By Kate Chopin Essay, Research Paper
Freedom in The Story of an Hour
Mrs. Mallard s overwhelming response of free, free, free! upon hearing of her husband s death reflects the attitude of many nineteenth century women. During this time, highly restrictive gender roles forbade women to live as they saw fit. In The Story of an Hour Kate Chopin allows her audience to envision the moment that Mrs. Mallard is able to shed the bondage of marriage that was forced upon her. This was Mrs. Mallard s chance to actually live life on her own terms. Not on the terms prescribed to her by her husband. After this revelation on her behalf, the outcome of the story is both ironic and tragic.
Upon hearing the news of Brently s death Mrs. Mallard, who is afflicted with a heart condition, reacts with sadness at first, grieving with wild abandonment but shortly afterward seeks solitude to assess what has happened. The location where she seeks isolation is important. She retreats to her bedroom in a comfortable armchair, indicating that this is a place where she feels safe. It is here that Mrs. Mallard seems to have found a way to rectify what she thought wrong in her life. Mrs. Mallard then realizes in a rush of emotion and relief that she is Free! Body and soul free! She views the world with a fresh outlook: one where she will be her own person, answering only to herself. For a brief moment the reader is able to see through to how she is truly feeling, her emotional release apparent when she sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair… She is overwhelmed with freedom, opening her arms to it, letting it envelope both her body and her soul.
While this realization is occurring, a somewhat strange thing is happening outside. Usually when a character dies, the weather becomes dark, gloomy and foreboding. In this particular story this is not the case. The natural world actually mirrors Mrs. Mallard s feelings. The trees were all a quiver with the new spring life and there were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds. This shows how she is seeing her life as having a refreshed new appearance. Yes, Mrs. Mallard remembers her husband with kind memories but it was invigorating to see her true feelings, not because she was abused or mistreated but because she merely wanted to spend time with herself.
After a while, Mrs. Mallard s sister Josephine becomes concerned and inquires of her to make sure that she is well. It is at this point in the story that her name is revealed. From the beginning of the story, it was peculiar that everyone had first names, Brently, her sister Josephine, and her friend Richards, everyone that is except Mrs. Mallard. It is not until after Mrs. Mallard is free that we find out that her name is Louise. She was forever referred as Mrs. Mallard a mere appendage of Brently Mallard. She is now Louise because without Brently she has her own identity. In this sense, the author is trying to say that marriages repress women and it was not until after her husband s death that she can truly be Louise. For Louise, being Mrs. Brently Mallard was a burden. During this time, she felt oppressed and lived in her husband s shadow, as the title Mrs. Mallard indicated. Then suddenly, her storm of grief turned calm and her fancy was running riot along all those days that would be her own. This was an awakening of the sort, where in fact Mrs. Mallard thought that these feelings once suppressed by marriage could finally prolong her life.
These feelings were common in the late nineteenth century because women had few alternatives to marriage. Marriage for a woman was about financial comfort and social status. During this time a woman s most important duty was that of homemaker. Cooking, cleaning and tending the children became a monotonous drudgery through which most women faced each day. Mrs. Mallard even shudder(ed) that life might be long. Women could not own land, hold down a job, or even decide to get married for they were rejected and seen in society as failures. Brently Mallard s untimely death was Mrs. Mallard s ticket to freedom while still maintaining a respectable status in society.
After relishing her newfound freedom, Mrs. Mallard opens the door to her sister, Josephine with a sparkle in her eyes and she carried herself like a goddess of Victory. She had triumphed over her husband, and was now ready to begin living. With this new freedom, Mrs Mallard and her sister descend the stairs together, meeting Richards at the bottom. At this precise moment, someone is opening the door. It is Brently Mallard, unharmed and composed, unaware of the train wreck and of Mrs. Mallard s transformation that occurred during his absence. A scream is omitted from Josephine while Richards tries to hide Brently from the truth. The truth that her husband is alive and well, and was miles away from the wreck. Richards was too late though. Mrs. Mallard s heart has stopped, her life has stopped. She had everything and nothing all in the same moment, which ultimately killed her. Her death, of the joy that kills, is how the author describes Mrs. Mallard s death, and unwittingly her marriage as well.
Mrs. Mallard s happiness was in fact, the cause of her death. This death, arrived out of shock that her weak heart could not handle. The arrival of her husband who was the cause of her new-found freedom caused her death. Mrs. Mallard s death could be seen as the ultimate freedom from her unhappy marriage. Though her life ends in an extremely ironic manner, Mrs. Mallard does in fact finally escape the restrictions of her old life, not merely upon the hour before Brently Mallard s arrival but in the end for eternity.