Kate Chopin’s Story of an Hour is a tale about an unhappy marriage. It is an interesting piece to study, because the author combined certain elements of a mystery novel and a tragic love story into one. The author forces the reader to retrace his steps in order to understand the real reason of Louise’s death. Thus, the doctors and the family members were wrong to say that she died because of extreme happiness. It can be argued that Louise’s death is the result of extreme sadness, after she realized she will never be free.
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Without a doubt the doctor they called to revive Louise was a family physician or someone they knew very well. Thus, he knew about her delicate heart condition. The doctor knew that extreme happiness and extreme sadness causes the heart to go into a frenzied marathon, and therefore, a cardiac arrest soon ensues. When the doctor was told about the little drama that went before her collapse, he immediately deduced that she was ecstatic to see her husband alive.
The doctor on call was not the only person who thought that Louise died from extreme happiness. All of the members of her family and all her friends were in agreement with the physician’s diagnosis. No one knew what she felt. All the varied emotions that she experienced after the crash, these emotions were unknown to all. Josephine’s anxious request revealed her anxiety, it was a reflection how the people around her interpreted the husband and wife relationship. Nevertheless, Josephine was partially correct when she worried about Louise’s state of mind; however, she never saw the other half of the story.
They did not realize how happy she was when she realized that her husband was dead. The word happiness is not enough to describe her true emotions. According to one commentary, she became “wildly happy to hear that her husband is dead” (Bloom 153). The people she lived with did not see how a caged bird learned how to sing melodious songs a few minutes after expressing grief. She looked forward to a new life; she expected to soar without the shackles of slavery wrapped around her soul.
She received her newfound freedom with mixed emotions. On one hand she was happy to be free. On the other hand, she knew that society frowns upon a cheerful widow. She was expected to wear a black dress that she needed to partner with a somber expression. There were certain social rules that have to be followed for a grieving widow like her. Thus, she tried her best to resist the giddy feeling that was rising in her. She tried desperately to suppress her positive feelings as she anticipated the kind of life that awaits her after the funeral. She knew it was wrong to smile less than an hour after she received news of her husband’s tragic end. However, she was powerless to resist the ideas that were brewing in her mind.
The need to suppress emotions created an unbearable tension within her, and that inward pressure took its toll on her heart. She died when she realized that fate was cruel to her, because she tasted freedom for only a few fleeting moments (Werlock 621). Hope was the wind beneath her wings, and when hope was taken away she had no desire to live.
No one saw her struggles, because her family and friends never realized how unhappy she was in her marriage. According to another commentator, “The thought of marriage as a realm in which a woman may develop meaningfully as an individual is as alien to this society as the thought that many wives might be suffering miserably through lives that have been thwarted and stunted because of their marital vows” (Stein 10). Her husband utilized an indirect approach and forces her to conform to his idea of a perfect wife. Louise resented it. However, she also pointed out the possibility that her husband was unaware of the impact of his actions. Nevertheless, the damage inflicted on her was real.
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No one knew the secret in her heart. They were careful not to distress her in fear of the looming cardiac arrest. However, they were wrong to focus on that aspect of her life. They would have been a great help to her if they did not worry about her biological heart. She desperately wanted them to look into the hidden parts, the mystical part of her being. In that sacred area, if they cared to look, they would have found pain and suffering. She manifested the classic behavior of a slave; she was terrified to think of a future outside her invisible prison walls. Her husband’s death gave her the power to think outside the box.
When she was certain that no one can take away her freedom, she started to acknowledge her deep-seated feelings. Louise identified the problem, and she said that there was a will that tried to bend her. She also remarked that it was a blind persistence inherent in a society that was molded in a particular way. It was her eureka moment, and she was determined to change her life on the basis of that revelation.
Louise experienced rebirth after she emerged from her brief moment of seclusion. In that moment of intense grief she went through a process of transformation. Her experience was not unlike the ugly worm wrapped in the darkened womb of the cocoon. Just like the caterpillar Louise never imagined the day that she would emerge from an emotional black hole like a victorious war-goddess. After going through the intense process of metamorphosis, a caterpillar cannot afford to go back to her former life. It is impossible for a caterpillar to go back to her former ways. Without a doubt, Louise’s heart went through a terrible ordeal when she heard the news of the accident. However, nothing compares to the heart-wrenching force that tore into her innermost parts when she saw her slave master once again.
Erroneous words filled up the family physician’s brief statement on the cause of death. He said it was the “joy” that kills, the phenomenon he blamed for the sudden demise of Louise. He was operating on the assumption that Louise was happily married to her husband. He was not alone, because Louise’s family and friends shared the same view. Louise was compelled to maintain a certain image, because she knew that she was under a powerful force that she cannot overcome. She experienced ecstasy when she realized the implications of her husband’s death. She also experienced extreme sadness when she discovered her husband was still alive. It was not extreme happiness that killed her, it was the realization that she was going back to prison.
Bloom, Harold. Kate Chopin. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2007. Print.
Stein, Allen. Women and Autonomy in Kate Chopin’s Short Fiction. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2005. Print.
Werlock, Abby. Companion to Literature. New York: Facts on File, 2010. Print.