The close reading of Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour” reveals the fact that the story’s motifs may be well discussed within the context of the Freudian theory of psychoanalysis; as they provide us with insight into the oppression-related essence of the main character’s existential anxieties. In this paper, we will aim at substantiating the validity of this suggestion even further.
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The most fundamental tenet of psychoanalytical theory has to do with an assumption that the severity of an individual’s experiences of emotional inadequacy is being proportionally related to the strength of ideological oppression, which affects this individual’s subconscious drives. Therefore, people who have been deprived of a possibility to address their deep-seated sexual urges for a considerable period of time, tend to sublimate their mental insecurities into specifics of how they perceive surrounding reality. The fact that Louise Mallard used to think of an opened window in her room as such that was providing her with the ‘glimpse onto an outside world’, reveals the story’s main character as someone who had suffered considerably, on the account of being in a marital relationship with her husband, because Louise unconsciously thought of this relationship as such that was imposing behavioral constraints on its psyche: “She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life” (Chopin). Apparently, upon hearing of her husband’s death, Louise had experienced an emotional relief – she felt as if her inner longing towards existential sovereignty was about to self-actualize. Whereas; Louise’s rational mind was deeming the experience of an emotional relief on her part as ‘immoral’, her biologically-unconscious self was prompting the story’s main character to celebrate this experience as ‘thing in itself’.
There can be very little doubt as to the fact that, throughout the course of being in a relationship with Brently, Louise never ceased experiencing a deep-seated desire to end it – yet, she strived to suppress this desire within herself, due to a variety of rationale-based reasons. However, as soon as she heard of a railroad accident, which had presumably claimed Brently’s life, Louise could no longer go about suppressing her longing for liberation – the process of Louise’s subconscious ego taking over her existential mode simply could no longer be contained: “There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air” (Chopin). By opening herself up to the voice of its ego, Louise was able to realize the actual purpose of her existence – an enjoyment of complete freedom, which cannot be restrained by an outdated religious and socio-political dogmas: “She said it over and over under her breath: “free, free, free!”… There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself” (Chopin). Thus, we can say that the image of an opened window was taken by Louise as the sign of her liberation’s genuineness.
Apparently, she never ceased carrying the mental construct of this image well within the depths of her unconscious psyche, which is why Louise was able to instantly recognize the ideas for what the image of an opened window stood. In its turn, this allows us to discuss Louise’s experience of mental liberation within the context of Freudian ‘uncanny’. As it appears from the story, Louise was waiting for her subconscious longing towards liberation to prove valid, in the social sense of this word. Therefore, the fact that the image of a window had confirmed the legitimacy of Louise’s innermost desires was dialectically predetermined – apparently, she had grown to recognize it as a signifier of her actual identity. In its turn, this also explains why Louise’s experience of mental liberation had ominous undertones to it: “She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her” (Chopin). According to Freud, the process of an individual freeing its ego of socially imposed constraints often assumes counter-productive subtleties, due to this process’ irreversibility. By letting herself embrace the feeling of overwhelming joy, on the account of her emotional liberation, Louise had grown perceptionally vulnerable. This was exactly the reason why she could not bear the thought that she would have adopt an existentially suppressed posture again, after having realized that Brently did not die.
Nevertheless, as it appears from “Story of an Hour”, Louise’s suppressed urges had very little to do with her subconscious intention to attain complete sexual freedom, as Freudian theory actually implies. Just as many of today’s urbanistically minded individuals, Louise have grown to appreciate the value of her life outside of this life’s biologically predetermined social functions. Therefore, even though the theory of psychoanalysis does provide us with a methodological framework to assess the actual significance of Louise’s story, it does not provide us with a glimpse onto a full spectrum of thoughts that went through the main character’s mind, after she had learned of her husband’s death: “And 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). Even though Freud was right about the fact that subconscious sexual impulses do affect people’s conscious lives to a considerable degree, he made a mistake idealizing these impulses’ sheer significance within the context of one’s psychology, just as Marx had made a mistake idealizing the role of an economy, within the context of history.
Louise longed to attain freedom as an individual fully capable of deciding what to do with her life. This; however, does not mean that she was bound to seek how to end her marital relationship with Brently as her full-time occupation, ever since she married him. Apparently, the reason why Louise experienced a sensation of joy, after the news of her husband’s death was brought to her, is that this relationship was based upon the principle of ownership (with wedding ring being a signifier of such ownership), as opposed to being based upon the principle of mutual respect. And, as we are well aware, there are no hidden subconscious impulses behind spouses’ ability/inability to treat each other as equal – it is all just the matter of education or the lack of thereof. Thus, even though the imagery of “Story of an Hour” does reflect upon a variety of subconscious urges, on Louise’s part, it would be a mistake to think of these urges as being essentially sexual. Just as any mentally adequate individual of European descend; Louise never ceased to be subconsciously aware of the simple fact that, it was only by attaining complete freedom as a sovereign individual that she would be able to realize her true calling. This is why, despite the fact that Louise did grieve Bretly’s death genuinely; she nevertheless welcomed it as something she actually longed for. Unfortunately, as it turned out at the end of the story, the rumors of her oppressive husband’s death were proven slightly exaggerated.
Chopin, Kate “Story of an Hour”. 2008. About.Com. Web.
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