The 1890s was the time when America was dealing with a lot of serious issues. While the new developments in the field of technology and unpredictable economic climate were raging issues of that time, women's fight for unprecedented freedom was also an issue that no one could deny. A majority of these issues were brilliantly portrayed in the works of Kate Chipon.
“The Story of an Hour” is a short story by Chipon that sheds light on the internal struggle of women who have been denied their freedom. In this blog, we will discuss the details of the short story, its theme and characters – and will offer some analysis of the text.
The Story of an Hour Summary
Louise Mallard has a heart problem. So, when the news of her husband's death arrived, her sister, Josephine, decides to inform about the unfortunate incident with care. Richards, a friend of Louise’s husband, learned about a railroad accident when he was in the newspaper office and saw Brently, Louise’s husband, in the list of people got killed.
Louise starts sobbing when she hears the news of Brently’s death from Josephine and goes upstairs to be in her room. There, Louise sits down and stares at the outside world through the open window. She sees trees at a distance, smells approaching rain, and hears a peddler yelling out what he’s selling. She also hears someone singing at a distance and the sounds of sparrows. She also sees the white fluffy clouds in the sky.
Louise is young. She gazes into the distance as she continues to sob. She feels apprehensive and tries hard to suppress the emotions building inside her. But she cannot. She starts to repeat the word “Free!” to herself again and again. Her heart starts to beat quickly as she gets a warm feeling.
Louise knows that she’ll break down in tears when she sees Brently’s corpse. He always looked at her lovingly. But she thinks to herself that all men and women oppress one another even if they do it out of kindness. When she imagines about the years ahead, which she can live freely, she joyfully spreads her arms out with anticipation. Even though she knows that she often felt love for Brently, she tells herself that such things do not matter anymore.
Josephine comes to the door and begs Louise to come out, warning her that she will fall sick if she does not. Louise tells her to go away, and continues fantasising about all the years ahead and hopes she lives a long life. She finally opens the door and starts walking downstairs with Josephine. Richards is already waiting there.
However, to everyone’s surprise, Brently comes in through the front door. He did not board on the train that met the accident, and he is not even aware of the mishap. Josephine screams, and Richards tries to block Louise from seeing him but fails. Doctors arrive and declare that Louise passed away succumbing to a heart attack caused by happiness.
The Story of an Hour Analysis
The story talks about a number of opposing forces. The characters, the themes and even the symbols in the story are often portrayed as equal but opposite of each other. The story by Chopin reveals a much deeper meaning of all the elements if you analyse the text.
The Story of an Hour Themes:
As you may already know, a theme is a message that is explored in a literary piece. A story can have multiple themes, and we see that in “The Story of an Hour”. Even though it is a short story, it manages to explore a few major thematic ideas such as freedom, repression and marriage.
Freedom and repression:
When you read the story, you can clearly notice the battle between freedom and repression portrayed in Chopin's writing. Here, we see how the thoughts, feelings, or desire of a person are subdued. It is quite apparent from the story that Louise Mallard is a victim of repression imposed on her by society. She does not feel free until she hears about her husband’s demise.
Louise is repressed in her own marriage. While Brently moves around as per his wish, Louise is confined to her home. Here, Chopin presents the contrast between what freedom means to men and women at the time. The story also tells us how important freedom is to the life of a woman. It is not the shock of her husband's return, but the thought of losing her freedom is what kills Louise.
The marriage between Louise and Brently shows a reality of American life in the 1890s. It was only a mean of social control. In “The Story of an Hour”, we see that Mallard’s marriage has very little love. Louise sees her marriage as a life-long bond where she feels captive. At one point, she describes how she finds it unfair that her life is dictated by the will of her husband.
In real life, author Kate Chopin had witnessed marriages ending due to an early or unexpected death. In fact, she herself survived her husband and didn’t remarry. Through this short story, Chopin highlights the need for a society where women are respected as valuable partners in marriages and are also identified as capable individuals.
The Story of an Hour Characters:
The characters in a story make it more interesting. In “The Story of an Hour”, we also find five characters who all have some important contributions in building the story. Here is the analysis of each of the major characters in the story:
From the very beginning of the story, we get a thorough idea about the character of Louise Mallard. She is a married woman who has a heart condition and is likely to have strong reactions to bad news. We also learn that Louise is a young housewife. As she mourns her husband’s death, we learn that her emotions are strong.
However, unlike other women, Louise does not mourn for long and quickly transitions from grief to joy about her husband’s demise. Through her character, Chopin shows the readers what a woman usually experiences within the marriages in the 1890s. She uses Louise’s character to criticise the repressive nature of marriage.
We do not get to know about much about Josephine’s surname or her marital status. In the beginning, we only get to learn that she has come with Richards (Brently’s friend) to break the news about Brently’s death to her sister. When she breaks the news, she does it in "veiled hints" rather than outright telling her the news. She also shows care for her sister and remains worried about Louise’s heart condition.
Josephine plays a crucial supporting role in the story. She helps Louise mourn, although she is oblivious to the thoughts Louise has in her mind. It is quite clear from Josephine's actions that she cares about her sister even though she is not aware of how miserable Louise finds her marriage life.
Richard’s character is the one who kicks off the plot of the story when he finds out about Brently Mallard’s supposed death. His presence at the newspaper office suggests that he is either a writer, reporter, editor, or otherwise any other employee of the newspaper. Richards confirms the news of his friend Brently’s supposed death before helping Josephine break the news to Louise.
He also reaches to Mallard house before anyone else can break the news in a less careful manner to Louise. It shows that he is a thoughtful person. It is quite evident that Richards is aware of Louise's heart condition. He also appears at the end of the story, where he tries to shield Brently from his wide to prevent her from reacting badly. Even though Richards is a background character, he shows a high level of friendship, thoughtfulness and cares for the main character.
For the major part of the story, the readers believe that Brently Mallard died in a railway accident. However, in the end, we get to know that he has been alive all along and does not even know about the train accident. After being informed about his death, Louise remarks on his "kind, tender hands", and mentions how Brently looked at her lovingly.
It wasn’t Brently who was oppressive but the marriage which seemed oppressive to Louise. Louise constantly felt that he had imposed a private will upon her. While she realises that Brently has done so without any ill intentions, she also realises that repression, no matter the intention, is "no less a crime".
We have found out how “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin describes the marriage and oppression of women in the 1890s’ America. While similar issues are still faced in today’s date, Chopin’s work makes a social commentary and highlights how repressed women felt in marriages at that time.
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