The Story of an Hour
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Analysis of "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin
Self-determination and louise mallard living for herself.
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"The Story of an Hour" by American author Kate Chopin is a mainstay of feminist literary study . Originally published in 1894, the story documents the complicated reaction of Louise Mallard upon learning of her husband's death.
It is difficult to discuss "The Story of an Hour" without addressing the ironic ending. If you haven't read the story yet, you might as well, as it's only about 1,000 words. The Kate Chopin International Society is kind enough to provide a free, accurate version .
At the Beginning, News That Will Devastate Louise
At the beginning of the story, Richards and Josephine believe they must break the news of Brently Mallard's death to Louise Mallard as gently as possible. Josephine informs her "in broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in half concealing." Their assumption, not an unreasonable one, is that this unthinkable news will be devastating to Louise and will threaten her weak heart.
A Growing Awareness of Freedom
Yet something even more unthinkable lurks in this story: Louise's growing awareness of the freedom she will have without Brently.
At first, she doesn't consciously allow herself to think about this freedom. The knowledge reaches her wordlessly and symbolically, via the "open window" through which she sees the "open square" in front of her house. The repetition of the word "open" emphasizes possibility and a lack of restrictions.
Patches of Blue Sky Amid the Clouds
The scene is full of energy and hope. The trees are "all aquiver with the new spring of life," the "delicious breath of rain" is in the air, sparrows are twittering, and Louise can hear someone singing a song in the distance. She can see "patches of blue sky" amid the clouds.
She observes these patches of blue sky without registering what they might mean. Describing Louise's gaze, Chopin writes, "It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought." If she had been thinking intelligently, social norms might have prevented her from such a heretical recognition. Instead, the world offers her "veiled hints" that she slowly pieces together without even realizing she is doing so.
A Force Is Too Powerful to Oppose
In fact, Louise resists the impending awareness, regarding it "fearfully." As she begins to realize what it is, she strives "to beat it back with her will." Yet its force is too powerful to oppose.
This story can be uncomfortable to read because, on the surface, Louise seems to be glad that her husband has died. But that isn't quite accurate. She thinks of Brently's "kind, tender hands" and "the face that had never looked save with love upon her," and she recognizes that she has not finished weeping for him.
Her Desire for Self-Determination
But his death has made her see something she hasn't seen before and might likely never have seen if he had lived: her desire for self-determination .
Once she allows herself to recognize her approaching freedom, she utters the word "free" over and over again, relishing it. Her fear and her uncomprehending stare are replaced by acceptance and excitement. She looks forward to "years to come that would belong to her absolutely."
She Would Live for Herself
In one of the most important passages of the story, Chopin describes Louise's vision of self-determination. It's not so much about getting rid of her husband as it is about being entirely in charge of her own life, "body and soul." Chopin writes:
"There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a will upon a fellow-creature."
Note the phrase men and women. Louise never catalogs any specific offenses Brently has committed against her; rather, the implication seems to be that marriage can be stifling for both parties.
The Irony of Joy That Kills
When Brently Mallard enters the house alive and well in the final scene, his appearance is utterly ordinary. He is "a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella." His mundane appearance contrasts greatly with Louise's "feverish triumph" and her walking down the stairs like a "goddess of Victory."
When the doctors determine that Louise "died of heart disease -- of joy that kills," the reader immediately recognizes the irony . 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.
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Imagine a world where women are fighting for unprecedented rights, the economic climate is unpredictable, and new developments in technology are made every year. While this world might sound like the present day, it also describes America in the 1890s .
It was in this world that author Kate Chopin wrote and lived, and many of the issues of the period are reflected in her short story, “The Story of an Hour.” Now, over a century later, the story remains one of Kate Chopin’s most well-known works and continues to shed light on the internal struggle of women who have been denied autonomy.
In this guide to Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour,” we’ll discuss:
- A brief history of Kate Chopin and America the 1890s
- “The Story of an Hour” summary
- Analysis of the key story elements in “The Story of an Hour,” including themes, characters, and symbols
By the end of this article, you’ll have an expert grasp on Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour.” So let’s get started!
“The Story of an Hour” Summary
If it’s been a little while since you’ve read Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour,” it can be hard to remember the important details. This section includes a quick recap, but you can find “The Story of an Hour” PDF and full version here . We recommend you read it again before diving into our analyses in the next section!
For those who just need a refresher, here’s “The Story of an Hour” summary:
Mrs. Louise Mallard is at home when her sister, Josephine, and her husband’s friend, Richards, come to tell her that her husband, Brently Mallard, has been killed in a railroad accident . Richards had been at the newspaper office when the news broke, and he takes Josephine with him to break the news to Louise since they’re afraid of aggravating her heart condition. Upon hearing the news of her husband’s death, Louise is grief-stricken, locks herself in her room, and weeps.
From here, the story shifts in tone. As Louise processes the news of her husband’s death, she realizes something wonderful and terrible at the same time: she is free . At first she’s scared to admit it, but Louise quickly finds peace and joy in her admission. She realizes that, although she will be sad about her husband (“she had loved him—sometimes,” Chopin writes), Louise is excited for the opportunity to live for herself. She keeps repeating the word “free” as she comes to terms with what her husband’s death means for her life.
In the meantime, Josephine sits at Louise’s door, coaxing her to come out because she is worried about Louise’s heart condition. After praying that her life is long-lived, Louise agrees to come out. However, as she comes downstairs, the front door opens to reveal her husband, who had not been killed by the accident at all. Although Richards tries to keep Louise’s heart from shock by shielding her husband from view, Louise dies suddenly, which the doctors later attribute to “heart disease—of the joy that kills .”
Kate Chopin, the author of "The Story of an Hour," has become one of the most important American writers of the 19th century.
The History of Kate Chopin and the 1890s
Before we move into “The Story of an Hour” analysis section, it’s helpful to know a little bit about Kate Chopin and the world she lived in.
A Short Biography of Kate Chopin
Born in 1850 to wealthy Catholic parents in St. Louis, Missouri, Kate Chopin (originally Kate O’Flaherty) knew hardship from an early age. In 1855, Chopin lost her father, Thomas, when he passed away in a tragic and unexpected railroad accident. The events of this loss would stay with Kate for the rest of her life, eventually becoming the basis for “The Story of an Hour” nearly forty years later.
Chopin was well-educated throughout her childhood , reading voraciously and becoming fluent in French. Chopin was also very aware of the divide between the powerful and the oppressed in society at the time . She grew up during the U.S. Civil War, so she had first-hand knowledge of violence and slavery in the United States.
Chopin was also exposed to non-traditional roles for women through her familial situation. Her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother chose to remain widows (rather than remarry) after their husbands died. Consequently, Chopin learned how important women’s independence could be, and that idea would permeate much of her writing later on.
As Chopin grew older, she became known for her beauty and congeniality by society in St. Louis. She was married at the age of nineteen to Oscar Chopin, who came from a wealthy cotton-growing family. The couple moved to New Orleans, where they would start both a general store and a large family. (Chopin would give birth to seven children over the next nine years!)
While Oscar adored his wife, he was less capable of running a business. Financial trouble forced the family to move around rural Louisiana. Unfortunately, Oscar would die of swamp fever in 1882 , leaving Chopin in heavy debt and with the responsibility of managing the family’s struggling businesses.
After trying her hand at managing the property for a year, Chopin conceded to her mother’s requests to return with her children to St. Louis. Chopin’s mother died the year after. In order to support herself and her children, Kate began to write to support her family.
Luckily, Chopin found immediate success as a writer. Many of her short stories and novels—including her most famous novel, The Awakening— dealt with life in Louisiana . She was also known as a fast and prolific writer, and by the end of the 1900s she had written over 100 stories, articles, and essays.
Unfortunately, Chopin would pass away from a suspected cerebral hemorrhage in 1904, at the age of 54 . But Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” and other writings have withstood the test of time. Her work has lived on, and she’s now recognized as one of the most important American writers of the 19th century.
American life was undergoing significant change in the 19th century. Technology, culture, and even leisure activities were changing.
American Life in the 1890s
“The Story of an Hour” was written and published in 1894, right as the 1800s were coming to a close. As the world moved into the new century, American life was also changing rapidly.
For instance, t he workplace was changing drastically in the 1890s . Gone were the days where most people were expected to work at a trade or on a farm. Factory jobs brought on by industrialization made work more efficient, and many of these factory owners gradually implemented more humane treatment of their workers, giving them more leisure time than ever.
Though the country was in an economic recession at this time, technological changes like electric lighting and the popularization of radios bettered the daily lives of many people and allowed for the creation of new jobs. Notably, however, work was different for women . Working women as a whole were looked down upon by society, no matter why they found themselves in need of a job.
Women who worked while they were married or pregnant were judged even more harshly. Women of Kate Chopin’s social rank were expected to not work at all , sometimes even delegating the responsibility of managing the house or child-rearing to maids or nannies. In the 1890s, working was only for lower class women who could not afford a life of leisure .
In reaction to this, the National American Woman Suffrage Association was created in 1890, which fought for women’s social and political rights. While Kate Chopin was not a formal member of the suffragette movements, she did believe that women should have greater freedoms as individuals and often talked about these ideas in her works, including in “The Story of an Hour.”
Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" a short exploration of marriage and repression in America.
“The Story of an Hour” Analysis
Now that you have some important background information, it’s time to start analyzing “The Story of an Hour.”
This short story is filled with opposing forces . The themes, characters, and even symbols in the story are often equal, but opposite, of one another. Within “The Story of an Hour,” analysis of all of these elements reveals a deeper meaning.
“The Story of an Hour” Themes
A theme is a message explored in a piece of literature. Most stories have multiple themes, which is certainly the case in “The Story of an Hour.” Even though Chopin’s story is short, it discusses the thematic ideas of freedom, repression, and marriage.
Keep reading for a discussion of the importance of each theme!
Freedom and Repression
The most prevalent theme in Chopin’s story is the battle between freedom and “repression.” Simply put , repression happens when a person’s thoughts, feelings, or desires are being subdued. Repression can happen internally and externally. For example, if a person goes through a traumatic accident, they may (consciously or subconsciously) choose to repress the memory of the accident itself. Likewise, if a person has wants or needs that society finds unacceptable, society can work to repress that individual. Women in the 19th century were often victims of repression. They were supposed to be demure, gentle, and passive—which often went against women’s personal desires.
Given this, it becomes apparent that Louise Mallard is the victim of social repression. Until the moment of her husband’s supposed death, Louise does not feel free . In their marriage, Louise is repressed. Readers see this in the fact that Brently is moving around in the outside world, while Louise is confined to her home. Brently uses railroad transportation on his own, walks into his house of his own accord, and has individual possessions in the form of his briefcase and umbrella. Brently is even free from the knowledge of the train wreck upon his return home. Louise, on the other hand, is stuck at home by virtue of her position as a woman and her heart condition.
Here, Chopin draws a strong contrast between what it means to be free for men and women. While freedom is just part of what it means to be a man in America, freedom for women looks markedly different. Louise’s life is shaped by what society believes a woman should be and how a wife should behave. Once Louise’s husband “dies,” however, she sees a way where she can start claiming some of the more “masculine” freedoms for herself. Chopin shows how deeply important freedom is to the life of a woman when, in the end, it’s not the shock of her husband’s return of her husband that kills Louise, but rather the thought of losing her freedom again.
Marriage as a “The Story of an Hour” theme is more than just an idyllic life spent with a significant other. The Mallard’s marriage shows a reality of 1890s life that was familiar to many people. Marriage was a means of social control —that is to say, marriage helped keep women in check and secure men’s social and political power. While husbands were usually free to wander the world on their own, hold jobs, and make important family decisions, wives (at least those of the upper class) were expected to stay at home and be domestic.
Marriage in Louise Mallard’s case has very little love. She sees her marriage as a life-long bond in which she feels trapped, which readers see when she confesses that she loved her husband only “sometimes.” More to the point, she describes her marriage as a “powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.” In other words, Louise Mallard feels injustice in the expectation that her life is dictated by the will of her husband.
Like the story, the marriages Kate witnessed often ended in an early or unexpected death. The women of her family, including Kate herself, all survived their husbands and didn’t remarry. While history tells us that Kate Chopin was happy in her marriage, she was aware that many women weren’t. By showing a marriage that had been built on control and society’s expectations, Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” highlights the need for a world that respected women as valuable partners in marriage as well as capable individuals.
While this painting by Johann Georg Meyer wasn't specifically of Louise Mallard, "Young Woman Looking Through a Window" is a depiction of what Louise might have looked like as she realized her freedom.
"The Story of an Hour" Characters
The best stories have developed characters, which is the case in “The Story of an Hour,” too. Five characters make up the cast of “The Story of an Hour”:
- The doctor(s)
By exploring the details of each character, we can better understand their motivations, societal role, and purpose to the story.
From the opening sentence alone, we learn a lot about Louise Mallard. Chopin writes, “Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death.”
From that statement alone, we know that she is married, has a heart condition, and is likely to react strongly to bad news . We also know that the person who is sharing the bad news views Louise as delicate and sensitive. Throughout the next few paragraphs, we also learn that Louise is a housewife, which indicates that she would be part of the middle-to-upper class in the 1890s. Chopin also describes Louise’s appearance as “young,” “fair, calm face,” with lines of “strength.” These characteristics are not purely physical, but also bleed into her character throughout the story.
Louise’s personality is described as different from other women . While many women would be struck with the news in disbelief, Louise cries with “wild abandonment”—which shows how powerful her emotions are. Additionally, while other women would be content to mourn for longer, Louise quickly transitions from grief to joy about her husband’s passing.
Ultimately, Chopin uses Louise’s character to show readers what a woman’s typical experience within marriage was in the 1890s. She uses Louise to criticize the oppressive and repressive nature of marriage, especially when Louise rejoices in her newfound freedom.
Josephine is Louise’s sister . We never hear of Josephine’s last name or whether she is married or not. We do know that she has come with Richards, a friend of Brently’s, to break the news of his death to her sister.
When Josephine tells Louise the bad news, she’s only able to tell Louise of Brently’s death in “veiled hints,” rather than telling her outright. Readers can interpret this as Josephine’s attempt at sparing Louise’s feelings. Josephine is especially worried about her sister’s heart condition, which we see in greater detail later as she warns Louise, “You will make yourself ill.” When Louise locks herself in her room, Josephine is desperate to make sure her sister is okay and begs Louise to let her in.
Josephine is the key supporting character for Louise, helping her mourn, though she never knows that Louise found new freedom from her husband’s supposed death . But from Josephine’s actions and interactions with Louise, readers can accurately surmise that she cares for her sister (even if she’s unaware of how miserable Louise finds her life).
Richards is another supporting character, though he is described as Brently’s friend, not Louise’s friend. It is Richards who finds out about Brently Mallard’s supposed death while at the newspaper office—he sees Brently’s name “leading the list of ‘killed.’” Richards’ main role in “The Story of an Hour” is to kick off the story’s plot.
Additionally, Richard’s presence at the newspaper office suggests he’s a writer, editor, or otherwise employee of the newspaper (although Chopin leaves this to readers’ inferences). Richards takes enough care to double-check the news and to make sure that Brently’s likely dead. He also enlists Josephine’s help to break the news to Louise. He tries to get to Louise before a “less careful, less tender friend” can break the sad news to her, which suggests that he’s a thoughtful person in his own right.
It’s also important to note is that Richards is aware of Louise’s heart condition, meaning that he knows Louise Mallard well enough to know of her health and how she is likely to bear grief. He appears again in the story at the very end, when he tries (and fails) to shield Brently from his wife’s view to prevent her heart from reacting badly. While Richards is a background character in the narrative, he demonstrates a high level of friendship, consideration, and care for Louise.
Brently Mallard would have been riding in a train like this one when the accident supposedly occurred.
Mr. Brently Mallard is the husband of the main character, Louise. We get few details about him, though readers do know he’s been on a train that has met with a serious accident. For the majority of the story, readers believe Brently Mallard is dead—though the end of “The Story of an Hour” reveals that he’s been alive all along. In fact, Brently doesn’t even know of the railroad tragedy when he arrives home “travel-stained.”
Immediately after Louise hears the news of his death, she remembers him fondly. She remarks on his “kind, tender hands” and says that Brently “never looked save with love” upon her . It’s not so much Brently as it’s her marriage to him which oppresses Louise. While he apparently always loved Louise, Louise only “sometimes” loved Brently. She constantly felt that he “impose[d] a private will” upon her, as most husbands do their wives. And while she realizes that Brently likely did so without malice, she also realized that “a kind intention or a cruel intention” makes the repression “no less a crime.”
Brently’s absence in the story does two things. First, it contrasts starkly with Louise’s life of illness and confinement. Second, Brently’s absence allows Louise to imagine a life of freedom outside of the confines of marriage , which gives her hope. In fact, when he appears alive and well (and dashes Louise’s hopes of freedom), she passes away.
Though the mention of them is brief, the final sentence of the story is striking. Chopin writes, “When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease—of the joy that kills.” Just as she had no freedom in life, her liberation from the death of her husband is told as a joy that killed her.
In life as in death, the truth of Louise Mallard is never known. Everything the readers know about her delight in her newfound freedom happens in Louise’s own mind; she never gets the chance to share her secret joy with anyone else.
Consequently, the ending of the story is double-sided. If the doctors are to be believed, Louise Mallard was happy to see her husband, and her heart betrayed her. And outwardly, no one has any reason to suspect otherwise. Her reaction is that of a dutiful, delicate wife who couldn’t bear the shock of her husband returned from the grave.
But readers can infer that Louise Mallard died of the grief of a freedom she never had , then found, then lost once more. Readers can interpret Louise’s death as her experience of true grief in the story—that for her ideal life, briefly realized then snatched away.
In "The Story of an Hour," the appearance of hearts symbolize both repression and hope.
“The Story of an Hour” Symbolism and Motifs
Symbols are any object, word, or other element that appear in the story and have additional meanings beyond. Motifs are elements from a story that gain meaning from being repeated throughout the narrative. The line between symbols and motifs is often hazy, but authors use both to help communicate their ideas and themes.
In “The Story of an Hour,” symbolism is everywhere, but the three major symbols present in the story are:
- The heart
- The house and the outdoors
- Joy and sorrow
Heart disease, referred to as a “heart condition” within the text, opens and closes the text. The disease is the initial cause for everyone’s concern, since Louise’s condition makes her delicate. Later, heart disease causes Louise’s death upon Brently’s safe return. In this case, Louise’s ailing heart has symbolic value because it suggests to readers that her life has left her heartbroken. When she believes she’s finally found freedom, Louise prays for a long life...when just the day before, she’d “had thought with a shudder that life might be long.”
As Louise realizes her freedom, it’s almost as if her heart sparks back to life. Chopin writes, “Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously...she was striving to beat it back...Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.” These words suggest that, with her newfound freedom, the symptoms of her heart disease have lifted. Readers can surmise that Louise’s diseased heart is the result of being repressed, and hope brings her heart back to life.
Unfortunately, when Brently comes back, so does Louise’s heart disease. And, although her death is attributed to joy, the return of her (both symbolic and literal) heart disease kills her in the end.
The House and the Outdoors
The second set of symbols are Louise’s house and the world she can see outside of her window. Chopin contrasts these two symbolic images to help readers better understand how marriage and repression have affected Louise.
First of all, Louise is confined to the home—both within the story and in general. For her, however, her home isn’t a place to relax and feel comfortable. It’s more like a prison cell. All of the descriptions of the house reinforce the idea that it’s closed off and inescapable . For instance, the front door is locked when Mr. Mallard returns home. When Mrs. Mallard is overcome with grief, she goes deeper inside her house and locks herself in her room.
In that room, however, Mrs. Mallard takes note of the outdoors by looking out of her window. Even in her momentary grief, she describes the “open square before her house” and “the new spring life.” The outdoors symbolize freedom in the story, so it’s no surprise that she realizes her newfound freedom as she looks out her window. Everything about the outside is free, beautiful, open, inviting, and pleasant...a stark contrast from the sadness inside the house .
The house and its differences from outdoors serve as one of many symbols for how Louise feels about her marriage: barred from a world of independence.
Joy and Sorrow
Finally, joy and sorrow are motifs that come at unexpected times throughout “The Story of an Hour.” Chopin juxtaposes joy and sorrow to highlight how tragedy releases Louise from her sorrow and gives her a joyous hope for the future.
At first, sorrow appears as Louise mourns the death of her husband. Yet, in just a few paragraphs, she finds joy in the event as she discovers a life of her own. Though Louise is able to see that feeling joy at such an event is “monstrous,” she continues to revel in her happiness.
It is later that, when others expect her to be joyful, Josephine lets out a “piercing cry,” and Louise dies. Doctors interpret this as “the joy that kills,” but more likely it’s a sorrow that kills. The reversal of the “appropriate” feelings at each event reveals how counterintuitive the “self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being” is to the surrounding culture. This paradox reveals something staggering about Louise’s married life: she is so unhappy with her situation that grief gives her hope...and she dies when that hope is taken away.
Key Takeaways: Kate Chopin's “The Story of an Hour”
Analyzing Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” takes time and careful thought despite the shortness of the story. The story is open to multiple interpretations and has a lot to reveal about women in the 1890s, and many of the story’s themes, characters, and symbols critique women’s marriage roles during the period .
There’s a lot to dig through when it comes to “The Story of an Hour” analysis. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just remember a few things :
- Events from Kate Chopin’s life and from social changes in the 1890s provided a strong basis for the story.
- Mrs. Louise Mallard’s heart condition, house, and feelings represent deeper meanings in the narrative.
- Louise goes from a state of repression, to freedom, and then back to repression, and the thought alone is enough to kill her.
Remembering the key plot points, themes, characters, and symbols will help you write any essay or participate in any discussion. Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” has much more to uncover, so read it again, ask questions, and start exploring the story beyond the page!
You may have found your way to this article because analyzing literature can be tricky to master. But like any skill, you can improve with practice! First, make sure you have the right tools for the job by learning about literary elements. Start by mastering the 9 elements in every piece of literature , then dig into our element-specific guides (like this one on imagery and this one on personification .)
Another good way to start practicing your analytical skills is to read through additional expert guides like this one. Literary guides can help show you what to look for and explain why certain details are important. You can start with our analysis of Dylan Thomas’ poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” We also have longer guides on other words like The Great Gatsby and The Crucible , too.
If you’re preparing to take the AP Literature exam, it’s even more important that you’re able to quickly and accurately analyze a text . Don’t worry, though: we’ve got tons of helpful material for you. First, check out this overview of the AP Literature exam . Once you have a handle on the test, you can start practicing the multiple choice questions , and even take a few full-length practice tests . Oh, and make sure you’re ready for the essay portion of the test by checking out our AP Literature reading list!
Need more help with this topic? Check out Tutorbase!
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Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.
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Home › American Literature › Analysis of Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour
Analysis of Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour
By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on July 28, 2021
Originally entitled “The Dream of an Hour” when it was first published in Vogue (December 1894), “The Story of an Hour” has since become one of Kate Chopin’s most frequently anthologized stories. Among her shortest and most daring works, “Story” examines issues of feminism, namely, a woman’s dissatisfaction in a conventional marriage and her desire for independence. It also features Chopin’s characteristic irony and ambiguity .
The story begins with Louise Mallard’s being told about her husband’s presumed death in a train accident. Louise initially weeps with wild abandon, then retires alone to her upstairs bedroom. As she sits facing the open window, observing the new spring life outside, she realizes with a “clear and exalted perception” that she is now free of her husband’s “powerful will bending hers” (353). She becomes delirious with the prospect that she can now live for herself and prays that her life may be long. Her newfound independence is short-lived, however. In a surprise ending, her husband walks through the front door, and Louise suffers a heart attack and dies. Her death may be considered a tragic defeat or a pyrrhic victory for a woman who would rather die than lose that “possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being” (353). The doctors ironically attribute her death to the “joy that kills” (354).
BIBLIOGRAPHY Chopin, Kate. The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Edited by Per Seyersted. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969. Koloski, Bernard. Kate Chopin: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1996. Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969. Toth, Emily. Kate Chopin. New York: Morrow, 1990
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The Story of an Hour v.s. Psychoanalysis
I’d like to talk about the psychoanalysis on the characters in Kate Chopin’s “A Story of An Hour”. I believe that there are several examples in this story that fit the criteria of Freud and Lacan’s psychoanalytic theories. In addition to that, I will explain them in chronological order, according to the events and descriptions in Chopin’s short story.
At the beginning of the story, the audience is informed by the narrator of Mrs. Mallard’s heart condition. We also learn that this was a serious condition that concerned Mrs. Mallard’s friends and family while deciding on how to break the news of Mr. Mallard’s death to her. After all, “great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death. (Chopin, The Story of an Hour)”
I think that this serves as a form of “the Imaginary”, as mentioned in the Lacanian psychoanalytic theories. Mrs. Mallard’s friends and family “imagine” that the devastation of Mr. Mallard’s death would eventually lead to a severe heart attack, however, it is mentioned later on in the story that Mrs. Mallard was actually relieved to be free from her marriage. Therefore the truth of Mrs. Mallard’s feelings, thoughts or perspectives is not the same with what others assume or imagine it to be. It is misrecognition, based on stereotypical values of society, by which a wife must feel immense grief towards the death of her own husband.
As the story precedes, Mrs. Mallard’s sister, Josephine breaks the news to her. Instead of reacting in paralyzed shock as “many women would’ve” done so, Mrs. Mallard “wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms.” It is safe to assume by the direct meaning of the expression of vehement tears, that Mrs. Mallard was indeed devastated to hear about her husband’s death. However, we do learn later that grief wasn’t all that Mrs. Mallard felt about a deceased husband. I believe that this is a form of “the Symbolic”, according to Lacan. The act of weeping signifies either grief or joy. However, when placed in the context of weeping after learning about her husband being dead, it is natural to assume that Mrs. Mallard’s weeping is due to remorse emotions. Nevertheless, Mrs. Mallard’s true feelings are yet to be revealed, and it is definitely neither grief nor remorse towards the death of her husband.
As Mrs. Mallard strays off from the company and spends sometime with her self, the author or the narrator paints an image of her appearance.
She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength. But now there was a dull stare in her eyes, whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on one of those patches of blue sky. It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought.
(Kate Chopin, A Story of An Hour)
The narrator in this story is somewhat undecided on whose perspective it’s telling the story through. Instead of seeing this passage, as how the narrator perceives Mrs. Mallard, I believe it is also how Mrs. Mallard perceives herself. After all, it’s less likely this was how others saw her, given the fact that she might’ve been overlooked, since her role in society was to abide by expectations of society and show contempt towards her position as Mr. Mallard’s wife. This image that Mrs. Mallard projects fits the traits of what Lacan would call “the Mirror Stage” in his theories. Mrs. Mallard feels trapped in her marriage; therefore she believes that there is this inner self that hasn’t got the chance to spread its wings. The personality traits, such as strength and “suspension of intelligent thought” are how Mrs. Mallard illustrates her unexposed ego.
This also effects how Mrs. Mallard percepts things around her. Because she represses her inner ego with much effort, the impact of her husband’s death is more than just grief of loss, but instead, elation of relief.
She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and exalted perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial. (Chopin, The Story of An Hour.)
Mrs. Mallard’s ego, the main victim of her image, also demonstrates the conflict often going on between the id (libido), ego and superego. This is shown when Mrs. Mallard starts to process her long oppressed emotions, after accepting her husband’s death.
She was beginning to recognize thing thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will—as powerless as her two white slender hands would’ve been. (Chopin, The Story of An Hour)
The “thing” that approaches, in my opinion, is Mrs. Mallard’s libido. It is lawless, emotional, and hungry for the freedom long buried under their marriage sheets. Yet, since the main factor that keeps the libido restrained, is the inability to logically or legally remove herself from the marriage, the death of Mr. Mallard gives the libido a perfect reason to roar as much as it wants. This is where the superego comes in as Mrs. Mallard’s “will”. Unfortunately, the libido is far too overjoyed towards its newfound freedom, her “will”, which is supposed to restrain the libido with social regulations and moral values, is defeated. Therefore, leaving her powerless towards her raging desire for freedom.
The struggle between the libido and the superego is often balanced by the ego. Since Mr. Mallard’s death, at this point of the story is a decided truth; it is less likely that the superego needs act submissive towards the role of an obedient wife. Mrs. Mallard’s ego, and also her self, justifies her inner conflict and gradually accepts her want for freedom, because freedom is now bestowed on her by default.
But she saw beyond that 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.
…A kind intention or a cruel intention that made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.
(Chopin, the Story of An Hour.)
Another interesting result of repressed feelings is shown through Mrs. Mallard’s “fear of a long life.” As the narrator proceeds on describing Mrs. Mallard’s enlightening process towards mental freedom, we learn that Mrs. Mallard had once “thought with a shudder that life might be long.” Normally, a person content with his situation would be keen to prolong his life, because after all, all humans do with their time is to find a way to survive. Nevertheless, Mrs. Mallard is afraid of this notion. This is part of her unconscious fear of life because it hasn’t provided her the necessities that she views to survive mentally. Based on Freud’s theory on how repressed feelings end up in the unconscious section of the mind, I believe that Mrs. Mallard consistently oppresses her discomfort and disdain towards her current lifestyle and bottles it up in the back of her unconsciousness, this is why the idea of long life in an unpleasant state is not appealing to her at all.
Last but not least, at the famous ending of Chopin’s thought-provoking, feminist story, the reason of Mrs. Mallard’s death is, as the narrators and doctors state it: of joy that kills. This is actually an interesting sample of Lacan’s Register Theory. The doctors assume that Mrs. Mallard’s death is due to the joy of seeing her husband alive, when the readers clearly understand that “joy” is the least possible cause of her death. This serves as the Imaginary in Lacan’s theory. As for the symbolic, the description of “joy that kills” signifies the impression that Mrs. Mallard’s heart attack was due to excitement of joy. However, the Real, which is unspoken yet understood by the readers, is that Mrs. Mallard did not die of joy, but in fact, a deeper, and quicker attack of devastation and disappointment. It is not mentioned in the story, nor is the overwhelming loss of freedom over the return of a presumably dead husband, a clear image described in or beneath Chopin’s text.
In conclusion, the characters and character descriptions in Chopin’s The Story of An Hour can be explained through the psychoanalytic theories of Freud and Lacan. Mrs. Mallard’s behavior and reactions, according to Freud, are due to repression and are bottle up in her unconsciousness. Her inner struggle is a typical example of how the libido, ego and superego fight to find a balance inside her. Most of the assumptions and perceptions from the other characters in the text fit the Lacan’s Register theory, by creating an interesting dynamic between what’s been signified and what’s truly happening between the lines. Both theories help the reader achieve a better understanding of the psychological behavior happening in the story, therefore creating a deeper bonding with the characters in it as well.
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A Psychological Analysis of The Story of An Hour
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Kate Chopin “The Story of an Hour” Critical Analysis
Self-Identity, Freedom, and Death in Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” The story of an hour by Kate Chopin introduces us to Mrs. Mallard as she reacts to her husband’s death. In this short story, Chopin portrays the complexity of Mrs. Mallard’s emotions as she is saddened yet joyful of her loss. Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” argues that an individual discover their self-identity only after being freed from confinement. The story also argues that freedom is a very powerful force that affects mental or emotional state of a person. The story finally argues that only through death can one be finally freed.
Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” argues that an individual discover their self-identity only after being freed from confinement. The confinement Mrs. Mallard had been experiencing was immediately replaced by her joyful discovery of self-identity. She was overwhelmed with joy since “there would be no one to live for during the coming years” (Chopin 281) and “she would only live for herself” (Chopin 281). Mrs. Mallard wept immediately after finding out about her husband’s death. She wept until she was alone in the privacy of her room; alone with her thoughts, she felt joyous.
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She was undergoing a step of self-discovery. She was not weeping entirely for her husband; it was also a way for her to release whatever she was feeling inside. As a result, she was filled with joy knowing that all the future years to come will be all for her entirely. As soon as Mrs. Mallard had finally attained her identity she expresses that finally there would be no “powerful will bending hers” (Chopin 281) and debunks the “blind persistence that men and women have the right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature” (Chopin 281).
Subsequently, the remarks expressed are an indication of the sense of relief she experiences from her husband’s death. Furthermore, she unchained herself from the confinement she had experienced beforehand not just within her marriage but to the social belief that anyone can bend someone else’s will. Based on the insights on Mrs. Mallard’s discovery of her self-identity, we can conclude that people who have been confined for too long are robbed of their self-hood. The restraining of one’s self-hood can be defined by whomever or whatever is inding their will. It is also evident that one can only achieve their true self when they are released from confinement. Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” also argues that freedom is a very powerful force that affects the mental or emotional state of a person. The mental and emotional state Mrs. Mallard had experienced had been a peculiar one. The sense of freedom came to her as an unfamiliar feeling that perhaps she had long forgotten as she was deprived of it for a long time.
The strangeness of what she was feeling made her think that there was “something coming to her […] creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her” (Chopin 281) implying a confused mental state. This unfamiliar feeling of joy she is experiencing could be only one thing, the ecstasy of being free. It had been playing with her mind. The overpowering thoughts of freedom are so peculiar to her that she doesn’t recognize it and she doesn’t know how to emotionally react to it. Through this unfamiliarity her mental state went rampant with fear thinking that it is a force of horror that was out to harm her.
After a moment of resenting this feeling, Mrs. Mallard finally abandons her fight to “beat it back” (Chopin 281). She lets it possess her entirely. To be finally “Free, body and soul free” (Chopin 281). Mrs. Mallard finally asserts her freedom from her dead husband. She was drawn to this feeling that she wouldn’t care even seeing her husband’s dead body. Additionally, she developed a sense of ecstasy as she regains her freedom and the hope to regain her stolen years as well. Therefore, in analyzing Mrs.
Mallard’s mental and emotional state, we can conclude that we forget to recognize our own freedom during long years of confinement. But as we regain and accept this unfamiliar feeling we lose touch of even the most powerful emotions that we feel for the people around us, living or dead. Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” finally argues that only through death can one be finally freed. The death of Mrs. Mallard’s husband, Brently Mallard, has proven to be beneficial for her. Through this she finally finds her self-identity and her freedom.
Unlike most widows who would weep for their husband Mrs. Louise Mallard felt a sense of relief from his death. She described it as a “monstrous joy” (Chopin 281), but shrugs the idea since her freedom and escape, perhaps from an unhappy marriage, is certain now that her husband is dead. Evidently joyous of her newfound freedom she goes downstairs to find “Brently Mallard who entered […] far from the scene of accident” unscathed (Chopin 281). The shock of seeing her husband cheat death was too much for Louise and it killed her.
She died of heart disease, the “joy that kills” (Chopin 282). Consequently, the fact that Louise Mallard had a pre-existing condition of “trouble in the heart” (Chopin 280) did not help when she saw her husband alive. Louise Mallard could not handle the news that the newfound freedom she attained was a mere lie and false pretense; moreover her death, was not from the joy of seeing her husband alive, but from the shock that she has to go back to her old life. In conclusion, based on Louise Mallard’s death, we can assume that from the beginning she was destined to die.
She wasn’t willing to lose her identity and her newfound freedom only to be bended on her marriage once more. The only way for her to finally escape her marriage was for her to die. This tells us that mortality is the ultimate escape to bondage or whatever pain that we will experience. I will now sum up my main points; Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” tackles a wide array of thematic statements. The story argues that it is a natural trait for an individual to try and find true self-identity. In this case, Louise Mallard had to get rid of her husband indirectly before she could find her own self-hood.
The story also argues that freedom and independence far exceed even love. True to this was Louise Mallard’s thirst for independency and the exhilarating reaction she had as she lets it possess her entirely. Through this she valued herself more importantly than her sorrow for her husband’s death. The story finally argues that death was the only way for Louise to escape her marriage with Brently and finally gain her freedom. The story opens letting the readers know of Mrs. Mallard’s “trouble in the heart” (Chopin 280) foreshadowing the end.
Louise was not willing to lose her newfound freedom, and as a last resort her shock finally kills her knowing that in only this way she could finally be free of perhaps bondage within her marriage. Lastly, it is important to analyze the themes of particular stories to find out the historical context behind it. This story was written in the time where women were unequal with men; through the themes presented it is equally important to know that these events might be a cycle and thus warns us to never let it happen again.
Kate Chopin “The Story of an Hour”” The Story of an Hour, Kate Chopin, Characters, Setting. N. p. , n. d. Web. 17 Oct. 2012. . Kennedy, X. J. , Dorothy M. Kennedy, and Marcia F. Muth. “Chapter 13 Responding to Literature. ” The Bedford Guide for College Writers with Reader, Research Manual, and Handbook. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins, 2011. 280-82. “MLA Sample Works Cited Page. ” Purdue OWL Search Page. The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University, n. d. Web. 17 Oct. 2012. . Woodlief, Ann M. “”The Story of an Hour”” “The Story of an Hour” N. p. , n. d. Web. 17 Oct. 2012. .
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A Psychoanalytical Reading of Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”
The close reading of Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour” reveals the fact that the story’s motifs may be well discussed within the context of the Freudian theory of psychoanalysis; as they provide us with insight into the oppression-related essence of the main character’s existential anxieties. In this paper, we will aim at substantiating the validity of this suggestion even further.
The most fundamental tenet of psychoanalytical theory has to do with an assumption that the severity of an individual’s experiences of emotional inadequacy is being proportionally related to the strength of ideological oppression, which affects this individual’s subconscious drives. Therefore, people who have been deprived of a possibility to address their deep-seated sexual urges for a considerable period of time, tend to sublimate their mental insecurities into specifics of how they perceive surrounding reality. The fact that Louise Mallard used to think of an opened window in her room as such that was providing her with the ‘glimpse onto an outside world’, reveals the story’s main character as someone who had suffered considerably, on the account of being in a marital relationship with her husband, because Louise unconsciously thought of this relationship as such that was imposing behavioral constraints on its psyche: “She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life” (Chopin). Apparently, upon hearing of her husband’s death, Louise had experienced an emotional relief – she felt as if her inner longing towards existential sovereignty was about to self-actualize. Whereas; Louise’s rational mind was deeming the experience of an emotional relief on her part as ‘immoral’, her biologically-unconscious self was prompting the story’s main character to celebrate this experience as ‘thing in itself’.
There can be very little doubt as to the fact that, throughout the course of being in a relationship with Brently, Louise never ceased experiencing a deep-seated desire to end it – yet, she strived to suppress this desire within herself, due to a variety of rationale-based reasons. However, as soon as she heard of a railroad accident, which had presumably claimed Brently’s life, Louise could no longer go about suppressing her longing for liberation – the process of Louise’s subconscious ego taking over her existential mode simply could no longer be contained: “There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air” (Chopin). By opening herself up to the voice of its ego, Louise was able to realize the actual purpose of her existence – an enjoyment of complete freedom, which cannot be restrained by an outdated religious and socio-political dogmas: “She said it over and over under her breath: “free, free, free!”… There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself” (Chopin). Thus, we can say that the image of an opened window was taken by Louise as the sign of her liberation’s genuineness.
Apparently, she never ceased carrying the mental construct of this image well within the depths of her unconscious psyche, which is why Louise was able to instantly recognize the ideas for what the image of an opened window stood. In its turn, this allows us to discuss Louise’s experience of mental liberation within the context of Freudian ‘ uncanny ’. As it appears from the story, Louise was waiting for her subconscious longing towards liberation to prove valid, in the social sense of this word. Therefore, the fact that the image of a window had confirmed the legitimacy of Louise’s innermost desires was dialectically predetermined – apparently, she had grown to recognize it as a signifier of her actual identity. In its turn, this also explains why Louise’s experience of mental liberation had ominous undertones to it: “She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her” (Chopin). According to Freud, the process of an individual freeing its ego of socially imposed constraints often assumes counter-productive subtleties, due to this process’ irreversibility. By letting herself embrace the feeling of overwhelming joy, on the account of her emotional liberation, Louise had grown perceptionally vulnerable. This was exactly the reason why she could not bear the thought that she would have adopt an existentially suppressed posture again, after having realized that Brently did not die.
Nevertheless, as it appears from “Story of an Hour”, Louise’s suppressed urges had very little to do with her subconscious intention to attain complete sexual freedom, as Freudian theory actually implies. Just as many of today’s urbanistically minded individuals, Louise have grown to appreciate the value of her life outside of this life’s biologically predetermined social functions. Therefore, even though the theory of psychoanalysis does provide us with a methodological framework to assess the actual significance of Louise’s story, it does not provide us with a glimpse onto a full spectrum of thoughts that went through the main character’s mind, after she had learned of her husband’s death: “And yet she had loved him–sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in face of this possession of self-assertion, which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!” (Chopin). Even though Freud was right about the fact that subconscious sexual impulses do affect people’s conscious lives to a considerable degree, he made a mistake idealizing these impulses’ sheer significance within the context of one’s psychology, just as Marx had made a mistake idealizing the role of an economy, within the context of history.
Louise longed to attain freedom as an individual fully capable of deciding what to do with her life. This; however, does not mean that she was bound to seek how to end her marital relationship with Brently as her full-time occupation, ever since she married him. Apparently, the reason why Louise experienced a sensation of joy, after the news of her husband’s death was brought to her, is that this relationship was based upon the principle of ownership (with wedding ring being a signifier of such ownership), as opposed to being based upon the principle of mutual respect. And, as we are well aware, there are no hidden subconscious impulses behind spouses’ ability/inability to treat each other as equal – it is all just the matter of education or the lack of thereof. Thus, even though the imagery of “Story of an Hour” does reflect upon a variety of subconscious urges, on Louise’s part, it would be a mistake to think of these urges as being essentially sexual. Just as any mentally adequate individual of European descend; Louise never ceased to be subconsciously aware of the simple fact that, it was only by attaining complete freedom as a sovereign individual that she would be able to realize her true calling. This is why, despite the fact that Louise did grieve Bretly’s death genuinely; she nevertheless welcomed it as something she actually longed for. Unfortunately, as it turned out at the end of the story, the rumors of her oppressive husband’s death were proven slightly exaggerated.
Chopin, Kate “Story of an Hour”. 2008. About.Com . Web.
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“The Story of an Hour” Summary & Analysis Next Themes Themes and Colors Key Summary Analysis Louise Mallard has a weak heart. Her sister Josephine, who is worried that bad news will overwhelm Louise and worsen her condition, tells her as calmly as possible that her husband, Brently Mallard, has been killed in a train accident.
"The Story of an Hour" by American author Kate Chopin is a mainstay of feminist literary study. Originally published in 1894, the story documents the complicated reaction of Louise Mallard upon learning of her husband's death. It is difficult to discuss "The Story of an Hour" without addressing the ironic ending.
“The Story of an Hour” Analysis Now that you have some important background information, it’s time to start analyzing “The Story of an Hour.” This short story is filled with opposing forces. The themes, characters, and even symbols in the story are often equal, but opposite, of one another.
Analysis of Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on July 28, 2021 Originally entitled “The Dream of an Hour” when it was first published in Vogue (December 1894), “The Story of an Hour” has since become one of Kate Chopin’s most frequently anthologized stories.
Summary of "The Story of an Hour" Mrs. Mallard, who has heart trouble, is gently given the news that her husband has been killed in a train accident. Her husband’s friend Richards found out at the newspaper office, confirmed the name, and went to her sister Josephine immediately. Mrs. Mallard weeps wildly and then goes to her room alone.
In conclusion, the characters and character descriptions in Chopin’s The Story of An Hour can be explained through the psychoanalytic theories of Freud and Lacan. Mrs. Mallard’s behavior and reactions, according to Freud, are due to repression and are bottle up in her unconsciousness.
A Psychological Analysis of the Story of an Hour actKate Chopin is a famous feminist writer. A strong sense of feminine consciousness is embodied in her works. Her successful n of the psychological approach, specifically the stream of consciousness, adds grandeur to splendor of her literary creation.
Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” argues that an individual discover their self-identity only after being freed from confinement. The story also argues that freedom is a very powerful force that affects mental or emotional state of a person. The story finally argues that only through death can one be finally freed.
The most fundamental tenet of psychoanalytical theory has to do with an assumption that the severity of an individual’s experiences of emotional inadequacy is being proportionally related to the strength of ideological oppression, which affects this individual’s subconscious drives.