Kate Chopin’s compelling work depicts an hour in the life of the main character Mrs. Mallard, a devoted wife to her husband. In this story, we see how vital freedom is to all us in spite of the conditions we find ourselves in. People frantically yearn for freedom when it is lost and seek for it even when tragic events occur.
The story begins as Josephine, Mrs. Mallard’s sister, together with Richard, Mr. Mallard’s friend, went to the couple’s abode to deliver a staggering news. Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart disease, they tenderly relayed to her the news of her beloved husband’s death due to a car accident.
Upon hearing this, the widowed wife quietly wept. However, unlike a typical woman who would have felt deep grief during that tragic moment, Mrs. Mallard was void of such emotion. If truth be told, she merely found happiness as she locked herself in the room. She experienced joy because his death meant liberation for her. As she looked outside of the open square window, she discerned strange feelings that she had never felt before. With this sense of rebirth, she felt young and happy as if the sun has finally shone.
Not used to these emotions, Mrs. Mallard intently pondered. How could this possibly happen when her husband had just passed away? At last, she admitted to herself that, living with her husband, she had been restrained. Now she finally had a new-found freedom that she had not been given the chance to enjoy when her husband was still alive.
All she ever wanted in the marriage was freedom. She explicitly expressed her feelings as she whispered, “Free! Body and soul free!” She felt her body and soul being freed from her husband and the torment he brought upon her. The anguish was fleeing from her life.
Given this gist, it becomes evident that the story centers the concept of “freedom.” This word has various meanings to people depending on their education level or background. In this case, Chopin tackles freedom through the liberation of the soul from the emotionally entrapped body. The character of Mrs. Mallard exemplifies such a feminine soul desperately searching for her own freedom in a place she calls home. With her husband’s death, Mrs. Mallard was emancipated and no longer played the victim of her husband’s suppressive masculine ideology.
In the story, Chopin writes, “And yet she had loved him-sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, could for in face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being?” With this, the author reveals that Mrs. Mallard’s feelings toward her deceased husband were not always consistent. She admitted her love for him, but most of the time she knew this was not heart-felt for there was something more she craved.
By living with someone who she did not love, she created a barrier between herself and her husband. By being barricaded like a bird trapped in a cage, her feelings worsened. As time went by, those feelings turned burdensome and brought misery every aspect of her life. On the contrary, it may be arguable to say that she may have loved him. However, the conclusion reached is crystal clear, Mrs. Mallard was glad that he was gone. She repeated muttered under her breath, “…free, free, free, free!” Realization dawned on her that with her husband out of the picture, the weight of her husband’s suppression, which lasted for years, had finally been lifted off of her shoulders. This brought her joy and left her with an ultimate freedom that she had fervently sought for.
It was also apparent that the effect of freedom greatly shocked Mrs. Mallard. To someone who was deprived of freedom for so long, it seemed as if a new world was being revealed. She was more used to the feeling of oppression when her husband was alive. This was not surprising since, for years, she was a prisoner in her own home. Even though there were no bars, no security guards that watched her every step, she felt nothing but trapped.
This was particularly hard since Mrs. Mallard’s circumstance involved family life, a strong bond that one cannot simply break or escape. Unlike warriors battling for their country to be liberated from foreign rule, people could not merely wage wars to be free from their families or unhappy marriages without being scorned at by the society during those times. Such is a life-long commitment, which can only be ended through death.
To reiterate the main theme, Chopin also states, “There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.” This quote creates an imagery that may be interpreted that once again Mrs. Mallard is deeply thinking about her future filled with liberty as signified by the opened window. She contemplated about regaining the freedom she perceived that her husband and being married per se deprived her of. Mrs. Mallard’s exhaustion was apparently caused by the roller coaster of emotions but more so over her exhilaration with regard to her emancipation. She was more than happy to spread her arms wide open to breathe in the crisp air of freedom.
Furthermore, the story highlights the fact that albeit Mrs. Mallard may not have achieved the love she desired from her belated husband, she has reclaimed the right to be independent and assert herself. Chopin notes, “Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own.” Although she was afraid of being alone and facing the world without a husband by her side, she realized that true happiness and could only be achieved when she was free to live her own life. Mrs. Mallard may have had bouts of freedom prior to her husband’s death, but she would have never imagined the ultimate freedom she achieved on her own. Her husband’s death brought to her the key to live again.
“The Story of an Hour” is written to prove that there are more and deeper meanings to life than what most expect or desire. Above all, it imparts to us the value of freedom to everyone, especially to repressed women. Like Mrs. Mallard, a person could go on everyday with the same routine they are expected to do and end up feeling shackled. She also represents the millions of women suppressed by the patriarchal society and gender biases. In spite of all these detriments, she prevailed and emerged victorious. Mrs. Mallard epitomizes the people who were able to find their way to being free – a way back to life.