The Story of an hour by Kate Chopin vividly depicts the life of women in the nineteenth century. As Mrs. Mallard plays out the role, it explains the bondage the women were forced to live with because of being tied to their husbands in marriage and their longing for freedom. This essay seeks to analyze more the struggle and need for personal independence of women during that time.
After a tragic railroad accident that was published in the newspaper, it becomes known that Mr. Mallard was one of those who succumbed to the accident. Mr. Richards, a close family friend first learnt of the accident. He later informed -Josephine- Mrs. Mallard’s sister. She is now tasked with the duty to inform her ailing sister that her beloved husband passed away in the ill-fated accident. This must have been a herculean task since it was not easy to break such news to her sister and she did not know how to do it without causing more harm than the situation had already presented. Thousands of thoughts must have been crisscrossing Josephine’s mind. She must have wondered how her sister will take the news, the effect the news would have on her heart. She even wondered what if she broke the news and her sister could not take it that she also dies. The kind of dilemma that Josephine went through was not easy but also required her to be strong for the sake of her sister. Her falling into a grieving mood was not an option because she was to be her sister’s pillar during such trying times.
When Josephine finally breaks the news to Mrs. Mallard, she is stricken by grief and she sobs at her sisters’ arm. She is greatly affected by the loss of her husband. When she could not take it anymore, she went into her room and locked herself. Mary Chopin explains the extent of the grief when she says “She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams” (The Story of an Hour, 476).
The writing clearly depicts the extent of the grief. Locking herself in her and shutting everyone else out shows how at the moment she saw her world ending due to the loss of her husband. She was still young and yet at this tender age suffers such a great blow. This seclusion must have worried the sister as well.
As much as she wanted to give, her space to grieve she also wanted to be by her side and comfort her. This worried Josephine that she went and knocked at the door of Mrs. Mallard’s room requesting her to open the door. It must have been very hard for Josephine to be the strong pillar her sister needed and mourn the death of her brother- in- law.
The first interesting twist first happens in this part of the story. Within the tragic hour, Mrs. Mallard’s grief suddenly disappears. This occurs when she finally realizes that she is free. Just the previous day she dreaded living a long life. Within settings of the Victorian Age which had the femme covert laws, laws in which wives were property of their husbands and had no direct legal control over their earnings, children, or belongings. The protagonist of Chopin’s story, Mrs. Mallard is imprisoned by their social customs. These customs caused such repression in women that they became damaged psychologically.
The idea of living a long life at the side of her husband was dreading and she wished she would die to save herself from this lifelong imprisonment. Chopin writes, “When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: ‘free, free, free!’ The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes” (The Story of an Hour, 477). She finally realized that her time for freedom had finally arrived. She now longed for a longer life. She might have lost her husband but the freedom of living her own life where she could make her own decisions was much more fulfilling compare t the love she felt for her husband. The new sense of freedom was now fulfilling that she whispered “Free! Body and soul free!”
At this time, she even plans of her new life. Mrs. Mallard’s private awakening with the beginning of life in the spring season. Ironically, in one sense, she does not choose her new understanding but instead receives it from her surroundings as Chopin describes by using statements such as “creeping out of the sky.” The word “mallard” is a word for a kind of duck and it may well be that wild birds in the story symbolize freedom.
Chopin explains,” The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it [this realization] went from her eyes…Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.” This shows her newfound inner strength and rebirth.
Mrs. Mallard enthusiastically opens the door and follows her sister down the stairs. Inside her heart, she is filled with so much joy of a new beginning that nobody not even her sister knew of- Her new life had just become. As she reached at the bottom of the stairs, another twist unfolds. Mr. Mallard shows up at the front door. Apparently he was not anywhere near the scene of the railroad accident and therefore he was alive. In fact, he was not aware that the accident occurred and that he was allegedly considered dead.
To the surprise of all in the room, Mr. Richards tries to shield Mrs. Mallard from seeing the husband but it was too late. Mrs. Mallard saw her husband whom was presumed dead not more than an hour ago. She is filled with so much emotions that he falls down and dies. It may be argued that she died not of the weak heart as the doctor said but because her joy of a new life was cut short by the sudden resurfacing of her husband.
To sum up, it can be clearly stated that during the late nineteenth century the time the story was set to lose a strong familial tie such as a husband was not a great loss so much as an opportunity to move beyond the blind persistence of the bondage of personal relationship. It is the loss of this freedom after it had been shortly earned that resulted to the death of Mrs. Mallard.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of and Hour.” The Norton Introduction to Literature. By Kelly J. Mays. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2013. 476-77. Print.