For my essay, I have selected “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin. Kate Chopin, in her short story, introduces us to the life of Louise Mallard, whose husband has just passed away. The story is about her reaction to her husband’s death and the events that followed. The author talks about freedom as the will to do anything without fear or worry. For the author, freedom is such an important force that has powerful effects. The author, in her short story, talks about the life of Mrs. Mallard. Although Mrs. Mallard is saddened by the loss of her husband, she finds some joy in it as well. She is confined by her marriage, and at last, the chains have broken off. The “Story of an Hour” claims that only by freeing oneself from the chains of oppression can one discover their true self (Sustana, 2017). This short story exemplifies that “true freedom can only be obtained when one sheds his/her confinements” by showing that only in death can one experience true freedom.
Freedom is something that has been elusive to Mrs. Mallard throughout her life. During the story, we know that she feels oppressed and longs for a change. She is waiting for a change where she will finally experience freedom. For Louise, her married life is the equivalent of being confined. She dreads the institution of marriage. Although she and her husband love each other very much, there seems to be a problem with their marriage (‘she had loved him – sometimes. Often she had not.’ Louise feels held back by marriage in her quest for freedom (there would be no powerful will bending hers). She is of the view that both men and women try to oppress each other in the institution of marriage. It is done, at times, out of kindness and love. All this signifies Louise’s concept of confinement. In simple terms, being in a marriage is the equivalent of confinement for Louise. Despite loving each other, there seems to be a problem with their marriage (‘she had loved him – sometimes. Often she had not.’
Upon hearing of her husband’s death, she is taken aback by shock and grief initially. However, after moving to the privacy of her room, she experiences joy. The reason behind it is that she begins to imagine the limitless opportunities she would be able to enjoy as her husband is no longer around (Berkove, 2000). She begins to experience and imagine freedom. Being a wealthy woman, she is not affected by her husband’s death. In fact, she is beginning to enjoy it. The institution of marriage is no longer there to oppress her. It is also evident from the lines “the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring of life.” The line is critical from the theme’s point of view. Spring is usually associated with a new beginning and a new start. In my opinion and understanding, it is highly likely that the author is hinting at a new start for Louise.
Moreover, the window carries a lot of weight as far as our theme is concerned. The open window is a symbolic representation of freedom. A closed window would mean that she is still confined, but since it is open, it apparently says the opposite. Furthermore, she hears the sounds of birds which portrays that there are countless opportunities waiting for her. The attractiveness of the unknown is waiting for her, and she only has to take the opportunity now. As she begins to feel control over herself, she begins to rejoice (Free! Body, and soul free!).
The author continues to use various symbols throughout the story to portray Louise’s newfound freedom. The chair she is sitting on after hearing about her husband’s death is described as a ‘comfortable, roomy armchair’ by the author. By describing the chair in these words, the author is trying to portray that Mrs. Mallard is now free to enjoy her life (comfortable) and move around as she pleases (roomy armchair).
The premise of the story is just as significant to our theme as the rest of the story. Towards the end of the story, we get to know that Mr. Mallard is not dead and is perfectly fine. Upon seeing her dead husband, we learn that Mrs. Mallard has passed away. She died due to a heart attack which is evident from the lines that ‘she had died of heart disease – of joy that kills.’ Upon careful analysis, we know that it is not the joy of seeing her ‘dead’ husband alive but the sorrow of her freedom once again being snatched from her. The moment she set her eyes on her husband, she knew that she would be oppressed just like before. Therefore, her freedom will once again be snatched from here.
The author has perfectly portrayed the joys of freedom and the sorrows of confinement in this short story. For Mrs. Mallard, freedom could only be found by shedding the oppressive confines of our marriage. She found her freedom after hearing the news about her husband’s death. Sitting in her room and looking out the open window, she could imagine the joys of being the master of her own life since her husband was no more. Although she experiences freedom, it is snatched away from her abruptly when she learns that her husband is alive and well.