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The Story of an Hour is a literary piece by Kate Chopin. Initially published in 1894, the story begins with Mrs. Mallard, the protagonist, as she receives news of her husband’s death. Since she has heart trouble, her sister gently tells her of the report to not shock her into having a heart attack. On hearing of her husband’s demise, she weeps with wild abandonment, which is an emotional reaction as she contemplates how her life will turn out without her husband. The author utilizes a suitable plot to capture the central theme of patriarchy, and freedom for women, using literary devices such as symbolism to grab the reader’s attention.
The story revolves around Louise Mallard, a married woman in Victorian society. Mrs. Mallard receives tragic news regarding the passing of her husband, who is said to have died in an accident. At first, this information shocks her, as seen in her reaction when she weeps about her husband’s loss. However, her grief soon subsides, and she begins to see the opportunity of freedom that has presented itself. Unfortunately, her joy is short-lived as her husband soon shows up, which causes her to have a heart attack and die.
In the story, the author brings up the theme of patriarchy and how it affects women. In this society, men rule women, meaning women do not have a say in many matters (Karami & Zohdi, 2015). Traditionally, Mrs. Mallard was expected to stay home and serve her husband, with society not accepting any other version of herself. Now, since her husband is dead, she can regain her freedom and begin to do what she wants without seeking permission from anyone (Hanifah, 2020).
Freedom for women also comes up as a theme in the story. The prospect of having a new life without being controlled by anyone makes her think of a possible future she has not dreamt of before. However, it seems too good to be true to the extent that she is afraid of being happy about the freedom she has just received (Khadafi, 2021). However, this joy is short-lived as the story about her husband’s demise is false as he soon appears, shocking her to death.
The author uses symbolism as a device to capture the reader’s attention. For example, after hearing the news of her husband’s demise, she retreats into her bedroom and sinks into a comfortable armchair facing the window (Chopin, 1981). Here, the author uses symbolism to highlight the realization of freedom the protagonist was coming to. The comfortable armchair is symbolic of comfort and security, despite the death of her husband (Hussein, 2021). Here, she can sit and contemplate what the future holds for her. In addition, the open window symbolizes her connection to the world now that her husband is dead. At this time, society did not accept divorce but accepted widowed women without judgment (Wang, 2007). As such, the author has used these symbols to bring out the theme of freedom, which was now open to Mrs. Mallard’s life.
In sum, Mrs. Mallard’s death is described as “joy that kills,” yet this is not the case as the story’s theme portrays. Ideally, she had already imagined that her husband was dead and that she was free from any hold her husband and society may have had on her (Hanifah, 2020). Upon his reappearance, her dream of living life the way she wants is quashed, which takes away her will to live, thus instead choosing to die than remain under her husband’s will. Through symbolism and a structured plot, the author establishes the theme of patriarchy and freedom for women. Mrs. Mallard’s life helps shed light on her expectations at the thought of her husband’s death, which reveals that she was not content being under someone’s will and rejoiced at the prospect of living her life without being controlled by anyone. Through her death at her husband’s return, the audience can understand her emotions and how she felt when she saw her husband alive and well.
- Chopin, K. (1981). The Story of an Hour. Jimcin Recordings.
- Hanifah, F. (2020). The portrait of a woman in Chopin’s short story The Story of an Hour [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Universitas Hasanuddin.
- Hussein, N. K. (2021). The analysis of psychological aspects in Chopin’s “The story of an Hour.” Review of International Geographical Education Online, 11(7).
- Karami, N., & Zohdi, E. (2015). Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”: A feminist interpretation. Research Journal of English Language and Literature, 3(3), 430-436.
- Khadafi, B. I. (2021). Feminist and pessimist existentialism in Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”: A systemic functional grammar analysis. Journal of English Language Studies, 6(2), 138-157.
- Wang, X. (2007). Feminine self-assertion in The Story of an Hour. English Department, Tamkang University.