Ride of Her Life
In “The Story of an Hour” (1894), Kate Chopin presents a woman in the last hour of her life and the emotional and psychological changes that occur upon hearing of her husbands’ death. Chopin sends the protagonist, Mrs. Mallard, on a roller coaster of emotional up’s and down’s, and self-actualizing psychological hairpin turns, which is all set in motion by the news of her husband’s death. This extreme “joy ride” comes to an abrupt and ultimately final halt for Mrs. Mallard when she sees her husband walk through the door unscathed. Chopin ends her short story ambiguously with the death of Mrs. Mallard, imploring her reader to determine the true cause of her death.
The story beginnings with Chopin informing the reader about Mrs. Mallards “heart trouble” (1). This can be considered from two vantage points, the first being that Mrs. Mallard may in fact be afflicted with a heart condition diagnosed medically, and the second is that Mrs. Mallard had trouble of the heart, which was produced by her feelings toward her current life situation with her husband. Mrs. Mallard is a slave to her marriage and sets aside her own identity in order to be the wife her husband expects her to be. This kind of sacrifice of self would lead anyone to have some weakness of the heart and soul.
Richards, a friend of Mr. Mallard’s, is the first to hear about Brently Mallard’s death in a railroad accident. We learn that “great care was taken” in telling Mrs. Mallard as gently as possible about the death of her husband. Mrs. Mallard’s own sister, Josephine, delivers the news “in broken sentences” and “veiled hints” (1). This was done with her “heart trouble” in mind, in order to not cause her further heart complications.
Upon hearing the news, Chopin makes it clear that Mrs. Mallard does not take the news as some other women would; “with paralyzed inability to accept its significance” rather she breaks down in tears with “wild abandonment” in a “storm of grief” (1). In the article written by Selina Jamil, titled “Emotions in ‘The Story of an Hour’”, Jamil argues that “Chopin depicts Mrs. Mallard’s awareness of her husband’s death is stimulated by emotions, rather than by rationality” (216). This compliments the notion that Mrs. Mallard would immediately break down with raw emotion after hearing the news, rather then it taking time for the reality to set in.
After the initial reaction, Mrs. Mallard goes to her room to be alone and this is when the truly profound emotional and psychological ride begins for her. Mrs. Mallard is drawn to the “comfortable, roomy armchair” that faced “the open window” (1), which leads one to believe Mrs. Mallard has a deep desire to be “open and comfortable” in her own life. Chopin then narrates that Mrs. Mallard is weighed down by “physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul” (1).[->0] This line illuminates the great suppression and oppression that Mrs. Mallard had been living in, in order to meet her social expectations as a wife. Jamil argues that up to this point Mrs. Mallard “ultimately purges her[self] of the sufferance of a meaningless life, as it becomes the impetus for the revelation that leads to her new freedom” (216).
Chopin uses descriptive words that lend themselves to Mrs. Mallards own emotions in her current state of mind. The line, “The tops of the trees are aquiver with the new spring life”, speaks volumes about the newness of spring bringing new life to the world. This plays a large role in the epiphany that is soon to be had by Mrs. Mallard about what is to come in her future without her husband. The words “delicious breath of rain… in the air” illuminates to feelings she will soon have about the death of her husband in relation to how her future will proceed. Jamil asserts that, “these objects inspire joy and hope in her, which, in turn, stir Louise’s attention: ‘[S]he felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the...
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