Book Review: The Story of an Hour

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Kate Chopin tackles complex issues involved in the interplay of female independence, love, and marriage through her brief but effective characterization of the supposedly widowed Louise Mallard in her last hour of her life. After discovering that her husband has died in a train accident, Mrs. Mallard faces conflicting emotions of grief at her husband’s death and exultation at the prospects for freedom in the remainder of her life. The latter emotion eventually takes precedence in her thoughts. As with many successful short stories, however, the story does not end peacefully at this point but instead creates a climactic twist. The reversal—the revelation that her husband did not die after all, shatters Louise’s vision of her new life and ironically creates a tragic ending out of what initially appeared to be a fortuitous turn events.

Mrs. Mallard’s characterization is complicated by the fleeting nature of her grief over her husband, as it might indicate excessive egotism or shameless self-absorption. Nevertheless, Chopin does much to divert us from interpreting the story in this manner, and indeed Mrs. Mallard’s conversion to temporary euphoria may simply suggest that the human need for independence can exceed even love and marriage. Notably, Louise Mallard reaches her conclusions with suggestive aid of the environment, the imagery of which symbolically associates Louise’s private awakening with the beginning of life in the spring season.

To unify the story under a central theme, Chopin both begins and ends with a statement about Louise Mallard’s heart trouble, which turns out to have both a physical and a mental component. In the first paragraph of “The Story of an Hour,” Chopin uses the term “heart trouble” primarily in a medical sense, but over the course of the story, Mrs. Mallard’s presumed frailty seems to be largely a result of psychological repression rather than truly physiological factors. The story concludes by attributing Mrs. Mallard’s death to...
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