The Story of an Hour
|"The Story of an Hour"|
|Published in||United States|
"The Story of an Hour," is a short story written by Kate Chopin on April 19, 1894. It was originally published in Vogue on December 6, 1894, as "The Dream of an Hour". It was later reprinted in St. Louis Life on January 5, 1895, as "The Story of an Hour".
The title of the short story refers to the time elapsed between the moments at which the protagonist, Louise Mallard, hears that her husband is dead, and when she discovers that he is alive after all. Featuring a female protagonist who feels liberation at the news of her husband's death, "The Story of an Hour" was controversial by American standards of the 1890s. In Unveiling Kate Chopin, Emily Toth argues that Chopin "had to have her heroine die" in order to make the story publishable". (The "heroine" dies when she sees her husband alive after he was thought to be dead.)
"The Story of an Hour" follows Louise Mallard as she deals with the news of her husband's death. When the news is broken to her, Mrs. Mallard begins weeping into her sister, Josephine's, arms. She then goes to her room to be alone and sits down in an armchair. She finds she feels relieved that she is free of her husband. She begins looking forward to living her life for herself. Mrs. Mallard keeps whispering to herself, "Free! Body and soul free!" and as Josephine listens in to her sister from the other side of the door, she tells Louise to open the door.
After a few minutes, Mrs. Mallard gets out of her chair and opens the door for Josephine and they both walk downstairs together. Upon arriving to the bottom of the staircase, the front door opens and Mrs. Mallard's husband, Brently Mallard, appears, alive and well. Josephine and Richards try to hide the sight from Louise, but it is too late. When she sees that her husband is still alive, she lets out a startled cry and dies from a heart attack.
The heroine of Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour", Louise Mallard, is known to be suffering from a weak heart. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Mallard was unable to shake the thought of being free from her husband. The word "free" began to haunt her mind, free from oppression. Daniel P. Deneau mentions about a continuous debate about Mrs. Mallard's personality: "Is Louise a normal, understandable, sympathetic woman, or is she an egocentric, selfish monster or anomaly?" What is understood is that Mrs. Mallard's reaction to her husband's death allowed readers to view the "selfish monster" side of her. After being released of her husband's grasp, she began to find relations to the world. Normal women would have gone into grief and weep in sorrow; however, Mrs. Mallard's reaction towards her husband was a passionate reaction that had caused the audience to question her personality. However, what 'normal' is can also be argued. Mrs. Mallard could very well be an ode to all those women who are trapped in unhappy marriages, but are held back by unfair social rules and standards. Mrs. Mallard's irregular reaction caused readers to question her emotions towards the husband's death. Throughout "The Story of an Hour", her constant baffle on freedom had led readers to confusion whether her heart condition has anything to do with her reaction. Selina S. Jamil exclaims to her audience that," Mrs. Mallard's "heart trouble" (193) is not so much a physical ailment... as a sign of a woman who has unconsciously surrendered her heart (i.e., her identity as an individual) to the culture of paternalism." in which she goes through a stage where she appears "optimistic" towards life. Then, in result, Mrs. Mallard's weak heart, which is supposed to be frail, and her fear soon transforms into joy that is uncontrollable to begin with. Chopin's interpretation of Louise Mallard is not similar to most women at all. "As her body responds to her emotions, she feels a rhythmic connection to the physical world" (Jamil), by repeating words like "free" in her head has shown that her emotions towards the loss of her husband has enhanced her connection to world.
Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" presents the heroine as a heartless person who does not fear the death of her husband, but instead is filled with glee and joy. Nicole Diederich questions the "focus on the challenge the ending poses to the reader" (Diederich 117) about how the audience sees her death. Her husband's death was another way to escape the marriage she was bound to whereas her death was also another escape that was expressed at the end of the short story. Heidi Podlasti-Labrenz also supports that Mrs. Mallard was under Brently's influence by stating, "...her strength of character and willpower are apparently mostly controlled and absorbed by Brently Mallard's well-meant but forceful dominance" and claims that her actions as this "crazed" human being was just a reaction after being freed from marriage. Mrs. Mallard, as a character, shows that she was aware of her actions through Brently's arrival. "But, for one climactic hour of her life, Louise does truly taste joy," (Jamil) which happens to cause her frail heart to collapse. Louise Mallard's personality in "The Story of an Hour" was understood to portray an unthoughtful image of what a wife should be. Her actions were to "illustrate the dangers of making assumptions" (Mayer) and in result, her weakened heart had taken her life. Her sister thought of her behavior as nothing but a sickness. Josephine had not thought that her sister's actions were to match her personality, but to think that Louise's reaction was her reaching existentialism. It was not her mind going crazy, but Louise "reaching existentialism" is her finally realizing her time and place as this new awakened being. When the thought of being free in mind and soul, existentialism, that's when she began to act as if she were not normal.
Mrs. Mallard was so immensely shocked at the sight of her husband that her weak heart gave out right then and there. "When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease—of joy that kills". The cynicism of this sentence can be detected almost immediately, and as explained by ThoughtCo, "It seems clear that her shock was not joy over her husband's survival, but rather distress over losing her cherished, newfound freedom. Louise did briefly experience joy—the joy of imagining herself in control of her own life. And it was the removal of that intense joy that led to her death." To further express the meaning of this "joy", Selina S. Jamil explains in the article, "Emotions in the Story of an Hour", ". . . the "joy" that kills Louise is the joy that [doctors assume to be joy of finding out that Brently was not actually dead] she refuses to surrender, as the patriarchy would require her to do at Brently's return. But, for one climactic hour of her life, Louise does truly taste joy. For one hour of emotion, Louise does glimpse meaning and fulfillment. To be fully alive, then, is to engage in heightened consciousness, to observe and connect with the world around one's self." This helps to show just how powerful the emotion was that Louise had felt. For one hour, Louise had a sense of freedom and was so ecstatic to begin her new life, but that was stripped away from her far too soon and her heart was unable to bear the shock that she felt about seeing her husband alive.
The article "Marriage and The Story of an Hour" suggests that Chopin's short story demonstrates that marriage is not always what it appears to be, and that the journey to freedom can be dangerous. Chopin shows her readers that the love of only one partner in a marriage is not indicative of a mutual relationship. In the story, Louise says that she loves her husband sometimes, and in the article it suggests that maybe her husband was cruel; so even though she did indeed love him, she also loves her prospective freedom from him.
The open window through which Mrs. Mallard gazes for a majority of the story is a sign of the freedom and opportunities that await her through her newfound independence. "She hears people and birds singing and smells a coming rainstorm. Everything that she experiences through her senses suggests joy and spring—new life." Mrs. Mallard can look into the distance and see nothing but a clear bright future ahead of her.
Bert Bender offers a biographical reading of the text and argues that writing of the 1890s was influenced by Charles Darwin's theory of sexual selection. Chopin's understanding of the meaning of love and courtship, in particular, was altered and became more pessimistic. This attitude finds its expression in "The Story of an Hour" when Mrs. Mallard questions the meaning of love and ultimately rejects it as meaningless.
Lawrence I. Berkove notes that there has been "virtual critical agreement" that the story is about female liberation from a repressive marriage. However, he contests this reading and argues that there is a "deeper level of irony in the story". The story, according to Berkove, depicts Mrs. Mallard as an "immature egotist" and a "victim of her own extreme self-assertion". He also challenges the notion that Chopin intended for the views of the story's main character to coincide with those of the author. Xuding Wang has criticized Berkove's interpretation.
In her article, "Emotions in 'The Story of An Hour'", Selina Jamil argues that Chopin portrays Mrs. Mallard's perception of her husband's supposed death as fostered by emotions, rather than by rationality. Jamil claims that up until that point, Mrs. Mallard's life has been devoid of emotion to such an extent that she has even wondered if it is worth living. The repression of emotion may represent Mrs. Mallard's repressive husband, who had, up until that point, "smothered" and "silenced" her will. Therefore, her newfound freedom is brought on by an influx of emotion (representing the death of her repressive husband) that adds meaning and value to her life. Although Mrs. Mallard initially feels fear when she hears of her husband's death, the strength of the emotion is so powerful that Mrs. Mallard actually feels joy (because she is feeling). Since this "joy that kills" ultimately leads to Mrs. Mallard's death, one possible interpretation is that the repression of Mrs. Mallard's feelings is what killed her in the end.
In the same article, Jamil shows the repression that Mrs. Mallard faces as a wife. She realizes after her husband's apparent death that she is "free, free, free". This shows how her life would change and that she is now a new person and removed from the repressed life she faced before. No evidence is given in the story about how she is repressed, but her reaction to his death and her newfound confidence and freedom are enough. This repression of herself, that she dealt with, has now been removed, enabling her to be free.
In a 2013 article, Jeremy Foote argues that "The Story of an Hour" can be read as a commentary and warning about technology—specifically the railroad and the telegraph. The railroad, he claims, may be the cause of the distance between the Mallards (and many other couples of the time). It allowed for work and home to be very distant from each other, and eliminated opportunities for spouses to spend time together. Foote argues that the reason that Louise Mallard wanted more autonomy was because she and her husband did not spend time together. The alone time that Louise had in the house made her less close to her husband, and made her want her independence.
The way the telegraph is used in the story can be viewed as a warning about a world in which information (and people) are moving too quickly. Instead of having enough time to think about and process the death of her husband, it is thrust upon Mrs. Mallard, in its entirety, followed within minutes by the shock of seeing him alive. As the title suggests, this is a story about the importance of time. It may not have been the events that happened so much as the speed at which they happened which is so devastating to Mrs. Mallard.
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Louise Mallard is a young married woman, who feels trapped in her home and her marriage. Ellen Harrington states "It's not as if her husband is mean or abusive, but she is trapped in a relationship that limits her freedoms as an individual." She discovers that her husband has died and she feels liberated; but soon after, her husband walks through the door, unharmed and alive, and his wife dies from shock. Lawrence Berkove argues: "As we look at the character of Mrs. Mallard, we can take into account that, while she is happy her husband has died, she's not involved in a loveless marriage. She was not abused or oppressed by her husband either." In fact Chopin states in her story, "She did love him. Sometimes."
Mrs. Mallard wished no ill on her husband and is even sad when she first hears the news. However, upon reflection, she decides this is a good thing. She is free to live her own life again and decides she is happy her husband has died. This offers us a glimpse into the dark side of her personality. Is this a mere expression of freedom, or is she excited to be free of this man who she believes has held her back? The story is vague on that particular topic. Mahmoud Sabbaugh states "It is more or less up to the reader to decide if Louise Mallard is a feminist champion, or a monster who wished death upon her husband."
Effects of marriage
Throughout the story Mrs. Mallard is indirectly shown to feel trapped within her marriage. She was joyful when the news of her husband's alleged passing was brought to her attention and this showed the readers how she actually felt about being in her marriage. It's shown that women who are married feel trapped and they are less happy than married men. Mrs. Mallard spends a lot of time thinking about how her life is going to be now that her "husband is gone" and this further raises the question of how happy is she really. This take on the story could allow readers to look deeper behind her actions after her husband's death.
In "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin, there are many different themes that could be discussed. Marriage and self-assertion play a huge role in this short story. In the beginning the reader learns that Mrs. Mallard's husband has died "...great care was taken to break her as gently as possible the news of her husband's death". At first, Mrs. Mallard seems to be grief-stricken by the loss of her husband. She left to her room alone to grieve "...pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul." The reader begins to assume in this moment that Mrs. Mallard was exhausted by her marriage, not by the fact that she has learned that her husband has died. While Mrs. Mallard is grieving alone in her room, she gazes out the window and notices "...the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air." She begins to notice the new beginnings of spring in the air, and she realizes that she has something in common with this new spring day. As she sits in her chair and ponders over the feeling she is having, the feeling finally comes to her "...free, free, free!" Prior to these words leaving her mouth, she sobs for only a few short minutes and then realizes she is only crying because of these words she has now spoken. These words now leave the reader with the belief that Mrs. Mallard was unhappy with her marriage and as Mavis Chia-Chieh states that "The text indicates that Louise's life is extremely restricted because of her domestic confinement and also suggests that she must have been secretly yearning for a life of her own." As the reader continues through this short story, Chopin writes "But she saw beyond the bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome." While the reader was never told if Mrs. Mallard was truly unhappy in her marriage, the reader can only begin to conclude when reading those sentences that Mrs. Mallard was unhappy and would finally be free from a marriage that only confined her.
Another point to look at and that can closely relate with the unhappy marriage discussed above, is how Mrs. Mallard is beginning to find her individuality in such a short period of time from finding out about her husband's death. It is mentioned in the article Emotions in the Story of an Hour "... emotion connects the soul to the body. As her body responds to her emotions, she feels a rhythmic connection to the physical world." (Jamil) The reader can see in the text how the emotions of Mrs. Mallard is connecting to her body. Chopin writes "Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body." Its as if the reader can feel Mrs. Mallard relaxing knowing that her individuality and freedom from her marriage are finally in her grasp. As mentioned previously, Mrs. Mallard repeats the word free over and over. This plays a significant part in both her finding freedom in her marriage but also freedom for herself. Towards the end of the story, Chopin writes "Free! Body and soul free!" At this point Mrs. Mallard's sister is at her door worried that she is making herself ill to which Mrs. Mallard insists that she is not making herself ill. Instead, Mrs. Mallard is "...drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window." This line can define that Mrs. Mallard is finally finding her independence and breathing in her new found freedom.
Previously it was mentioned that there is nothing in this story that defines that Mrs. Mallard had a difficult marriage. The reader only comes to this conclusion based on what is said and described in the story. In one research article titled Fatal Self-Assertion in Kate Chopin's The Story of an Hour, Berkove states that this story is simply about Louise Mallard. Berkove enforces what the reader should be able to determine from reading this short story, that it is never defined that Mrs. Mallard is truly unhappy in her marriage or in her life in society. The reader watches the struggle of Mrs. Mallard realizing her husband is dead and finding self-assertion in such a short amount of time. However, at the end of the story, the reader learns that Brently Mallard is not dead and that Mrs. Mallard is not a widow. Suddenly, Mrs. Mallard shrieks, and the reader learns that she has died "...of heart disease—of joy that kills." The reader is left wondering about the joy that killed Mrs. Mallard, was it that she is happy that her husband was in fact still alive or was it in terror that she felt free and is in fact not free because her husband is standing before her. As mentioned in the article Emotions in the Story of an Hour, the reader could assume that Mrs. Mallard's death is "...a sign of a woman who has unconsciously surrendered her heart (i.e., her identity as an individual) to the culture of paternalism" (Jamil). The reader is never told why she dies, but it can only be assumed that she died from surrendering her heart to a life of being an individual and finding her own happiness as a widow.
In 1984, director Tina Rathbone released a film adaptation of the story titled The Joy That Kills. This film is based on Kate Chopin's story, "The Story of an Hour". Frances Conroy also suffers from a heart condition, just like Louise Mallard does. This production is mostly concerned with the psychological state.
- Jamil, Selina S. "Emotions in 'The Story of an Hour'" Explicator (2009): 215–220. EBSCOhost.
- Toth, Emily (1999). Unveiling Kate Chopin. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, p. 10, ISBN 978-1-57806-101-3.
- Sustana, Catherine. "Analysis of 'The Story of an Hour' by Kate Chopin". ThoughtCo., 8 Sep. 2017, www.thoughtco.com/analysis-story-of-an-hour-2990475. Accessed 24 Jan. 2018.
- Jamil, S. Selina. "Emotions in the Story of an Hour". Explicator, vol. 67, no. 3, Spring2009, pp. 215-220. EBSCOhost. (subscription required)
- "Marriage and The Story of An Hour". Odyssey. 2016-09-07. Retrieved 2017-05-08.
- "SparkNotes: The Story of an Hour: Themes, Motifs, and Symbols". www.sparknotes.com.
- Bender, Bert (1991). "The Teeth of Desire: The Awakening and the Descent of Man". American Literature 63 (3): 459–473.
- Berkove, Lawrence L. (2000) "Fatal Self-Assertion in Kate Chopin's 'The Story of an Hour.'" American Literary Realism 32 (2): 152–158.
- Xuding Wang, "Feminine Self-Assertion in 'The Story of an Hour'", English Department, Tamkang University, Taiwan
- Jamil, Selina S. "Emotions in 'The Story of an Hour'" Explicator (2009): 215–220. EBSCOhost.
- Foote, J. (2013). "Speed That Kills: The Role of Technology in Kate Chopin's THE STORY OF AN HOUR". The Explicator. 71 (2): 85–89. doi:10.1080/00144940.2013.779222.
- Wade, Lisa (January 11, 2017). "The Modern Marriage Trap and - What to do about it". Time.com.
- Chopin, Kate. "The Story of an Hour." The Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing, 11th ed, edited by Michael Meyer, Bedford/St. Martin's, 2013, pp. 1646–1647.
- Mavis Chia-Chieh, Tseng. "Joy That Kills": Female Jouissance in Kate Chopin's 'The Story of an Hour.'" Short Story, vol. 22, no. 2, Fall 2014, pp. 29–38. EBSCOhost
- Corry, John (January 28, 1985). "TV Review; 'The Joy That Kills,' on WNET". New York Times. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
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