Introduction and Thesis
This literary analysis delves into “The Story of an Hour” by the American writer Kate Chopin. The story follows Louise Mallard, a married woman with severe heart health problems. At some point, the news surfaced that her husband had died in a railroad accident. Louise’s sister and her husband deliver the news trying to smooth shock. As expected, Louise reacted emotionally, immediately bursting into tears. However, after the first sense of grief, she started to feel relief and joy at the new felt freedom. Ready to move on and inspired to begin a new life, Louise realized that her husband was alive when he entered the house.
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Louise had a strong emotional reaction once again, which resulted in her death. The doctors attributed her death to heart disease and excessive joy. Using a different and independent woman as a protagonist, societal stereotypes, and symbols of hope, Chapel shows what a torment a marriage could be to women at the end of the eighteenth century.
The First Point
Firstly, the story’s protagonist is a woman who differs from the classic stereotypical depictions of women and their expected behavior. From the start, the author leaves subtle signs indicating how different Louise is. When her sister Josephine and her husband break the news to Louise, they are both surprised by their reaction: “She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance” (Chopin 1). Whereas most people would feel shock with the emotional outburst coming later, Louise had tears immediately, which soon dissipated and were replaced with the sudden sensation of freedom. While feeling the sense of liberation is not what is expected after the death of a spouse, it does highlight Louise’s inner strive for independence.
The choice of the main character is important for underlining the independent nature of women. As Louise spent more time in her room, listening to sounds outside the window and ruminating on her widowed status, she begins to ascertain her independence in her mind. She consecutively whispers that she is free and repeats again that she is “body and soul free” (Chopin 23). When the sisters descend the staircase together, Louise carries herself “like a goddess of Victory” (Chopin 24). At the bottom, Josephine’s husband is waiting for them, which signifies the elevated independent status Louise finds herself in. This scene holds great symbolism regarding the emancipation and empowerment of women.
The Second Point
Secondly, the reason why Louise had such sensations in the first place lies in societal stereotypes on women, men, and their roles in marriage. Women’s perceived weaker status becomes evident in the way Josephine and her husband deliver the news to Louise: “in broken sentences, veiled hints that revealed in half concealing” (Chopin 1). When Louise goes to her room and starts brooding, she herself comes into conflict with the stereotypical thinking. Chopin accentuates the readers’ attention on her face and eyes, which exhibit “not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought” (10). Being used to having an inferior status in the family, Louise was forced to leave the thinking to her husband, as was usual for wives of that time. Now, for the first time, she was able to see her life as her own.
Societal stereotypes are important because they underline the repressed position of both men and women in marriage. Louise does not hate her husband, nor does she feel joy at the thought of him being deceased. In fact, she clearly thinks that she will cry again and feel bitter about him. Yet, Louise depicts her husband’s face in her mind “that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead” (Chopin 19). This line signifies how marriage traps both partners. Not only does the wife feel unhappiness, but the husband also fails to experience love and affection. The morality of contemporary society prevented them from coming to terms with their emotions and lives. Subsequently, death turned out to be both tragic and liberating.
The Third Point
Finally, Louise sees a new life beginning for her after her husband’s death. The text subtly hints that Louise suffers from the marriage both mentally and physically. Chopin specifically describes her as young (8). Yet, she has severe health issues with her heart, which at the end of the story lead to her death. The author also describes her face, “whose lines bespoke repression” (Chopin 8). The marriage has taken a toll on her, and now she feels the lifting of a burden. Louise prays about the longevity of her life, which the author contrasts with her thoughts from the previous day when she had dreaded the idea that her life might be long. This is why she reacted so strongly to the news of her husband’s untimely passing – she had spent in torment so much time that the realization that she is free was overwhelming and long-awaited.
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The feeling of hope that Louise feels indicates how the end of an unhappy marriage can set a person free and breathe enthusiasm into them. While in her room, she pays attention to all sounds outside the window, which constitute symbols of hope (Chopin 5).
In families, wives were restricted in their activities and interests. Now that the husband is gone, Louise can have a life free of marriage trappings. Chopin writes that “There would be no one to live for her during those coming years, she would live for herself” (20). When Josephine asks Louise to open the door for fear that she will exacerbate her heart condition with mourning, Louise responds that she does not feel worse. As the author put it, “she was drinking in a very elixir of life” (Chopin 22). The new-found enthusiasm and hope for a long life unburdened with the obligations of being a wife fills Louise.
Altogether, “The Story of an Hour” is a social commentary on marriage and how horrible it could be for women and men at the end of the eighteenth century. It was time before women gained rights and the only way for them to possess property was through their husband’s death. Society dictated norms and behavior to both men and women, overpowering the former and repressing the later. It created loveless and hopeless marriages where men and women were trapped, with the only way out being the death of a spouse. However wrong it might feel, the widowed status empowered women and gave them hope for a new independent life. This analysis matters because it discloses the extremes of marriage and the dangers of embracing gender and societal stereotypes.
Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour. Harper Perennial Classics, 2014.