A Woman Who Is a Person
In her book, The Faces of Eve, Judith Fryer writes, "In the last year of the nineteenth century a woman succeeded where men had failed: Kate Chopin created . . . a woman who is a person." Chopin’s short story, "The Story of an Hour," openly portrays the true feelings of a woman who feels trapped inside her marriage. In the period in which she lived, there were only two alternatives for her to achieve the much desired personal freedom—either she or her husband must die!
Chopin’s story was controversial from the beginning. It was rejected for publication by both Vogue and Century magazines as "a threat to family and home." Vogue later published the story only after another of Chopin’s stories did well publicly.
"The Story of an Hour" begins with Louise Mallard being gently informed of her husband’s death in a train accident. Sister Josephine was careful not to upset Louise too greatly because of the latter’s heart trouble. Did Mrs. Mallard suffer from an actual physical ailment or an emotional, psychological trauma? I lean toward the second theory. Louise felt trapped inside her marriage—having no personal freedom—and the only way she could express this was through a physical illness.
Mrs. Mallard weeps with "sudden, wild abandonment" and then disappears to be alone. Mrs. Mallard’s sister Josephine and Mr. Mallard’s friend Richards believe she needs to be alone in her grief. She retreats to a comfortable chair in front of an open window—a place the reader is led to believe she frequently spends time in. As physical exhaustion overtakes her, Mrs. Mallard can do nothing but gaze at the scenes taking place outside the window. Strangely, the things she sees are not grim, but rather joyful. The new leaves on the trees sway in the breeze, and a "delicious breath of rain was in the air" (521). Perhaps the rain symbolizes the feeling of refreshment after tears have drenched the soul and washed away whatever sorrows it may have possessed. Chopin speaks of someone singing in the distance and birds "twittering in the eaves." This might correlate to the slow awakening within Louise’s spirit, as the birds break into song and the singing grows closer, the joy within her comes fully into being.
Mrs. Mallard seems to stare at the "patches of blue sky." as the blue sky breaks through the clouds, so does the realization of freedom burst into Louise’s soul. Fearfully, she tries to fight back what she feels; she "was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will" (521-522). Finally, Louise gives in to her emotions and begins to whisper that she is now "free, free, free."
What reasons could Louise possibly have for being happy about her husband’s death? Was he a bad man? Did he physically, sexually, or emotionally abuse her? Any answer I might come up with would be pure speculation since the story is vague on this matter. I personally believe that her husband loved her very much. The story itself states that Mrs. Mallard would weep when she saw "the face that had never looked save with love upon her." However, the fact that her husband loved her does not necessarily mean that their marriage was a happy one. From Louise’s cries of "free, free, free," one could come to the conclusion that her husband was a very possessive person. He may have loved her, but he didn’t allow her to live her own life. In the time frame that this story was written, there was not much a woman could do if she were in an unhappy marriage. Divorce was rare, and women didn’t just speak their minds to their husbands.
Louise realizes that while she only loved her husband sometimes, he loved her always. She also knows that love in itself does not make one person treat another as they should. She reflects that in her solitary future,
there would be no one to live for her 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. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination (522).
It would appear that Mr. Mallard was possessive and overbearing. He loved his wife but, like most men of that period, did not realize that his wife too had hopes, dreams, and fears—or perhaps it did not matter to him.
Thoughts of the wonderful life ahead of her crowd Louise’s mind as she walks downstairs to join the others. The front door opens and Mr. Mallard enters the house—alive! In that brief moment Mrs. Mallard collapses, dead. The doctor claimed that Louise’s joy at seeing her husband alive was so great her heart gave out and she died from pure joy. Elizabeth Ammons writes in her book, Conflicting Stories, that in Louise’s "society there is no free zone beyond the rules of patriarchy, no neutral space capable of permitting female self-realization uncontrolled by androcentric values" (73). Did Mrs. Mallard really die from the joy she was experiencing at seeing her husband alive and well, or from knowing that the only way for her to truly achieve freedom would be as a result of the death of either her or her husband?
Now that Louise had tasted freedom, she could not bear the thought of returning to her dreary life. In the split second that she realized her husband was alive and any hope she had freedom was gone, Louise’s heart decided what must be done. He was alive, therefore she must die.
Ammons, Elizabeth. Conflicting Stories: American Women Writers at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. NY: Oxford UP, 1991.
Chopin, Kate. "The Story of an Hour". Rediscoveries: American Short Stories by Women. 1832-1916. NY: Penguin, 1994.
Fields, Veni. "Release". Ode to Friendship & Other Essays: Student Writing at VWC. Ed. Connie Bellamy, 1998.
Fryer, Judith. The Faces of Eve. New York: Oxford UP, 1976.
Jones, Anne Goodwyn. Tomorrow is Another Day: The Woman Write in the South. 1859-1936. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1981.
A Strange Twist Of Fate
One of Kate Chopin’s most famous stories is "The Story Of An Hour." This story begins with what would be to most people a tragedy. Mrs. Mallard learns that her husband has been killed in a train accident. Her sister Josephine is the one who breaks the news to her, but Mrs. Mallard does not take the news as being sad and depressing. There is a strange sort of satisfaction that comes to her upon the death other husband, a satisfaction that only comes with her feelings of freedom.
After she finds out about the death of her husband. Mrs. Mallard locks herself in her room and thinks about what life is going to be like from now on. For probably the first time in a long time she feels truly happy, happy that she is now free from her husband and the life they once shared together.
While she is sitting in her room, Mrs. Mallard is looking out the window at the trees all "aquiver with new spring life, a delicious breath of spring rain is in the air, the clouds are parting to show patches of blue sky, and there are even the birds singing the bees" (25). According to literary critic Joseph Rosenblum, "authors typically associate death with autumn and winter, but Mr. Mallard’s death occurs in the spring, symbolizing a new beginning and the life Mrs. Mallard now hopes to make for herself (2241). I agree with Rosenblum. Death seems to happen in the fall or winter, because death is usually thought of as being depressing, which goes along with the seasons. Chopin, however, uses spring to represent the death of Mr. Mallard, because Mrs. Mallard was relieved that her husband had died, as she probably was that spring was here, so she could start her new life.
Mr. Mallard’s death is certainly not a tragedy to Mrs. Mallard because as critic Peggy Skaggs points out, "it gives her freedom back to her. Mrs. Mallard discovers that no amount of love and security can compensate for lack of control over her existence" (105). Mrs. Mallard now feels as though she no longer has to hide from the fact that she did not really love her husband, at least not in the way a married woman should love her husband. The way she thinks of her husband makes it seem as if he had not been her choice, as if she married him out of convenience or had been forced to marry him against her wishes.
As Rosenblum suggests, when Mrs. Mallard goes upstairs to her room, she is
literally elevating her freedom, because she can see the tops of the trees and the birds singing in them, and when she finally does come out of her room, she emerges like a "Goddess of Victory," with a feverish triumph in her eyes. However, when she is leaving the room and going downstairs, this foreshadows her loss of freedom. (2242)
It shows that something unexpected is about to happen, because Mrs. Mallard is now coming back to reality, the reality that she is no longer going to be able to live the life she had now hoped to live.
Finally, the real tragedy strikes for Mrs. Mallard anyway. Her husband is not dead at all. In fact he is very much alive, as she finds out when be walks through the front door. Now to Mrs. Mallard, her life might as well be over, because her husband is back. The man she thought she no longer had to live with has in a way come back from the dead. She wanted him to be gone and now that he is not, what else does she have to live for? Her happiness is gone, her hopes and dreams destroyed. The long life she now hoped to live is over. Skaggs says that "Mrs. Mallard is as misunderstood as is her reaction to her husband’s death. Even the medical professional misinterprets her collapse. This indicates that the conventional view of female devotion is sometimes misunderstood and that Mrs. Mallard was not the only nor the first woman whose behavior has been misread" (107). For it was not the joy of being able to see her husband again that killed her, it was her realization that now she was not going to be free and would have to endure more pain by spending the rest of her life with him.
Chopin, Kate "The Story of an Hour." The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. HarperCollins Publishers Inc., New York. 1991. 25-27.
Rosenblum, Joseph "The Story of an Hour." Masterplots II, Short Story Series vol. 5. Salem Press Inc., Pasadena, 1986. 2241-2243.
Skaggs, Peggy "The Story of an Hour." Short Story Criticism vol. 8. Gale Research Inc., Detroit, 1991. 102-108.
Loss of Freedom
In Kate Chopin’s short story, "The Story of an Hour," we are told that Mrs. Mallard, the main character, has a heart condition. Then Mrs. Mallard’s sister, Josephine, tells her Mr. Mallard died in a railroad disaster. At the end of the story, Mrs. Mallard dies when her husband suddenly walks through the door. The doctor says that Mrs. Mallard died "of heart disease—of joy that kills" (Chopin 27).
Some people may agree with the doctor’s diagnosis, but I think he was wrong. I believe that Mrs. Mallard’s death was not because she was happy to see her husband, but because she was sad about the loss of her newly-found freedom. I also think Mrs. Mallard realized that love is not a substitute for the freedom to live your own life. Throughout this short story there are examples showing how Mrs. Mallard’s actions and ideas are focused on her freedom. There are also thoughts and ideas that show Mrs. Mallard realizing that love is by no means a substitute for independence.
When Mrs. Mallard was told of her husband’s death she "did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance" (Chopin 25). This shows that Mrs. Mallard was not utterly grief-stricken or she would have had this so-called "glazed-over look." She also did not deny her husband’s death, which is another natural reaction to the loss of someone you deeply care about.
After Mrs. Mallard is told of her husband’s death, she retreats into her bedroom. The scenery outside is not one of death, but one of life. This is how Chopin describes the scenery while Mrs. Mallard is looking out her bedroom window: she "could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which someone was singing reached her faintly, and the countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves" (27). I do not know what kinds of feeling you get after reading those lines, but I feel happy, light, and relaxed. None of those feelings have ever been associated with the loss of a loved one, especially not a husband who is suppose to be connected to his wife in heart, body, and soul. Also, the "reference to Mrs. Mallard’s room overlooking the treetops suggests, according to Josephine Rosenblum, that Mrs. Mallard’s freedom is ‘literally elevating’" (Fields 27).
It is in Mrs. Mallard’s bedroom where we see the first signs of her freedom coming to her. While sitting in her room, Mrs. Mallard feels something coming to her, but she is unsure of what it will be. Her chest starts to rise and fall very rapidly. She also feels something starting to possess her and she knows that it cannot be stopped. Then, she "said it over and over under her breath: Free, free, free!" (Chopin 26). This is when Mrs. Mallard realized that she was free to live her life how she wanted to. There would no longer be an obligation to any other person; now she only had to please herself.
Near the end of the short story, Mrs. Mallard is thinking about her future and how wonderful it will be. She is picturing all the wonderful days ahead of her that will be her own. She also prays that her life will be healthy and long whereas before she was dreading life. These are all thoughts that show Mrs. Mallard has embraced and claimed her own freedom and that she is extremely happy about it.
In her book Kate Chopin, Peggy Skaggs writes, "Mrs. Mallard, for example, discovers that no amount of love and security can compensate for a lack of control over her own existence" (50). How could any amount of love, large or small, replace independence? I think nothing can or will ever replace living your life the way you want to live it. As Chopin so beautifully writes it in her short story, "[a]nd yet she had loved him—sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being" (Chopin 26). In just a few sentences, Chopin has shown that even love cannot replace independence.
Now, I take you back to when Mrs. Mallard’s husband walks in the front door. She looks at her husband, but all she can see is her newly-found freedom slipping away. Can you imagine the loss of such a thing as your freedom? Mrs. Mallard had just realized that she had her independence, when it was taken from her suddenly. I think the loss independence can be fatal, and in Mrs. Mallard’s case it was. After Mrs. Mallard dies, the doctor incorrectly diagnoses her death as "joy that kills." Now, I hope you can see, as clearly as I do, that Mrs. Mallard did not die of joy that kills, but of the loss of this powerful thing we call freedom.
Chopin, Kate "The Story of an Hour." The Harper Anthology of Fiction. NY: HarperCollins, 1991. 25-27.
Skaggs, Peggy. "Kate Chopin." Short Story Criticism. Ed. Thomas Votteler. Vol. 8. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1991. 20 vols.
For Better, For Worse
Valerie L. Bernardo
Kate Chopin’s story, "The Story of an Hour," may seem to be about Mrs. Mallard’s unexpected and ironic reactions to the news of her husband’s untimely death due to a railroad disaster. At least that’s what I thought when I read the story. It seemed to me that she led a normal life with a normal marriage. She had a stable home life with a kind, loving husband who cared for her. She seemed to love him, sometimes. She had some kind of "heart trouble" (Chopin 25) that didn’t really affect her physically, until the very end. I thought Mrs. Mallard would have been saddened and filled with grief for an adequate period of time after her spouse died, but her grief passed quickly, and she embraced a new life that she seemed to be content with. Therefore I believe there is good evidence that Mrs. Mallard was an ungrateful woman who did not appreciate her husband or his love for her. That evidence is found in her selfish behavior after the death of her husband, Brently Mallard.
Mrs. Mallard’s reaction to the sad news was natural, but her time spent to overcome her melancholy feelings passed too rapidly. All of a sudden she was eager to start her widowed life. Immediately after she heard the sad news of her husband’s death, "She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms" (Chopin 25). This is acceptable and understandable to me because I feel that anyone who had just lost his/her spouse would want to be comforted by a close family member. The story then reads, "When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her" (Chopin 25). I found it to be odd that she would just get up and head straight for her room. The time of grief could not have been for more than an hour, at the most. It probably did not last more than fifteen or twenty minutes. One of my observations that I want to point out is that the author says she went away to her room alone. Why couldn’t it be to their room? This may be an example of Mrs. Mallard being a selfish person, a bit possessive that is.
I think Mrs. Mallard had always wanted a life of her own. It was like a secret she kept to herself. However, she couldn’t have that life to herself with her husband around. A section of the story describes the scene and events that take place when Mrs. Mallard is in her room alone. She sobs occasionally and allows the grief to pass as she embraces the new beginning of her life. I believe her husband loved her but I think that her husband’s death opened a door to a new life for her that she had hoped for. She sees a view from the window that maybe symbolizes what she wanted in this new life of hers. The following passage describes it:
There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully . . . But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through he sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air. . . She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her . . . When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her lightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: "Free, free, free!" (Chopin 26)
How could she be so selfish and already be thinking about what her life was going to be like now that her husband was dead? But to her that didn’t really matter, she saw this opportunity coming and there was no way she was going to turn it down.
In my opinion, Mrs. Mallard did not appreciate the married life she had with her husband. Wasn’t she happy with her marriage and the love her husband showed? She was a woman who was "young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength" (Chopin 25).But I guess people are right when they say don’t judge a book by its cover. The people who knew her may have gotten the impression that she had no control in her life. Her husband might have been the dominant figure in the marriage as it mostly was back then. All she could think about was "There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself" (Chopin 26). I think she was the kind of woman who wanted to have a life of her own, which is what she eventually got. She kept whispering to herself, "Free! Body and soul free!" (Chopin 26).
Then towards the end, she saw her supposedly, dead husband, Brently Mallard, standing at the front door. She then realized that the news was incorrect. Although she was a selfish woman, she didn’t always get what she wanted. Her "trouble" returned fatally though. The doctors arrived and diagnosed the cause of her death as "heart disease—of joy that kills" (Chopin 27). Or maybe it was selfishness that got its just reward?
Chopin, Kate. "The Story of an Hour." The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
Bender, Bert. "Kate Chopin." Short Story Criticism. Ed. Thomas Votteler. Vol. 8. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1991. 20 vols.
Ewell, Barbara C. "Kate Chopin." Short Story Criticism. Ed. Thomas Votteler. Vol. 8. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1991. 20 vols.
Magill, Frank N., ed. Critical Survey of Short Fiction. Revised ed. Vol. 2. Pasadena: Salem Press, 1993. 7 vols.
Seyersted, Per. "Kate Chopin." Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Eds. James E. Person, Jr. and Dennis Poupard. Vol. 14. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1984. 60 vols.
Skaggs, Peggy. "Kate Chopin." Short Story Criticism. Ed. Thomas Votteler. Vol. 8. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1991. 20 vols.