Kate Chopin’s the Story of an Hour
Louise Mallard’s Power Hour Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” is a short story that speaks wonders in its one thousand words. The unique reaction of Chopin’s character, Louise Mallard, to her husband’s supposed death and her resulting death upon seeing him walk through the door allows for various interpretations to be made by readers. Through the events and thoughts of Louise embodied in the story, Chopin implies the oppression and lack of independence in Louise’s marriage and the joyful freedom she is overcome with when she is led to believe that this confinement has been lifted off her shoulders.
Through Louise’s character and her specific feelings toward her own marriage, Chopin gives light into the oppression of marriage and its effects on our independence and self-assertiveness. Many times throughout the short story, Chopin employs details of the freedom and liberation felt by Louise after hearing news of the death of her husband. Such feelings lead to implications of burden and oppression caused by the bondage of marriage. Following her grieving over the loss of her husband, Louise locks herself in her bedroom and speaks the words “free, free, free! ” (Chopin 160) under her breath.
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This reaction to the death of someone she is supposed to love so much reveals details about Louise’s marriage with Brently. Louise does not react in the way we would expect a recently widowed woman to upon hearing such news. She is not “paralyzed with the inability to accept” it (Chopin 160), but feels freedom from the loss, as seen in her uttering of the word “free” three times. Along with speaking these words, Louise’s heart begins to “beat fast,” despite her “heart trouble,” and “the coursing blood warm[s] and relaxe[s] every inch of her body” (Chopin 160, 159, 160).
The quickening of Louise’s pulse in response to her elated emotions concerning the loss of her husband represents the moment she begins to gain back what has been lost in the oppression of living her life for herself and for Brently. The story never comes out and says that her heart troubles appeared when she became married, but the fact that her heart gains the strength to warm and relax her body emphasizes the idea that the realization of her freedom from her marriage with Brently is allowing her to regain parts of herself that she had reviously given to Brently under the oppression of their marriage. Chopin’s connection of Louise’s feelings of liberation and her strengthening heart beat to the event of Brently Mallard’s death allows the audience to see the burdens of their marriage unravel since he is no longer in her life. Throughout Louise’s journey of discovering the death of her husband, Chopin makes evident that her marriage to Brently has masked her desire for self-assertion and has taken away from her identity, thus resulting in the oppression she feels.
At the beginning of the story Louise is only referred to as “Mrs. Mallard” (Chopin 159). It isn’t until later in the story that we learn her first name, “Louise” (Chopin 161). Once Louise comes to the realization that she is free to live her life for herself, Chopin reveals her first name. Holding off on calling her Louise until the moment when she discovers this joy is representative of how her life and marriage with Brently has taken away from her identity and her independence.
Later in the story, when Louise begins to feel joy, she prays that her new, independent life “might be long,” when just the day before she “thought with a shudder” that her life with her husband might be long (Chopin 160). Louise’s prayer shows that she is much happier and willing to live a longer life knowing that the rest of her days “would be her own” and no one else’s (Chopin 160). For Louise, it took that moment of realizing that he is gone for her to be able to see the self-assertion she lost during all those years of living for someone else.
In Lawrence Berkove’s “Fatal Self-Assertion in Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour’”, he views Louise’s character as unrealistic in her desire of so much freedom in marriage and believes she exaggerates the sense of self that is lost in her marriage to Brently. Berkove observes that “earthly love is not ideally perfect” (Berkove 157) and that the concept of self-assertion Louise wants reflects her “unreasoning self-centerdness” (Berkove 154).
I side with Berkove in his argument that Louise is unrealistic in the liberty she wants in marriage since the whole idea of marriage is to willingly give up some of your freedoms in return for your love for one another. However, I do not believe that Louise is exaggerating what she has given up for marriage. The event of the loss of her husband has simply opened her eyes to the self-assertion she desires and has been lacking, and it has shown her the oppressive side of marriage, a side she is happy to be rid of with Brently’s death.
The last line of the short story, in which Louise dies, reflects Chopin’s implication that marriage is burdensome on our personal freedoms, and the entrance of marriage back into Louise’s life causing her death emphasizes this extreme oppression. Louise’s “monstrous joy” (Chopin 160) is short-lived, and upon seeing Brently walk through the door, alive, she suddenly dies. The last line of the short story states that “she had died of heart disease—of the joy that kills” (Chopin 161), but this line is ironic, and it is in actuality the stripping of this joy from Louise that overwhelms her to the point of death.
Before Louise walks down the stairs, she is described as “carr[ying] herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory” (Chopin 161) and shows no sign of weakness and no symptoms of an encroaching death. I believe that Chopin intentionally employs the timing of Brently’s reappearance and Louise’s death as simultaneous events in order to emphasize the extremity of the feelings of confinement and the lack of independence marriage imposes upon Louise.
The suddenness of such feelings of oppression taking the place of Louise’s previous feelings of joy and liberation are implied to be what causes Louise to feel so overwhelmed that her heart cannot handle it anymore. In Mark Cunningham’s criticism “The Autonomous Female Self and the Death of Louise Mallard in Kate Chopin’s ‘Story of an Hour’”, he focuses on the argument that no where in “The Story of an Hour” do we see any connection between the reappearance of Brently as he walks through the door and Louise’s ultimate death, killing the ironic quality of the last line, “the joy that kills” (Chopin 161).
Cunningham goes on to state his opinion that Louise does not see Brently come through the door and that her death lies “in the joy… and the resulting emotional strain brought about by her new understanding of her marriage and her supposed sudden freedom from that marriage. (Cunningham 1) I agree with Cunningham’s argument in that no where in the story does Chopin explicitly state that Louise witnesses her husband walk through the door before her death, but I do believe Chopin implies this in Louise’s “clasp[ing] her sister’s waist” (Chopin 161) as they walk down the stairs together, implying that as Josephine sees Brently, Louise does as well. When Brently returns, he unwittingly yanks Louise’s independence away from her, putting it once again ut of her reach. The forbidden joy disappears as quickly as it came, but the taste of it is enough to kill her, reinstating the irony of “the joy that kills” (Chopin 161). Kate Chopin’s character, Louise Mallard, in “The Story of an Hour” is hyperbolic in her thoughts and wishes for such extreme freedom in marriage, and the exaggeration of her overwhelming feelings of joy in losing her husband emphasize how oppressing marriage was for her.
Chopin’s implementation of such extreme emotions all surfacing in this single, short hour bring about the idea that the bonds of marriage, although it means giving up some independence for your lover, can be especially traumatic on those that desire their full independence and exist as such free spirits. Due to the exaggerative nature of Louise and the intensity of her feelings toward liberation from marriage, the importance and priority of personal independence are made precedent by Chopin, with marriage only taking away from this precedence. Works Cited Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour. Prentice Hall Literature Portfolio. Ed. Christy Desmet, Ed. D. Alexis Hart and Ed. Deborah Church Miller. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2007. 159-161. Print. Cunningham, Mark. “The Autonomous Female Self And The Death Of Louise Mallard In Kate Chopin’s ‘Story Of An Hour’. ” English Language Notes 42. 1 (2004): 48-55. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 12 Oct. 2012. Berkove, Lawrence I. “Fatal Self-Assertion In Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story Of An Hour’. ” American Literary Realism 32. 2 (2000): 152-158. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 12 Oct. 2012.