Freedom and The Story Of An Hour
When I first read Kate Chopin's "The Story Of An Hour", my instinctual response was to sympathize with the character of Mrs. Mallard. This seemed to me to have been intended by the author because the story follows her emotional path from the original shock upon hearing of her husband's supposed death to her gradual acceptance of the joy she feels in anticipating her new freedom to the irony of her own sudden death. However, one fact cannot be overlooked when judging my personal reaction to this piece. Because this story's theme is basically an issue of what a woman has the right to expect from her life, the fact that I am a woman living in a society where freedom and independence are valued above all else weighs heavily on the way I look upon the actions of Mrs. Mallard and also on the way I judge Chopin's message.
It is interesting to note that even in the story's opening, before Mrs. Mallard's response has run it's full course, her reaction to the news of the accident which is presumed to have killed her husband is already being contrasted to the one which society would deem appropriate. It is mentioned that "She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance"(pg 275, P3). Though upon discussion of the story I found that this sentence had placed a kernel of suspicion in the minds of some as to the authenticity of Mrs. Mallard's display of emotion, I had taken once, with sudden, wild abandonment"(pg 275, P3) endeared her to me all the more because I felt that it meant she was very much in touch with the workings of her heart andimmediately at their mercy, and this made her reaction seem all the more genuine. Though in retrospect it seems somewhat contradictory, I was a fan of Mrs. Mallard when I thought she was reacting with violent sorrow to the death of her husband just the same as I was when it became clear that she was looking upon her future without him in a kind of cheerful anticipation. Perhaps this is due to the fact that in both instances her feelings were set apart from what those of the average woman of her day would have been. Living, as I do, in a time and place where the image of a strong and independent woman is accepted as the culmination of a long journey of struggle (which continues to be waged) against a history of male domination, it almost goes without saying that a female who stood unabashedly apart from the condescending machismo of her day is to be respected as living before her time.
During my first reading of the story it was almost as if my emotive response as a reader was following exactly the course of response of Mrs. Mallard herself. Firstly, there was sorrow. Sorrow for Mrs. Mallard, who is not only "afflicted with a heart trouble"(pg 275, P1) but now has also lost her husband. Notice that I say sorrow but not pity. I had too...