Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour raises mixed and confused thoughts. In the short story, a woman experiences the sincere grief because her husband died, but eventually, it turns out that she is undergoing the best period of her life from now on. However, this epiphany turns out to be fatal, causing unbearable shock and death of the main character when a misconception reveals. Therefore, the author depicts how incompatible marriage and woman’s happiness was at that time, even when the former was not abusive. In the story, the moments of women’s happiness and freedom never intersect marriage.
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To start with, the main character, Louise Mallard, had a good husband. She mostly remembered him as a kind and caring man. When Louise anticipated seeing him dead, she felt depressed. Thinking about it, she imagined “the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead” (Chopin 757). That is why her first response was fair: she cried and wiped as any good wife would do. Louise probably was a good wife, and she even closed inside her room because this is also a way to show how broken she was and how she needed to be alone. Thus, her immediate reaction was consistent with the socially appropriate behavior of a wife who lost her husband.
In the beginning, Louise was afraid of the inspiring mood, and she made attempts to negate and suppress it. As Chopin explicitly describes it, Louise “was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will” (757). It is not surprising that Louise did not want to admit it first. Indeed, no good wife would feel this in her society. Being a dignified wife was probably the only possible perspective of identity for women at that time. That is why they had to watch the feelings and wishes in order to suppress them if they did not fit into the image of a perfect woman. Furthermore, the story has been referring to Louise as Mr. Mallard until she fully accepts the news and admits her freedom, as well as her personality.
Nevertheless, although Louise was a proper wife, she could not resist her other feelings when she stayed alone. Only when her husband passed away, and her marriage was broken, she felt freedom. However, this happiness was very fragile because it was hard not only to discover the new state of mind but also to let it be. In the process of this acceptance, Louise “did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and exalted perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial” (Chopin 757). She had to choose between the identity of a good wife and a free woman. It was not that easy to admit that the latter is what she truly wanted because social constraints have an enormous influence on personality.
Moreover, Louise was hardly alive before the evens of the story when she still had her ordinary married life. “It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long” – the narrator notes (Chopin 758). However, as soon as Louise is a widow, “[s]he breathed a quick prayer that life might be long” (Chopin 758). Therefore, she was psychologically almost dead, but then she had a chance to reborn. Unfortunately, some events are too tremendous and cause death for both body and soul. The unexpected appearance of an alive husband before Louise was a decisive blow.
The final irony reflects the essence of this conflict between women’s happiness and marriage. It is only in the society where the marriage is supposed to be a blessing for women where the doctors, one of the most serious people, could say that it was “the joy that kills” (Chopin 758). In other words, this claim becomes even more ironic because the readers feel that this claim about joy is serious. The relatives and friends of Louse probably understood this diagnosis and found it reasonable.
To conclude, The Story of an Hour depicts a dilemma between personal freedom and a shared social expectation, namely, marriage. The story shows how impossible it for a woman to be happy and to fulfill her human rights being married. It was also only if she was lucky enough to become a widow when she got a chance to become free. However, even in this case, she would have to deal with the expectations of the society as well as with her own learned beliefs, which can be particularly difficult if the husband was not a tyrant. Thus, Chopin draws attention to the contradictory social position which marriage puts women into. Although it may seem that the story settings hardly resemble contemporary society, one thing the reader should probably consider is whether the situation different nowadays.
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Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” Complete Novels and Stories, edited by Sandra M. Gilbert, Library of America, 2002, pp. 757-758.