Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Story of an Hour

     In the short narrative “The Story of an Hour,” author Kate Chopin depicts the life of Louise Mallard, a woman who has heart problems both literally and metaphorically. Upon learning of the death of her husband, Brently Mallard, she becomes unexpectedly exultant, relishing in the idea that she is free at last. However, Lousie’s long-awaited release from her husband’s expectations become very short-lived, and in turn, lead to her own death. Through the use of third-person-limited, Chopin is able to bolster the agenda of her satirical writing by portraying an hour filled with pointed adjectives, the recurring theme of freedom versus oppression, and the use of situational irony.

Shortly after hearing of her husband’s death in a tragic railroad worker incident, Louise retreats to her room alone. Although she weeps at first for Brently’s death, it is not long before Chopin reveals that her protagonist isn’t truly upset. As Louise slumps into her “comfortable” chair, it was as if her eyes were suddenly opened to the Earth’s beauty. Descriptive phraseology such as “the delicious breath of rain was in the air,” “…countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves,” and “there were patches of blue sky” (Chopin Paragraphs 4-5) paint an eerily happy scene after such a tragic accident. Traditionally, rain is used as a symbol of gloom and sadness, yet because of the cheerful diction that Chopin uses, the natural elements foreshadow the fact that Brentley’s death is considered a relief to his confined wife. Although death usually causes heartbreak, Louise is finally able to feel like her heart is as free as the birds’ that she hears chirping outside her window.

     Within the last few paragraphs of “The Story of an Hour,” Louise’s happiness turns into fantasying. Despite the fact that she supposedly loved her husband “sometimes,” the idea that she is now free to live her life without his scrutiny becomes too much for her to handle. The thought that “There would be no powerful will bending her in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature,” (Chopin Paragraph 13) illuminates Louise’s opinion on her husband’s death and illustrates Chopin’s dysfunctional theme: no matter whether it is out of love or spite, marriage is just a restrictive punishment both physically and mentally. Because of her husband, Louise was burdened with unattainable expectations and limitations throughout her life. Ultimately the restrictiveness of her marriage led to her twisted satisfaction at the prospect of Brentley’s demise. Rather than being permanently confined to her gender role, Louise was briefly able to envision the beauty of her new life.

     In the end, Louise’s learns that her husband didn’t actually die in the railroad calamity. After all of her dreams of freedom, the prospects of being able to live out her own life are quickly shattered. She is so shocked when Brentley returned alive and well, that her heart gives out and died completely. Ironically, the doctors tell everyone that she died due to the joy that she felt at the sight of her perfectly-well husband. However, Louise truly died because of the overbearingly sad realization that she wasn’t actually free after all. The “heart trouble” that she had endured from the beginning was not as physical as the doctor’s had presumed. Because of the repression that she had faced during marriage, Louise ended up dying from the final fatality of her ambitions and dreams.