“The Story of an Hour” is a short story written by an American author, Kate Chopin, in 1894. The main character of the story is Louse Mallard, whose complicated reaction on the news of her husband’s death is the main focus of the story. The narration is done in the third person. The general emotional tone of the story is mournful and calm for the most part and ironic at the end. The story also has feminist features. Thus, the main idea of the story is that the freedom is a forbidden pleasure that one can imagine and enjoy only in private.
At the beginning of the story, Josephine, the Louse’s sister, and Richards, her husband’s friend tell her that her husband, Brently, has died. At this moment, her reaction is quite natural. She weeps for her husband and thinks that there is no life for her without him. Then, an unexpected twist happens when she begins to think that she deceives herself and that she is happy and free without him (Meyer 15). At first, she tries to suppress the thoughts about her freedom. The word “fearfully” indicates that she really wants to resist. But then, she surrounding atmosphere tells her to do otherwise: such phrases as “the open square” and “the open window” with the emphasis on the word “open”, symbolize the lack of restrictions (Meyer 15). The scene is also full of hope and energy: such phrases as “patches of blue sky”, “the new spring life”, “and the delicious breath of rain”, twittering sparrows, and someone singing a song in the distance symbolize the beginning of a new and free life (Meyer 15).
The tone of the story changes and Louise’s mood changes from grievous to joyful. However, at first, it is not understandable for the reader what her true feelings really are (Rajakumar and Rajeswar 177). On the one hand, when she thinks of her husband’s “kind, tender hands” and “the face that had never looked save with love upon her”, it seems that she has not stopped weeping for him. But on the other hand, when she thinks of “a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely” and exclaims the word “free” three times, it seems that she is happy that Brently is dead (Meyer 15).
The death of her husband made her think in a way that she would not have probably thought if he had been alive. A sudden desire for self-sufficiency, self-determination, and freedom has absorbed her. This moment of the story is feministic, as Louise’s thoughts and desires are directed at the idea of the equality between men and women (Sabbagh and Saghaei 298). Although Louise has never thought about getting rid of her husband, she is very glad that he is dead and that she is in charge of her own life (Rajakumar and Rajeswar 180). Chopin does not mention any particular offenses on the side of her husband. She describes Louise’s thoughts in the following way: “There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. 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”. Chopin supposes that all marriages, no matter how kind they are, are inherently oppressive for both men and women (Meyer 16).
In the final scene, Brently comes into the house alive and not suspecting anything, as he does not know that there has been an accident at the railway station and his name has been on the list of its victims. He looks “a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella”. His secular appearance contrasts to Louse’s “feverish triumph” and her feeling “like a goddess of Victory” as she is walking down the stairs. Therefore, when she sees her husband alive, she is astounded, and her weak heart fails (Meyer 16). Chopin uses irony when she writes that when the doctors examine her, they say that she has “died of heart disease – of joy that kills”. However, it is rather clear that the shock that she feels when she sees that Brently is alive, comes not from joy, but rather from losing her newfound freedom. For that hour (as it is clear from the title), she manages to feel a real taste of freedom which she adores so much that she cannot live without it. Thus, the return of her husband removes that feeling and she dies from disillusionment (Sabbagh and Saghaei 298).
In conclusion, it can be mentioned that the Chopin’s story is considered feministic, as the main heroine’s desire is to be an independent woman and to get rid of the influence of her husband. However, Louise was too quick to believe that her husband had died. She imagined her freedom and was endlessly happy about it. Therefore, when she saw her husband alive, she was shocked. It is also remarkable that people who were around her would never know that she died not from joy but from sorrow. The ironic end of the story tells the reader that trying to catch an elusive freedom is useless, and instead, it is better to be grateful for what you have and be happy with it.
Meyer, Michael. The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. 11th ed. Bedford, 2017.
Rajakumar, Mohanalakshmi, and Geetha Rajeswar. “What Did She Die of? “The Story of an Hour” in the Middle East Classroom.” Kate Chopin in Context, vol. 1, no. 7, 2015, pp. 173-185.
Sabbagh, Mahmoud Reza Ghorban, and Ghafourian Saghaei. “Conjured-Up Reality Shattered: Examining the “Uncertain” Ideology Underlying Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”.” Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, vol. 158, no. 1, 2014, pp. 296-303.