LiteraryAnalysis Essay: TheStory of an Hourby Kate Chopin
KateChopin’s short story, thestory of an hour, isa masterpiece in which she employs notable aspects of literature. Firstly, she tackles very significant themes of the society such asthe independence, marriage, and love among other minor themes thatone comes across as they read through the interesting story. Chopinis also exemplary in using stylistic devices to as a writing stylethrough which most themes manifest after further analysis and a keenselection of roles that she assigns characters. Some of thestylistic devices Chopin successfully employs are symbolism andimagery. Literary devices such as irony also serve to enhanceChopin’s thematic motivation in TheStory of an Hour. They are indicate the worth of freedom. Hence, women needindependence from marriage if they are to get absolute freedom if itreally exists. Chopindemonstrates the qualities of an all-round writer who employsliterary devices such as imagery, symbolism, and motifs to align theexperiences of the main characters with the themes she intends toaddress.
Thereare three main themes in Chopin’s story: independence, marriage,and love. All the three themes affect each other. The independencethat Chopin seeks is caused by the repressions brought about by thecommitments of marriage and love relationships. According to Chopin,women lose their independent and freedom as soon as they get marriedbecause they remain emotionally and physically attached to theirspouses. Furthermore, the same repression seems to continue evenafter a wife loses her husband. As Chopin depicts it, Louise has tofind some solitude just to imagine about her impending freedom aftergetting news that her husband has died in an accident.When she learnsfrom Richard and Josephine that her husband was a victim of a fatalaccident, Louise reacts violently. However, the violent reaction isonly short-lived because she finds solitude to her room with an openwindow when she comes to becomes conscious of her freedom. Shegradually sheds off the grief and embraces a new life she believesshe will find joy in. Louise could express the same joy beforeRichard and Josephine because it would sound uncharacteristic of hertimes. Chopin writes that she tries to “beat it back with her will”an indication that it looks unfathomable to her that she has herfreedom back, but is also not a feeling she can openly express beforepeople.Her death also shows the obsession with which Chopin views theidea of freedom for women. The joy of being free is enough killLouise and she dies upon having felt the extreme feeling of freedomfor short time.
Thenext theme in Chopin’s story is marriage. Chopin presents marriageas an institution that has inherent features that curtail freedom. Itis clear that women experience the greatest loss of freedom than men.She presents the theme from a feminist’s perspective because it isLouise that gets “free” when Millard and the later does not getit at the end of the story when the former dies. Chopin’spresentation of the marriage as an oppressive union is not out ofmalice. Louise admits that Mallard is a loving husband, but his deathwelcomes an overwhelming sense of joy because she is going to beindependent and free from the oppression of marriage. The reader getsthe impression that marriages are inherently oppressive and unmarriedpeople are freer than married ones. Chopin’s thematic choice wastypical of her time when anti-marriage writing escalated. Even poetswrote poems with themes that depicted marriage as an institution inwhich men dominate and women do not get happiness from it. Forinstance, one poem read as follows,
“Menare monopolists/of stars, garters, buttons/unfit to be the guardiansof another person’s happiness” (Walker 210).
Muchof Chopin’s short story is a manifestation of irony. The firstinstance of irony is in the events that follow the death of Louise’shusband, Brently Mallard. Louise’s reaction her husband demise israther ironic. Anyone reading Chopin’s short story would wonder whyLouise reacts to her husband’s demise as though it is something shehad anticipated. The reader gets into Louise’s mind and immediatelybecomes aware of the fact that she is not as shocked the devastatingnews as most people would expect. Chopin writes that Louise decidedto “not hear the story as many women have heard the same,”(Chopin1). The irony is that Louise decides to get in a room in search forsome solitude. Chopin further reiterates her story by stating thatLouise sinks in a comfortable chair and looks outside through thewindow. A woman who loses a spouse cannot make herself comfortablethe way Louise does while alone in her room. Through Louise’s mindas described by Chopin, the reader also comes across, “a deliciousbreath of rain, the notes of a distant song, countless sparrowstwittering in air, and patches of the blue sky.” A morning mindcannot have beautiful thoughts. The obvious expectation is thatLouise is supposed to be thinking about her husband and the life theyhad together rather than anything else. Perhaps, it is Chopin’sstrategy to deviate the sorrow that characterises the loss of aspouse (Fluck152). Chopin’s short story also ends in irony. It begins bydepicting Louise Mallard as the heroine of the story, but ends bydepicting her as an immature egotist that ends up being a victim ofself-ululations rather than the heroine she supposed to emergethroughout the story (Berkove 152). Inthe beginning of Chopin’s story, Mallard death is a moment ofreflection and conception of the freedom that comes with it forLouise. Later, in the story, Mallard’s story turns out to be a lossto the society and an on-slaught to the resistance struggle itself.Thus, Louise privately treated her husband’s death as a moment offreedom, but her public life could not be separate from the publicloss that befell the Baluch people (Harlow 502).
Symbolismand imagery are also evident in Chopin’s story.Sometimes that nameof characters symbolises certain themes in the story. The name“Mallard” refers to type of a wild duck that symbolises freedom.Upon Mallard’s death, his widow’s look through the open windowsymbolises the new life that she faces after her husband’s death. By finding comfort in an armchair and having sometime alone, thesymbolism that it creates in the reader’s mind is a freedom andhappiness. An hour of solitude for Mrs. Mallard (Louise) symbolisesthe immediate transformation that provide her the opportunity todiscern her new life and the freedom that comes with it. Using springtime creates an image of renewal from the former self to the new selfwhere Louise has to accept that her husband is no more and she needsto move into a new phase of life. Chopin also writes, “The storm ofgrief has spent itself”, likening the Mallard’s death to stormthat rocks Louse’s life (Para. 3). The storm stands for theupheavals that death causes to Louise’s emotions and grief thatbefalls her upon learning that her husband is dead.
Chopin’suse of language, imagery, and symbolism depicts Louise’s emotionsquite accurately. She succeeds in presenting Louise as a woman who isemotionally intelligent. Imagery also serves to advance some ofChopin’s themes in the story. Describing Louise as “The goddessof victory” creates an image of a woman who is finally free afterbeing in bondage. Marriage was clearly the cause of her bondage.Chopin covertly suggests through imagery that Millard has repressedLouise in their marriage and his death is an opportunity for her tobe free. She writes that Louise whispers the word “free” everynow and then during her mourning period. By “spreading her armsopen”, Louise symbolizes new found freedom she could not have seenwere it not for her husband’s death. The “heart problem” thatChopin refers to in the beginning of the short story is also anothersymbol of a marriage whose repression causes heartaches to Louisebecause she views freedom as a farfetched idea until the news of herhusband’s death. However, the “heart problem” as a symbol ofemotional distress only comes up later after understanding Chopin’sthematic orientation towards the issue of marriage and itsrelationship to the independence of women.In the end, it is Louisethat dies after realizing that her husband, Millard is not dead.Chopindepicts the period Louise receives the news of her husband’s deathand the time he turns up unhurt as an hour, a period that sheexperiences the brief freedom she yearned for years and the losthappiness worth dying for (Harlow 501). Herdeath is attributed to a heart disease called “the joy thatkills.”The “joy that kills” symbolizes the happiness that shefelt after learning that she was finally free from the repression ofmarriage. However,the Louise’s dream of independence from marriage does not embodythe popular vision that charactrised the struggle of women of hertime. A critical reader is likely to treat her yearning forindependence as mere ego-centrism rather than the broad cry forfreedom that women her time fought to liberate themselves frombondage of patriarchy (Harlow 504).
Chopinalso uses motif of emotional ambivalence. Throughout the story the reader only comes across Louise imaginingherself on her husband’s dead body rather than the actual weeping. In all her grief Louise is torn between the grief that pushes her tocry and the joy that comes with getting freedom after her husband’sdeath. The core motif is the contradiction that emerges from everybit of the story. In either ways Chopin portrays both Louise andMallard as couples persevering in the bondage marriage and bothcouples have a taste of freedom only that it is Mallard that has thefinal freedom. A subtly feminist end is evident because the readerlacks the opportunity to learn about Mallard’s feelings after hiswife’s actual death. The ambivalence Louise experiences is manifestof Chopin’s times in the last quarter of the 19thCentury. The period represented a break-off period between worldsthat had entrenched Victorian values in the society, especially inthe family, and the new wave of feminism that began in the sameperiod. As a woman of that generation, Louise grapples between theevident self-assertion that would come with Mallard’s death and thegrief of losing a husband. Apparently, Chopin presents a situationwhere the former has more influence on Louise than the later.Instead, of experiencing somber reflections while seated in front ofthe open window, “Louise is plunged in intelligent thought”,where her mind tosses over what the future holds rather than the past(Fluck 157). Louise helplessly surrenders to the overwhelming feelingof imminent freedom typical of a generation that was graduallyslipping towards more radical views of marriage than those that camebefore it. Any reader is likely to take offense in Chopin’sdecision to use Mallard’s death to symbolize the beginning Louise’self-assertion, regardless of her witty and dramatic way she uses itto advance the theme of motif of emotional ambivalence and theme ofindependence for women.
Thestory’s characterization is articulate and meant to advance thethemes of marriage and independence. Chopin characterizes Louise asa versatile, introspective, and emotionally intelligent woman. Likeany other person, Louise grieves about the loss of a section of thefamilial bond. However, she does not allow the grief to overwhelm thefreedom that comes with Mallard’s absence in her life. Louisemourns intelligently and her emotional balance reveals a woman whohas the capacity to discern life after her husband’s death beyondthe typical emotional reaction that characterized the American wivesof her time. By saying that both her body and soul will be free afterMillard’s death, a historical context emerges where women were verysubjective to their husbands and men were overly domineering inmarriage. Although she does not mention it, the obvious message thatChopin intends to send to the reader is that marriage was some formof emotional and physical incarceration for women. Through Louise,Chopin attempts to persuade the reader that the pursuit for freedomcan override the issues of marriage, love, and or even death.
BrentlyMallard comes out in the story as a supporting character rather thanChopin’s main focus. There is no clear indication that Mallard is arepressive marriage partner. In fact, Chopin’s depiction of Louiseasa woman freed from bondage shows her resentment about the effect ofrelationship permanency and the intensity of emotions that attachspouses to each other on the freedom of women. She covertly depictsMallard as a victim of the resentment rather than the direct
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Harlow,Barbara. "From the women`s prison: third world women`snarratives of prison." Feminist Studies (1986): 501-524.
Walker,Eric C. "The muse of indifference." PMLA (2005): 197-218.
Berkove,Lawrence I.. “Fatal Self-assertion in Kate Chopin`s "the Storyof an Hour"”. American Literary Realism 32.2 (2000): 152–158.Web.