The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin dives into difficult issues involved in the interchange of female love, independence, and marriage through her short but successful characterization of the supposedly widowed Louise Mallard in her last hour of life. After discovering that her husband has died in a tragic train accident, Mrs. Mallard faces conflicting emotions of grief at her husband's death and joy at the prospects for freedom in the remainder of her life. The latter emotion eventually takes priority 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 of events. As a result, it is Mr. Mallard who is free of Mrs. Mallard, although we do not learn whether the same relationship of conflicting emotions occurs for him. Chopin presents Mrs. Mallard as a sympathetic character with strength and insight. As Louise understands the world, to lose her husband is not a great loss so much as an opportunity to move beyond the "blind persistence" of the repression of personal relationships. In particular, American wives in the late nineteenth century were legally bound to their husbands' power and status, but because widows did not bear the responsibility of finding or following a husband, they gained more legal recognition and often had more control over their lives. Although Chopin does not specifically cite the existing second class situation of women in the text, Mrs. Mallard's exclamations of, "Free! Body and soul free!” are highly suggestive of the historical context. Mrs. Mallard's characterization is complicated by the brief nature of her grief over her husband, as it might indicate excessive selfishness or shameless self absorption. However, Chopin does much to...
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