Critical Review of Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour

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Critical Review of Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour

Freedom is one of the most cherished gifts of humanity. Often times, people live in a state that denies them the chance to be free. This can happen in situations where a person is denied the physical freedom to move about such that he or she is confined in a specific place, or where people’s circumstances make it impossible to realize freedom. Kate Chopin highlights this in her work, The Story of an Hour”. Mrs. Mallard lives in an imprisoned state, which denies her the chance to experience full freedom. Her health hinders her from realizing any sudden excitements or other emotions in her life. She does not even recognize freedom when it becomes clear that she is no longer in any captivity because of her husband’s death.

The author begins by making the reader aware of Mrs. Mallard’s heart condition. This prepares the reader for what follows next. The information makes it possible for the reader to relate to how the people in Mrs. Mallard’s life treat her. They seem as if they are almost afraid to talk to her, in order to prevent her from experiencing life’s troubles and excitement. Her sister has to inform her of her husband’s death in broken sentences. Josephine has to speak with her lips next to the keyhole when calling her from her room (Chopin 17). The narrator tells the events in a subsequent motion beginning from the time when Mrs. Mallard receives the news until the time she dies. Deviation occurs in different sections where the narrator uses flashbacks. This helps the reader to fill in some gaps.

The story is told in the third person omniscient point of view. This gives the reader a chance to know more details of the story, such as the thoughts of each character. The narrator has the ability to read Mrs. Mallard’s thoughts. Mrs. Mallard is the main character in the story. The story revolves around her thoughts, actions, and behavior. Her sister Josephine, her husband, and her husband’s friend Richard are the other characters. Josephine is sensitive to her sister’s health problems. She is there for her during her sad moments and she offers her support and consolation. She is concerned about her wellbeing. She does not leave Mrs. Mallard alone even when she closes the door on her face. Richard is Mr. Mallard’s friend. He seems concerned about Mrs. Mallard and he does not want anyone to deliver the news of her husband’s death hastily. He waits for confirmation before be decides to break the news to Mrs. Mallard.

As the title suggests, the story takes place within one hour. All the events take place inside the Mallard’s home. Although not much description is given, it is clear that the house has a staircase and several rooms that can be locked. The story takes place in two areas inside the house. Mrs. Mallard receives the news when she is downstairs. The downstairs section may be symbolic because she receives the bad news when she is there. She goes upstairs to her room, where she experiences a new lease of life. There is a view to the outside where she can see the open square, the sky, and the top of trees. There is a roomy armchair in the room. When she is here, she realizes the freedom she will get because of her husband’s death (Wang 108). However, circumstances change once she goes back down. She receives bad news once she sees her husband, in the sense that she can no longer have the freedom she so desired, and she ends up dying because of the shock she received.

Mrs. Mallard shows the place of married women in the nineteenth century. She was relieved because there was no one to live for, and she could finally live her own life (Chopin 14). This shows the extent to which marriage had confined her. It had robbed her of the joy of freedom. She was young, yet her sentiments present her and make her look like an older woman whose only mission and duty in life was to take care of her husband.

The setting of the story can help explain some of the defined men and women roles in the particular society. Richard receives the news of Brently’s death when he is at the newspaper office. Brently is outside the home, and is presumed to have died in the accident. However, there is no indication that Josephine and Louise ever leave their home. They are confined in the house the entire time that the story takes place. This shows an image of domesticity where women feel trapped and they have no voice (Hicks 2). Louise receives the news of her husbands supposed death while in the house, reflects upon what she has heard while still there, and ends up dying there. She does not make any effort of trying to get out of the home to confirm the truth of what she has heard. This largely shows that the woman’s place in that society was in the home, while the men were the providers for their families.

Personal relationships between men and women are different from that experienced overall in the society. It is clear that Louise felt loved. She did not think evil or wrong of her husband. In her reflections, she imagined the kind and tender hands of her husband’s hands. She recognized that her husband had loved her. She also knew that she would be overcome with emotion once she saw her dead husband (Chopin 13). Yet, people lived according to the expectations of the society. She had a “calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength.” The repression that Louise might have felt was because of the societal rules, which expected her to play her role as a wife, living for her husband (Wang 114). This entailed making some sacrifices for him at the expense of her personal joy. She was delighted by the fact that she could now live her own independent life. She notes that men and women believe that they have a right to impose their will on others. The inclusion of women in the sentence shows that some women were powerful enough during that time, and they believed that this gave them the authority to command others to accept their will. Authority and power was not necessarily a gender issue. It was more of what people thought they possessed.

Louise gains a different perspective of life, once she realizes the freedom she will have following her husband’s death. Previously, she had held the terrifying notion that life might be long. After the realization of her freedom, she prays that she will live longer. The earlier sentiments might have been because she did not have anything to live for, other than her husband. Her desire to live a longer life shows the willingness she has to enjoy her life to the maximum, in the best way that she knows.

Louise lives in a society where people are concerned about others welfare. Her heart troubles might indicate physical health problems, yet at the same time, they may reflect her emotional problem. She confesses of the love that her husband had for her. Yet despite this, she was not sure whether she had loved her husband. She admits that she did not often love him. Richard shows his concern for her by the fact that he wants to shield her from the bad news. He waits for a second confirmation of Brently’s death before relaying the news. He tries to cover Brently so that Louise might not see her (Berkove 155). Therefore, it is possible that the reflections that Louise feels are a reflection of her personal characteristics and they are not a reflection of the society. Louise does not live in a world where men repress women. She seems to prefer her own company as she even refuses to acknowledge her sisters concerns about her. She seems to have a different idea of love and it is probable that she was not even ready for marriage (Berkove 157).

 

Works Cited

Berkove, I. Lawrence. “Fatal Self-Assertion in Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour.” American Library Realism 32.2 (2000): 152-158. Print.

Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour. Print.

Hicks, Victoria. Patriarchal Representation and Domestic Liberation: The Home in Kate Chopin’s Short Fiction. Print.

Wan, Xuemei. “Kate Chopin’s View on Death and Freedom in The Story of an Hour.” English Language Teaching 2.4. (2009). Print.

Wang, Xuding. Feminine Self-Assertion in “The Story of an Hour”. English Department, Tamkang University. Print.

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