Character Analysis of Louise from “The Story Of An Hour”
First appearing on the pages of Vogue in 1894, the story titled “The Dream of an Hour” describes the reaction of one Mrs. Louise Mallard to the news of her husband’s untimely demise. Within sixty minutes, she works through her grief and sadness only to realize she is happy to see Brently Mallard gone. The short story can be read as an evolution of the character, and it highlights the key characteristics of Mrs. Mallard’s life and outlook, bringing her hunger for freedom and selfhood to the fore.
The story opens with Mrs. Mallard’s sister, Josephine, and Mr. Mallard’s friend, Richards, coming to break grave news to Louise. Her spouse is considered to be a casualty of a railroad emergency, and they don’t know how to tell Mrs. Mallard about the misfortune that has befallen her. Josephine and Richards are afraid she will take the news hard because of the heart condition she suffers. And while Louise does start weeping as soon as she learns about the accident, her health seems none the worse for wear.
Considering the story is set at the end of the 19th century, Louise’s heart condition could be nothing but frailty assigned to her by doctors and her husband to keep her from getting overly excited or taking on challenging tasks. The author does not mention any worsening of Mrs. Mallard’s condition until the very end of the story, so it is safe to assume she could have survived the funeral. Moreover, she is excited to have a long life for the first time after getting the grave news, which makes one think she has never before expected to outlive her husband. Still, the mentions of heart disease at the beginning of the short story serve as effective foreshadowing for the tragic ending.
Louise’s joy at realizing her spouse is dead could be attributed to a psychologically or physically abusive relationship, but that is not the case, as far as one can tell from “The Story of an Hour.” Mr. Mallard treated his wife fairly and glanced at her with affection, and she believed that she felt the same towards him. However, their marriage was ruled entirely by Brently’s wishes and desires. Louise had to submit to her husband’s every whim regardless of her feelings and wants.
Considering the story only spans an hour, Kate Chopin could not fit in the full expanse of Mrs. Mallard’s emotional response to her husband’s death. However, there are a few notable exceptions. For example, there is no guilt at feeling happy about Brently’s demise. Still, Louise feels an occasional pang of sadness amidst her joy when she imagines seeing his body at the funeral. It serves as another reminder that her marriage wasn’t all bad, but it wasn’t all good either.
Living for Herself
“Free! Body and soul free!” That’s the core sentiment Mrs. Mallard experiences within an hour of discovering her spouse’s death. Her gradual reawakening starts when she first notices the beauty of nature outside her window for what seems like the first time in years. And her lengthy contemplation leads Louise to the understanding that her feelings for her husband could not compete with her desire for autonomy and self-assertion.
Research shows that the first and second versions of the story printed in Vogue and St. Louis Life are slightly different. The latter added ‘her’ to the sentence, “There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself.” Without this single word, the story could be read to mean that Mr. Mallard was Louise’s whole life and that it would be empty without him. With ‘her’, the sentence transforms to highlight the patriarchal nature of the Mallards’ relationship. Where Brently dictated Louise’s every action before, she was free to make her own decisions.
Joy That Kills
Once Louise’s feelings settle, and she comes downstairs, her husband walks through the front door. Seeing him alive causes Mrs. Mallard to die on the spot, and doctors attribute her death to “joy that kills.” However, most readers and critics believe that it was the realization that her hopes of autonomy were out of reach that led to Louise’s broken heart.
According to Emily Toth, Kate Chopin had to kill off Mrs. Mallard, as the readers would not accept a happy ending for a widow excited to see her husband gone. It would have been a radical change for the audience and the editors, so Louise’s demise was predetermined from the beginning of the story, even if her husband had been dead after all. On the other hand, one could argue that Louise’s death was a direct result of her husband’s return from the dead. She could no longer live under his rule, so her heart stopped to save her the grief of struggling for years to come after glimpsing barely a glimmer of hope and freedom.
Some argue that “The Story of an Hour” reflects Kate Chopin’s feelings about her marriage that resulted in six children and a significant debt after her husband died. However, there is no biographical evidence to support this theory. Still, her short stories and novels highlight the experiences and emotional turmoil of the married women at the end of the 19th century that do not seem as strange and outlandish in the 21st century as one would assume.
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