on his wifes face that Richards was trying to hide. The story ends with the doctors saying she had died of heart disease- of joy that kills (Chopin 23). The doctor assumed that she was so happy when she saw her husband alive she died from the excitement but in reality that couldnt have been farther from the truth. She died from the immense desperation she felt from seeing her new life die before she a chance to enjoy in. She could never go back to her life as it was before the news of her husbands death.
Though the storys name is as vague as the characters, so much can be derived from its simplicity. The title states the obvious, it is a story of one hour in a persons life but the contents of that particular hour are an accumulation of a womans hopes, dreams, and fears and in the end death. The writer makes the characters life before this hour ambiguous because thats how they were in their life. The main character was living a lie, she was not true to herself, and she rarely loved her husband but stayed with him for reasons only truly known to her self. Her husband must have known his wife did not return the love he felt for her but he also stayed for unknown reasons. This is a story of how things are not always what they seem. Even Mrs. Mallards death was misunderstood, it was assumed she died from the excitement of her husband being alive but in reality that was not the case at all. The title is unassuming but the story within is powerful.