Story Of An Hour By Chopin The Story of an Hour” Louise Mallard indulges in a liberating mental journey after receiving news of her husband’s accidental death. Ultimately, her hour of unfettered exhilaration precipitates her own sudden death when her husband, Brently Mallard, returns home alive and well. Chopin intimately reveals Louise’s internal emancipation, therefore illuminating the chasm between human perception and reality. Louise’s joyful contemplation of personal freedom directly contradicts the feelings our culture would expect from a newly widowed woman, thus highlighting the irony of her doctors’ assumption as well as the poignancy of her untimely death. Louise’s doctors pronounced that she died of “heart disease-of joy that kills,” a misperception that she was overjoyed at her husband’s safe return (Chopin 440).
While abrupt cessation of joy caused her death, not its return, there is insight to be ascertained from the doctors’ pronouncement. If Louise had not entertained such liberal and self-centered thoughts during her hour of freedom, she would not have experienced lethal disappointment when her husband ultimately appeared. Indirectly, her joy did facilitate her death. Without an iota of concern for her husband’s possible suffering prior to his death-or for his life lost-Louise focused solely on how his death would affect her. She did not think of the impending bereavement of his family and friends; compassion for others never entered her mind.
Louise only pondered the depth of her own feelings toward her dead husband for a moment, concluding them to be of no import. Her internal query regarding whether or not it was a “monstrous joy” she was experiencing “was dismissed as trivial” (439). Her sybaritic selfishness could be considered a monstrosity. As defined by Webster’s Dictionary, a monstrosity is “the state of being unnatural in form or character; out of the common course of nature; shocking; frightful; horrible” (Webster 620). Louise’s train of thought might well be considered any of the above. On the other hand, her train of thought during that hour may have been the only instance that Louise indulged her feelings regarding her marriage and her indifference toward her spouse.
Described as “young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength,” Chopin’s word choice alludes to Louise’s self-suppression of her own awareness and the requisite strength needed to maintain the façade (Chopin 439). Considering the era of the story is late nineteenth-century America, it is likely that Louise believed there was no way out of her confining existence. Consequently, she would see no point in harboring elusive thoughts of freedom that would only serve to increase her unhappiness. Written in 1891, “The Story of an Hour” with Louise’s unusual desire for individual freedom may well have been influenced by Chopin’s own frustration with “social ostracism and negative criticism” (Encarta 99). Chopin was criticized roundly following the publication of her novel, The Awakening, for emphasizing previously unmentionable and unrecognized female needs such as “independence and passion” (Encarta 99).
She was known as a regionalist with a flair for “local color” and was involved in literary discussions and exchanges in St. Louis. She had returned with her six children to St. Louis after her own husband’s illness and 1882 death of swamp fever in Louisiana (Drabble 194). It is likely she was aware of the suffragettes and their goals through news and discussion groups in St.
Louis, another potential influence on Louise’s character and on her novel attributes of finding freedom and deliverance in her husband’s accidental death. That may have been Chopin’s feeling regarding her own husband’s death after which she may have felt a personal liberation and exuberant freedom while attaining independence and becoming a published author. Chopin’s character, Louise, whose feelings would be extraordinary in our own society, was downright appalling in the 1890s. Many influences could have inspired Chopin’s creation of Louise more than a century ago, but the heart condition of her character can be interpreted fairly clearly. The mentioning of Louise’s heart condition in the first sentence clearly foreshadows her imminent and dramatic demise. Her weak heart may be interpreted literally as an actual medical condition, but it could also be an analogy for her weakness of character.
If Louise had been strong of heart, she would have faced her miserable reality long ago and changed her own circumstances. Being “afflicted with a heart trouble” could be an implication that Louise lacks not only the fortitude necessary to try to change her life, but lacks even the honor to allow herself awareness of her own unhappiness with her life and marriage-until her last ephemeral hour of unbridled discovery. While evoking empathy for Louise’s discovery and elation at a future without repression or marital inequality, Chopin leads us to believe that Louise felt she had no choices other than to accept her lot in life. She has Louise choosing to remain in a state of denial, her self-centered mental dialog placing blame on her husband but none on herself. Louise’s narcissistic hour of freedom, ironically short-lived, could have been tempered with rationality had she faced her situation sooner and the shock of her husband’s survival might not have become fatal for her.
The irony of her doctors’ belief that she died from joy, again, could be true, but it was due to her indulgence in joy at the expense of another and without concern for others. Without any introspection as to her role in her marital situation, she had no empathy for her husband. She had shuddered at the thought that her life might be long; long with a man who had lived for her and always looked upon her with love (Chopin 439). Louise believed she had loved her husband at times, considering love the “unsolved mystery,” when the unsolved mystery was indeed herself (440). Chopin’s short story offers some simple messages as valid today as when it was first written.
Human presumption can accommodate huge misperceptions, as appearances are seldom as simple as they seem; a self-centered person may be due for a rude awakening; communication skills and assertiveness are assets. Louise’s overwhelming joy at her husband’s demise was due to her weak heart-and her weak heart failed her after a few misguided beats of freedom. Bibliography Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” The Norton Introduction to Literature. Eds.
Jerome Beaty and J. Paul Hunter. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 1998. 438-40. Drabble, Margaret ed.
The Oxford Companion to English Literature. 5th ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985 New Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language. Deluxe Encyclopedic Edition. USA: Delair, 1986.
Walker, Nancy A. “Chopin, Kate (1850-1904).” Encarta Encyclopedia 1999. CD-ROM. Redmond, WA: Microsoft. 1993-1998.