The Story of an Hour, written by Kate Chopin, is a short story but it consists of many different and connected parts. The story is based on the feelings of a Mrs. Mallard. It centers around her as she takes in the news of her husband’s death. Chopin includes bold symbolism and imagery in her writing to allow the reader to have a connection with her emotional process.
The story takes place in the 19th century, and during this time, women and men were treated very differently. After losing her husband, Mrs. Mallard experienced a feeling not many women got the chance to during this time. She feels a sense of relief and freedom that the reader won’t be able to understand until the end of the story. Chopin develops Mrs. Mallard’s feelings in steps. Automatically, she is filled with grief, then experiences a newfound freedom, only to have her freedom stolen again.
The reader is informed that Mrs. Mallard suffers from a heart condition at the beginning of the story. Josephine, her sister, is the bearer of bad news and “as gently as possible” (Chopin 158) lets Mrs. Mallard know that her husband is gone. She was hoping not to worsen her condition. In the 19th century, women who had just been widowed would cry in private but Mrs. Mallard “wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment” (Chopin 158).
It’s expected that Mrs. Mallard would be heartbroken at the news of her husband’s death, however her initial response is just the first emotional reaction she’ll experience in this story. After a little time of thought, Mrs. Mallard comes to a realization of how much the death of her husband will change her life. She calms herself and in her room “there stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank” (Chopin 158). Chopin uses this example of symbolism to show Mrs. Mallard’s newfound freedom and her comfort in her husband’s death.
Shortly after, she fears being happy about her freedom and “she was striving to beat it back with her will” (Chopin 159). Society in the 19th century would shame a woman for feeling this way. People would deem her thoughts inappropriate, yet she couldn’t stop herself from feeling this way. “She knew she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death” (Chopin 159), but that’s just the reaction society wants her to have.
Kate Chopin gives the statement that “there would be no one to live for her during these coming years: she would live for herself” (Chopin 159). This shows how unhappy she was with her husband. She never got to have her own opinion and couldn’t show her own will to do anything. Divorcing back in the 19th century was not accepted, although widowing was. Mrs. Mallard was elated to be freed from her husband, while also still having a place in society.
Suddenly Mrs. Mallard’s happiness is interrupted when Josephine, her sister who broke the news to her, is outside of the room begging her to come out. Finally, she gives in and leaves the room “a goddess of Victory” (Chopin 159). Chopin uses this imagery to show how happy Mrs. Mallard is to be free from the negatives of her marriage. When her husband steps through the door, he’s “a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his gripsack and umbrella” (Chopin 160). Mrs. Mallard, stunned and filled with disappointment, is said to have died “of a joy that kills” (Chopin 160).
These words mean actually the complete opposite than what they read. Only the reader can understand that her cause of death is incorrect. Others in the story believe she was killed from the happiness of knowing her husband was alive, but truthfully the fact that her freedom had been stolen once again was the reason.
The ending of the story contradicts itself and creates a plot twist the reader never expects. We are lead to believe in the beginning that Mrs, Mallard is going to die from a worsened heart condition. The news of her husband’s death is what’s thought to have broke her heart, but in the ending it’s his living that disappoints and kills her.
Chopin’s main theme in the story is longing for freedom. She expresses this theme in a way that the reader can feel connected to the character. Freedom is a prize possession in Mallard’s life. For her to lose it so quickly was more than she could stand.