The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin is full of irony and incongruity in the feelings of the main character Mrs. Mallard. Marriage is shown as constraining and her desire for freedom and independence is expressed vividly. Her public demonstration of sadness at her husband’s death stands in stark contrast to the ‘monstrous joy’ she feels at the thought of having a ‘Body and soul free!’
The narrator describes the emotions of Mrs. Mallard with powerful and vibrant words. The character has a deep inner life with a lot of desires, feelings and emotions. The thoughts she has in her mind are lively and seek a new life, but physically she feels cloistered in marriage. Her husband loved her, “and yet she loved him – sometimes. Often she did not.” It is evident form this that both husband and wife didn’t share the same amount of love for each other. The narrator therefore uses straightforward language to tell the readers about the characters, their feeling and thoughts.
The author tackles some complex issues of female independence, marriage and love in this story. In the last hour of her life, Mrs. Mallard, has conflicting emotions of grief as well as exultation at the hope of freedom for the rest of her life. She is portrayed to be a character with insight and strength. She is not affected too much by the loss of her husband and immediately thinks of the opportunity to move beyond the “blind persistence” of the bondage of marriage. She is youthful and fair in countenance that “bespoke repression and a certain strength” and happily looks forward to embrace solitude as complete freedom from all ties. This tells the readers very strongly that she craved for freedom from her marriage. But at the same time it’s ironical that she felt this way, because she had a husband who was intensely loving and despite the advantages of being married to him she felt restricted. It seems her obsession with herself and feminism explains the fleeting nature of her grief over her husband’s death. However from a different perspective it suggests that the human need for freedom or independence can even exceed love and marriage.
It’s notable that nature and environment play a great role in giving Mrs. Mallard new hope in life. The imagery is symbolic of Mrs. Mallard’s awakening to new life in the spring season. Everything she sees outside from the window suggests freedom, joy and spring. She hears birds singing and smells a rainstorm. The open window in a way ushers her into new life, brightness and joy. But for her everything within the window is repressive and restricting.
Another contrasting feature in the story is that Mrs. Mallard is portrayed as a person with a strong character, but on the other hand she has heart trouble due to which the news of her husband’s death has to be very carefully broken to her. The mention of her heart trouble in the story has some ambiguity in it. It can be a real physical heart problem that she is suffering from or it can be the psychological state of her heart which desires freedom, but is under the oppression of the marriage bond. Her heart probably has conflicting emotions together at the same time, which is why her heart is troubled. But in the end when she sees her husband alive she experiences “joy that kills.” This actually gives the readers a different picture that she had a weak heart which could not bear the shock. But it is also ironical that she felt both joy and extreme disappointment to see her husband. And ironically died due to the loss of joy of freedom.
The narrator uses contrasting language and sentence structures to show the various emotions of Mrs. Mallard to the readers. Her feelings are described as “monstrous joy” but she is described as “young with a fair, calm face.” She’s portrayed as a gentlewoman, while her thoughts are of a “sudden, wild abandonment.”
Kate Chopin has appropriately named her story “The Story of an Hour.” She chose this title because the story is all about the heightened drama of one hour. The story covers one single hour in the life of Louise Mallard, the main character. It starts from the time when she hears about her husband’s death and ends when he unexpectedly returns home. The author shows one intense hour of conflicting emotions, of grief and extreme joy. After having expressed her grief in public, Mrs. Mallard is contemplating about her new life of independence, for the rest of the hour. The readers also get totally engrossed in her expectation of new life, when suddenly Mr. Mallard returns home. It’s a short story but has a great impact. The author gives a surprise to the readers when she shows the hidden joy of Louise, of being “free”. And in the end she shocks the readers when Mr. Mallard returns alive.
Literary Analysis of “Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin: Language, Emotion and Marriage. 2012. Article Myriad. 25 September 2012