The Story Of An Hour Summary and Analysis
Kate Chopin wrote The Story of an Hour in 1894, and it was published within the same year in Vogue and was reprinted in St. Louis Life at the beginning of 1895. While the short story seems ironic and nearly nonsensical at first, it highlights the emotional and mental state of a married woman who experiences a change of heart within an hour of learning of her husband’s untimely death. The short narration is ripe with clever foreshadowing and symbolism, and the ending is as predictable as it is bittersweet.
Josephine knew her sister, Mrs. Mallard, had heart trouble, so she was wary of bringing the news of Mr. Mallard’s death in a railroad accident. Josephine brought Mr. Richards to help her break the news gently without causing undue stress to her sister. At first, childlike tears were Mrs. Mallard’s reaction, but then she closeted herself in a room to think over her new situation.
It was in her lonesome contemplation that Louise performed a complete turn from understandable and expected sadness and uncertainty to giddy elation at the prospect of freedom and her life being her own again. Through her eyes, we see the actual reality of a nearly loveless marriage that brought her no joy and made her merely a subject of her husband’s wishes.
By the end of her short time alone, Louise felt victorious and ready to descend the stairs to meet her new life. Instead, she was greeted with Mr. Brently Mallard, miraculously alive and well and utterly unaware of the accident and the changes that happened to his wife. Instead of welcoming her husband, Mrs. Mallard suffered a deathly bout of heart disease, a “joy that kills.”
For all its seeming simplicity, The Story of an Hour focuses on the emotional state of a married woman at the end of the 19th century. Not only does she not feel happy or satisfied, but she does not expect to live long, and she almost welcomes her heart condition. Moreover, her childish emotional outbursts seem acceptable and understandable to everyone around her. And throughout an hour she spends in contemplation, she grows before the readers’ eyes, from a child ruled by the wishes of her husband, who acts as a parent figure in their marriage, to an independent woman ready to think for herself, make decisions, and take reins of her life.
Louise’s emotions are mirrored in the views outside the window in front of which stands the chair she chose to recuperate from the grave news. Once her emotions settle and take a turn towards elation, she suddenly takes notice of the trees outside, the smell of spring, and the life that continues to thrive outside the confines of the house she shared with her husband. The open window is a classic metaphor for freedom, though Louise does not have much chance to experience it in full.
It is worth noting that Mrs. Mallard is afraid of her own change of heart. She seems to understand her joy is monstrous, so she tries to hide it from the guests present in her house. Still, her attempts at subtlety are not entirely successful, as her pose and attitude are those of a goddess of Victory. While her triumph is cut short by the return of her husband, an hour Louise spends feeling free is worth more to her than all the years she would have to spend under Mr. Mallard’s rule.
The Story of an Hour is surprisingly straightforward regarding Mrs. Mallard’s feelings for her husband. She loved him, but only on occasion, and her warm feelings never lasted long. At the same time, she is entirely sure that self-assertion is the most crucial facet of her life. That is probably the main reason she can not handle the mere idea of spending another minute within the confines of her marriage.
While the ending may seem abrupt and tragic, the heart disease mentioned in the first line of the story makes a reappearance in the last sentence, creating a meaningful symmetry. Like any good foreshadowing, it becomes obvious when the story runs its course that her weak heart becomes Mrs. Mallard’s undoing. However, Kate Chopin adds a twist to the story by ensuring it is Louise’s husband’s life that kills her, not his death.
Though sad on the surface, Mrs. Mallard’s death can be considered a happy ending for The Story of an Hour. After the revelations she had, life with Mr. Mallard would be a fate worse than death for Louise, so abrupt demise is the kindest and the happiest of endings for her in the circumstances. Still, some critics say that Kate Chopin’s story would have never seen the light of day if Mrs. Mallard was to live happily ever after as a widow. The male-centric society of the 1890s would have rejected the premise, and so would magazine editors. Therefore, killing Mrs. Mallard was an act of mercy, not cruelty, on the writer’s part, but also an act of self-preservation, as Kate Chopin’s works were not universally well-accepted or beloved.
The Story of an Hour is a heartwarming self-acceptance and self-possession story set against the backdrop of a family tragedy that turns into joy for Mrs. Mallard. Unfortunately for her, the rumors of her husband’s demise are wrong, and her short yet powerful transformation from a subject of male whims into an independent woman is cut mercifully short. Kate Chopin manages to squeeze much character development and growth into a few short pages, and her succinct depiction of a nearly loveless marriage makes a perfect contrast with the elation Louise feels once she realizes the potential of freedom. Tragic yet predictable and very fitting, the ending adds a uniquely ironic twist to Mrs. Mallard’s death. The “joy that kills” is more likely a sorrow for the freedom found and lost within an hour.
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