Professor Sondra Doolin
ENG 121 C17
31 March 2014
Are even the kindest marriages a form of oppression? Is a long-term relationship nothing but a constant strain on one’s heart? Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” explores those questions. It is implied in the text that Brently, Louise’s husband, was a kind and loving man “the face that had never looked save with love upon her” (Chopin 2), yet Mrs. Mallard is still overwhelmed with an explicit joy once she fully realizes and processes his death. This brief tale uses the symbol of heart trouble to illustrate the pressures that lack of freedom and independence caused for women in the late eighteen hundreds.
Right from the start, it is mentioned that Louise is “afflicted with a heart trouble” (Chopin 1). This physical ailment is severe enough that extreme news could prove to be detrimental to her health, so much so that Mrs. Mallard’s family members must do everything with in their power to break Brently’s death gently to her. However, she also has a troubled heart in the emotional sense as well. Unlike most women of her time, she receives this news of Mr. Mallard’s death and responds with a more savage approach; a clear indicator that her emotions are as unstable as her physical heart. As I read, I was drawn to this intricate correlation between her physical and emotional heart trouble. Were they somehow linked? What could possibly cause such a severe strain both physical and psychological?
It was typical in Mrs. Mallard’s time, the late eighteen hundreds, for all women to marry. It was crucial for the female to obtain financial comfort,social status, and over-all acceptance through marriage. The ideas of freedom, independence, and self-sufficiency were nothing more than distant
dreams. Louise, however, dared to ponder these thoughts more than most women, and after receiving the news of her husband’s death, she seeks solitary refuge, locked away, in her private room. We then watch actively as the many thoughts and feelings she’s experiencing cause a see-saw of emotions that put stress on her soul and heart. She loved her husband the story says. Yet, there are many forms of love. She may have had no ill feelings towards him, but the their marriage was an unwanted junction. It is clear that his death brought her new life, as she exclaims, “Free! Body and soul free!” (Chopin 2).
We get evidence of the emotional to physical correlation throughout the text, for example, Louise is “pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul” (Chopin 1). She is clearly processing her newly found freedom and independence in the mental sense, “suspension of intelligent thought” (Chopin 1), and this again effects her physically almost instantaneously, “ her bosom rose and fell tumultuously” (Chopin 2). Freedom-this is something she never dreamed she would get to experience. Regardless of the kindness of her late husband, her marriage to Brently was nothing short of a comfortable prison in her eyes. Fully aware of her already weakened state, perhaps due to a sufficient past of physical and emotional heart wrenching thoughts such as this, Louise “was striving to beat it back with her will” (Chopin 2). Based on this text, we now realize the powerful influence her thoughts have on her physical heart, and she fears her excitement and apprehension will prove to be too much.
Her sister, Josephine, knows of Louise’s heart trouble, and is clearly concerned an aware that Louise is doing irreplaceable damage. But Louise is past the point of return by now, and she has embraced release from her oppression. Though risking heart trouble, “she was drinking in a very elixir of life” (Chopin 2). This full embrace of her psychological happiness and freedom leads ultimately to a physical death, as it proves to be too much for her heart.
In light of Mark Cunningham’s analysis, Mrs. Mallard dies prior to actually seeing her assumed
dead husband. “He stood amazed at Josephine’s piercing cry; at Richards’ quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife” (Chopin 3). Based on that passage, you can see that there is no concrete evidence showing that Mrs. Mallard ever saw her husband prior to her death. Furthermore, the doctors claim “she had died of heart disease—of joy that kills” (Chopin 3). which implies the full discovery and understanding of her freedom overworks her weakened heart, and ultimately kills her. It is not the sadness of finding her husband alive, but the joy of fully realizing the drastic change of events that would unfold because of his death. The doctors’ analysis couldn’t have been more accurate, they just assumed the wrong source of her joy.
Given Chopin’s strong feminist background in her life and other writings, this concept and ideal of how the death of Mrs. Mallard’s husband brings inward joy, incorrect expectation, and ultimately death, is fully supported. As sadden as she was by Brently’s death, this was easily over-looked as Loiuse fantasied about all the years she would have to herself. With no husband and children holding her back, she was now allowed to live the life that was all but lost. As selfish as it appears, this was clearly the only way that Mrs. Mallard would ever be able to have this freedom. Was that really so wrong? Given the time and situation, I think not.
Kate Chopin seems to be alluding to a final freedom through Louise’s death. As we eventually learn that Mr. Mallard is still alive, there would have been no hope for Louise. But in her death, she finds an ultimate release and freedom from this, as kind as it may be, oppression. Again, ideas of freedom and independence for women were practically unheard of during Mrs. Mallard’s time, and the combination if these thoughts and feelings mixed with the weakened state of her heart proved to be too much. Louise sacrificed her physical heart for her emotional heart, and ultimately found peace.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” short stories. East of the Web. Web. 4 Mar. 2014. http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/StorHour.shtml
Cunningham, Mark. “The Autonomous Female Self And The Death Of Louise Mallard In Kate Chopin’s “Story Of An Hour”.” English Language Notes 42.1 (2004): 48-55. Humanities Source. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=6&sid=724190b2- 2f63-49c0- 8e6a9ab5c38f8d6%40sessionmgr4003&hid=4214&bd ata=JnNpdGU9ZWhv c3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=hus&AN=509737230
Jamil, S. Selina. “Emotions In The Story Of An Hour.” Explicator 67.3 (2009): 215-220. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Mar. 2014.
Papke, Mary E. “Kate Chopin’s Story of an Hour: A Feminist Reading.”
Streater, Kathleen M. “Adele Ratignolle: Kate Chopin’s Feminist At Home In “The Awakening”.” Midwest Quarterly 48.3 (2007): 406-416. Humanities Source. Web. 18 Mar. 2014.