St. Louisiana by birth, Kate O’Flaherty was born on February 8, 1850. Her mother, Eliza Farris, was of French descent and her father, Thomas O’Flaherty, was an Irish immigrant and twenty-three years older than his wife. In September 1855, Katherine O’Flaherty entered boarding school at the Sacred Heart Academy in St. Louis. However, two months later, Kate’s father was killed when the new Gasconade Bridge suddenly collapsed and Kate came home.
Notably, Kate Chopin wrote about such a sudden death in “The Story of an Hour”. “In her story, Chopin echoed the names from her childhood: her fictional wife is Louise, resembling the French pronunciation of Eliza, as it would have been overheard by a frightened little girl. Louise’s sister is named Josephine, the name of Eliza O’Flaherty’s youngest sister” (Chopin and Toth 1991, viii). It was falsely reported that two men named Moore and Bryan were killed at the Gasconade. Bullard was one of the dead and Kate Chopin combined names and initials to name the husband Brently Mallard in her story.
Thesis Statement: “The Story of an Hour” represents the story of the submission of a young woman to her husband’s will. It is the story of an illusion of getting personal freedom.
“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin:
Chopin’s story begins when Mrs. Louise Mallard, who has a heart trouble, is informed about her husband’s death in a train accident. At first grief overwhelms her, but soon other thoughts creep into her mind. Everything around her – trees, rain, birds remind her that life is beautiful. “She could see … the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. The notes of a distant song … reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves” (Chopin 2000).
By intuition, she feels something is approaching her and realizes that she is free at last. That means she will not have to live for her husband; she will not have to submit to his wishes but only her own: “Free! Body and soul free!” she kept whispering” (Chopin 2000). Louise has been a good wife; she really loved her husband, sometimes, but it does not matter now. She realizes that her husband’s death has given her freedom not to sacrifice herself to anyone else’s will. She is full of inner joy that now she can make her own life. “She was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window” (Chopin 2000).
Not by chance, Kate Chopin describes her heroine’s fancy running, dreaming about a long life and a long range of spring days, summer days and all sorts of days. The more heroine’s joy is, the more allusion will be. “She begins to feel a “monstrous joy” at the thought of her own freedom … where upon the door opens and her husband walks in, having been nowhere near the crash. The wife’s weak heart fails, and the doctors conclude that Louise Mallard died of “heart disease – of joy that kills” (Toth 1999, 10).
It is worth noting that Kate Chopin’s story “The Story of an Hour” can be also understood as criticism of a very institution of marriage that traps women. Nevertheless, Kate had to conceal reality of marriages in order to make her work publishable. She had to finish her story with the heroine’s death. The fact is, that in the 1890’s, Kate Chopin’s story where the wife is unhappy in her marriage and then suddenly becomes a rich widow and lives happily, would have been too radical and even threatening. Editors used to publish works created to certain limits that readers could accept.
However, “if young Kate’s father, irritated by her chatter or her defiant curiosity, was the one who sent her to boarding school at age five – then “The Story of an Hour” is also the tale of her own liberation? Louise Mallard’s freedom is an illusion – but in real life, the crash that killed Thomas O’Flaherty liberated his daughter to come home, to be raised among the powerful women of her family” (Toth 1999, 10).
It is necessary to note that Kate Chopin does not only criticize the institution of marriage. She also criticizes men as they do not understand what their wives want and disappoint them by saying they love. Later, when she became older, Chopin understood the reason why the widows in her family did not marry again. Thus, the major theme of the story is that it is an illusion to get freedom and to be really free in a marriage. The institution of marriage traps women submitting them to their husband’s will.
In summing up, “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin represents an intelligent piece of social criticism. The story reminds her own story and even with the similar names. Kate Chopin often used the original names of people she met and “The Story of an Hour” is a vivid example of it. This tale can be interpreted as the tale of Eliza O’Flaherry’s marriage and her own liberation.
The story of Mrs. Mallard is so touching and she is so tender that a reader cannot but sympathize with her. The major theme of the story is clearly traced throughout the tale. The heroine is young, but feels depressed and afflicted with a heart trouble. However, after being informed about her husband’s death, new feelings and emotions are awakening in her. She realizes that she is really free. “There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory” (Chopin 2000). However, the author had to demonstrate reality in her story. When the heroine begins to feel joy at the thought of her freedom, her husband walks in. Louse Mallard dies of joy that kills.
Kate Chopin, “The Story of an Hour”.
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