A Woman Who Is a Person in The Story of an Hour
In her book, The Faces of Eve, Judith Fryer writes, "In the last year of the nineteenth century a woman succeeded where men had failed: Kate Chopin created . . . a woman who is a person." Chopin’s short story, "The Story of an Hour," openly portrays the true feelings of a woman who feels trapped inside her marriage. In the period in which she lived, there were only two alternatives for her to achieve the much desired personal freedom—either she or her husband must die!
Chopin’s story was controversial from the beginning. It was rejected for publication by both Vogue and Century magazines as "a threat to family and home." Vogue later published the story only after another of Chopin’s stories did well publicly.
"The Story of an Hour" begins with Louise Mallard being gently informed of her husband’s death in a train accident. Sister Josephine was careful not to upset Louise too greatly because of the latter’s heart trouble. Did Mrs. Mallard suffer from an actual physical ailment or an emotional, psychological trauma? I lean toward the second theory. Louise felt trapped inside her marriage—having no personal freedom—and the only way she could express this was through a physical illness.
Mrs. Mallard weeps with "sudden, wild abandonment" and then disappears to be alone. Mrs. Mallard’s sister Josephine and Mr. Mallard’s friend Richards believe she needs to be alone in her grief. She retreats to a comfortable chair in front of an open window—a place the reader is led to believe she frequently spends time in. As physical exhaustion overtakes her, Mrs. Mallard can do nothing but gaze at the scenes taking place outside the window. Strangely, the things she sees are not grim, but rather joyful. The new leaves on the trees sway in the breeze, and a "delicious breath of rain was in the air" (521). Perhaps the rain symbolizes the feeling of refreshment after tears have drenched the soul and washed away whatever sorrows it may have possessed. Chopin speaks of someone singing in the distance and birds "twittering in the eaves." This might correlate to the slow awakening within Louise’s spirit, as the birds break into song and the singing grows closer, the joy within her comes fully into being.
Mrs. Mallard seems to stare at the "patches of blue sky." as the blue sky breaks through the clouds, so does the realization of freedom burst into Louise’s soul. Fearfully, she tries to fight back what she feels; she "was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will" (521-522). Finally, Louise gives in to her emotions and begins to whisper that she is now "free, free, free."
What reasons could Louise possibly have for being happy about her husband’s death? Was he a bad man? Did he physically, sexually, or emotionally abuse her? Any answer I might come up with would be pure speculation since the story is vague on this...