The Story of an Hour is a cleverly written short story that tells about Louise Mallard’s inner thoughts and feelings, told by an omniscient narrator. Presently, it is stirring different ideas that are mostly considered brilliant. However, one could not refrain from being subjective to some degree in the analysis of the story, as could be shown by the opposing opinions of Xuding Wang and Lawrence Berkove. One of the important matters that need to be considered in such endeavor to strongly support objectivity rather than subjectivity; is the cultural background during which the story was written.
As Berkove mentioned, the story was first published in Vogue Magazine in 1894 (158), a time when women were still perceived as “housekeepers”, associated to the home rather than the modern liberal women who have the freedom to compete for a job with men. This was a time when women who expressed themselves freely, do a man’s job, hold offices or work along with men, were considered taboo. With such information, one would understand that the story reflects the very culture described above and would comprehend more clearly the symbolisms and statements used in the story. In the case of Berkove’s article entitled Fatal Self-assertion in Kate Chopin’s “The story of an Hour”, the tone of the writer in his analysis seems to be seen through the eyes of one looking at modern times. This could be fatal as there are norms and mores that could really affect the mentality, actions and perceptions of people from different ages, cultures, beliefs and education.
For instance, he concludes that the story is not about society or marriage but about Louise Mallard (berkove, 153). Sure, the story is about the protagonist nevertheless, she represents some, if not most of the women during that time. Since men were considered to be the breadwinners, they were expected to go out and work while women stayed in the home to do the household chores and attend to the needs of the men. This was the general concept of men and women’s roles and Brently and Louise Mallard conformed to such norms as a couple. Louise however was a woman who did not agree with such patriarchal practices as expressed in her strongly made up mind that “There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature (Chopin).” This also suggests that Brently Mallard had a steep inclination to patronizing what his environment suggests. He was described with “kind, tender hands”, which means he was not the kind of husband who is physically abusive but was emotionally and psychologically abusive, imposing his wills on his wife.
The will was not specified but whatever it is, this is probably what Louise considered as her imprisonment, the very reason that brought her to mutter, “Free, free, free”. Her imprisonment was not only emotional and psychological, though, as she said, “Free! Body and soul free!” She was physically bound as well. As the omniscient narrator tells about Louise’s considerations of “all sorts of days that would be her own”, it could be concluded that the physical imprisonment was her inability to do the things she wished to do. In addition, Louise was described with “lines that bespoke repression and a certain strength” which Berkove agrees to be a reference to difficulty however, this is the only line he claims to be the only reference to such. Nevertheless, what needs to be pointed out is what the repression is all about. As mentioned earlier, it was not a physical repression but of the will.
“A certain strength” may refer to Louise’s strength of will that enabled her to cope with her situation and serve her husband the best way she can despite the difficulties she went through. This is contrary to Berkove’s argument that Louise viewed her husband’s constant love as a “powerful will bending hers in blind persistence”. There was no reference of a constant love in the story which makes the argument week, based on a subjective point of view. The phrase, “the face that had never looked save with love upon her”, may be a reference to how Brently treated his wife, coupled with his “kind, tender hands” but still, to fully analyze the story without passing a highly subjective opinion, one must consider where the phrase “there would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature”, would fit in the big picture. Then, the aforementioned author goes on to ask “why is it blind?”, and continues by justifying the ‘blindness’ of Brently Mallard as the result of Louise’s lack of communication with her husband, failing to tell him all her feelings (Berkove, 154). This is an example of what was mentioned earlier about the subjectivity of Berkove. Since one cannot really justify this assumption from any line of reference, the argument is clearly seen as a personal opinion of the author.
One of the important matters that Berkove missed is the symbolism used in the story which, to Wang, was a strong point he widely used to explicate his opinions. This difference in approach shows how different the two authors’ interpretations are. While Berkove claims that Louise is physically and emotionally sick, Wang does not agree with such an argument rather looks at such a claim as “twisted”. Personally, this writer agrees to both authors to some degree. First, the physical and emotional status of the protagonist is an interesting point to consider in the analysis and the symbolical point Wang stressed is another essential angle that needs to be scrutinized. The beginning of the story states that “Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with heart trouble”. The heart trouble was not specified, which brings the reader to look into its physical and symbolical representations. Physically, Louise had a heart condition that made her vulnerable, worrying her sister and which consequently made her incapable of taking the shock of seeing her supposed dead husband, alive- ending the story with the tragic irony- her death. Symbolically, she had some troubles that did not just involve her emotions but her relationship with her husband. Relationships, especially one that is bound by love, are usually symbolized by the heart. Brently may have loved his wife dearly and Louise might have stood strong in the marriage to be under the “private will” of her husband, if only to avoid fights however, there was something wrong, a symbolism of the heart trouble.
Pertaining to her emotional state, perhaps, a better word Berkove would have chosen better is troubled rather than ‘sick’. He described Louise as “not thinking clearly” which is most natural to a person who just experienced shock. However, to consider her emotionally sick; is not a justifiable argument as the protagonist showed evidences of deep reflections even in such a short time. She struggled with her feelings, “striving to beat it back with her will”. This shows that Louise was rather finding meaning and reason to the new feelings she was encountering, finding emotional strength, sorting out what was justifiable at that moment. Now that her husband is dead, she did not seem to find meaning in acting as the Mrs. Mallard whose wants and needs have been suppressed rather wants to claim the freedom that was summoning her.
Berkove, Lawrence T. Fatal Self-Assertion in Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”. Ed. Name of editor. Place published: name of publisher, date published. Print.
Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour. Ed. Name of editor. Place published: name of publisher, date published. Print.
Wang, Xuding. Feminine Self-Assertion in “The Story of an Hour”. Tamkang University. March 8, 2012. Web. n.d.