Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” is an insightful work of art that possesses a great literary significance. The short story depicts one hour from the life of Louise Mallard, but touches upon several serious themes that are still important in modern society. Louise Mallard is a young married woman, who gets informed that her husband has tragically died. In one hour she evolves from the grief and sorrow to realization of her joy of finally becoming free to be in charge of her own life. However, her happiness does not last long, as her husband appears to be alive and she suddenly dies, when she sees him. The story was written in 1894, so it was the time that women hardly had a chance to express themselves, as they did not have the basic rights. At those times a woman was oppressed to conform to the social role the society has prepared for her – being a housewife and a mother, who should give away her life to care for her husband and family. But is it the only thing a person wants? The themes of marriage and its oppressiveness, as opposed to the theme of freedom are realized through character development, setting, point of view and literary devices.
The character development plays the primary role in depicting the themes of the story. The author begins to picture the fragile portrait of a young woman, as the first lines of the narration tell that, “knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death” (Chopin 1). It seems that the heart trouble refers not only to physical disease, but also to personal quality, as Louise is shown as a weak person. As Mrs. Mallard is informed about her husband’s death, she does not react with rejection as other women would, but perceives the news with instant fierce and short grief, while it is implied that the reaction of happy wife should be different. Her reaction is stronger than it has been expected, so her weakness becomes a questionable issue. The theme of marriage and oppression begins to show up, as it is shown in the story, when she realizes “there would not be powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature” (Chopin 14). The story implies that the marriage is mechanism of oppression for both parties, not only for women; however, Louise is considered weak hearted, so she is a more oppressed party in marriage.
Everything changes, when Mrs. Mallard is watching the sky through the window, and the new feelings begin to emerge and develop. The window symbolically has opened her eyes to the new life that she can have now, the life full of freedom and joy, as “she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely” (Chopin 13). She comes to realize that despite the sadness of the moment she will have a chance to devote her life only to her, to become free both with her body and soul. The theme of freedom as opposed to the marriage is clearly identified, as Louise allows herself to feel happy and to be in a right to decide what to do with her life. The story reveals that that the young woman was afraid that the life may be long, but now she praises it. It shows the value of freedom for a person that is much important than love and marriage, as it is crucial for the development of individual. Her freedom is so essential for her that she cannot bear the thought of oppressing marriage again, and dies instantly, as she realizes that her husband is alive. Her heart that was claimed to be weak, but has beaten so strong from happiness that it could not face the loss of it.
The plot structure also explains the themes, as the major plot elements reveal the true meaning behind the story. The tension rises from the beginning as the news about Mr. Mallard’s death are announced to Louise, and she is trying to cope with her feelings. The author makes use of hints to gradually lead the plot to its climax and open the key themes of freedom and oppression to the audience, as “there was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully” (Chopin 9). These fears and indistinct emotions of the character are transferred to the reader, who is as confused as the Louise is. The climax falls on the Louise realization that she is free, and it reveals the true desire of her soul, as she cannot stop whispering to herself about her happiness. As newly obtained freedom overwhelms her, the tension starts to fall, but all of a sudden the unexpected news lead to tragic resolution and ironic death of Mrs. Mallard. The thought of oppression has killed all the joy from the free life she had for such a short moment.
The limited setting of the story is an essential element for the realization of story’s themes. All the actions in the story happen inside of the house and last only for an hour. However, it is enough to show the life of Louise in her marriage, as the limited setting symbolically represents her cage, while her marriage is her private prison. This is not only the result of the oppression from her husband, but also from the society with the traditional gender roles that dictate that the woman’s place is at home. The realization that she is finally free comes when Mrs. Mallard runs to her room and looks outside to the world that finally belongs to her, “drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window” (Chopin 18). The room where the major part of the story is set revolves around the window, through which Louise can see the free world flourishing, as opposed to the marital prison of her home. She thinks of her future with the desire to leave this setting, as “her fancy was running riot along those days, and all sorts of days that would be her own” (Chopin 19). Upon seeing her husband, she realizes that she is not leaving this prison, and the possibility to spend the rest of her days in the same cage kills her.
The point of view also plays a significant role in identifying the themes of oppression and freedom. The story is told by an omniscient narrator from the limited third person point of view. Such point of view is essential for the flow of the story, as the Louise’s realization and changes would not be seen to the reader, if the author would not allow the insight into the mind of the character. Therefore, it helps the reader to follow all the minor alterations of the mood and mind of Mrs. Mallard. It shows both the oppression she suffers and the freedom she gains. The point of view is closely connected with the setting of the story, as the audience is not given access to the mind of the protagonist, till the moment she enters her room; the same happens when she leaves the room with her sister, as the narrator again reports only outer events, and it is impossible to find out what is on Louise’s mind. It is possible that the inner thoughts are revealed in the story only in the moment when the character is safe to express them, as she is not willing to show her joy in front of her sister and husband’s friend. The society would definitely judge her attitude, so the narrator reveals her true self only in the safety of her own solitude. The social and marital oppression does not allow her to truly show her feelings, even when she achieves her desired freedom.
The themes of oppression and freedom intervene to express the controversial situation the main character of the story has happened to face. The desire for freedom resists the oppression a young woman has to bear in marriage, while conforming to the rules imposed on her by the society. Kate Chopin in “The Story of an Hour” has managed to present the full-fledged image of Mrs. Mallard’s inner world and the place of freedom and oppression in her life. The author excellently expresses these themes with the help of masterly used language and literary elements, such as plot structure, setting, character and point of view. Each of the elements contributes to the depiction of main themes by including additional shades of meaning to the story.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” Title of Collection. Ed. Editor's Name(s). City of Publication: Publisher, Year. 496-497. Print.