History About The Story Of An Hour English Literature Essay

CAMERLYNCK Antoine

MS2 Enseignement Anglais

"The Story of an Hour"

Kate CHOPIN

INTRODUCTION

Although Kate Chopin is considered as a successful writer today, she did not always have a so strong reputation. Her works shocked many of her nineteenth-Century audience, mainly because it conveyed unacceptable concepts for her contemporaries, which can be now defined as avant-garde feminism.

Kate Chopin’s short story "The Story of an Hour" was published in 1894 for the first time and recalls the story of an hour in the life of Mrs Louise Mallard, a young woman who is introduced as a character with a heart trouble (1). Her sister Josephine and a friend of theirs, Richards, cautiously announce her that her husband Brently Mallard has just died in a railroad disaster. Mrs Mallard reacts to the news with "sudden, wild abandonment" (10) and locks herself in her bedroom upstairs. In the loneliness of her room, while looking through the window, Mrs Mallard understands the key change occuring in her life. Little by little she feels joyful that her husband is dead because she will be free from him from now on. She is pushed by her sister to get out of her room not to become ill, and as she is going down the stairs her husband crosses the front door against all odds. Seeing him alive gives her a heart attack and she dies.

The narrative is told from a third-person point of view, but the narrator is not fully omniscient. The reader is invited to identify with Louise who is the only character whose perception is approachable. At the beginning of the short story, she is unable to meditate on what she experiences. As she becomes aware of her situation and tumultuous thoughts, the reader is given the key to her reflection which reveals her personality. As she goes back downstairs, the reader is immediately removed from her mind. Thus, because she manipulates the point of view, the author is present anyway. This method is meant to stress the story’s theme, that is to say the search for identity and the role of women in the institution of marriage.

To analyze how the author deals with this motif, this commentary will be divided into three parts: a first one called (I) A Short Story Based on Irony and Symbolism, then the second one will deal with (II) The Prohibited Delight of Independence Leading to the Search for Identity, and finally (III) The Immanent Enslavement In Marriage with an interest in The Role of Women in Marriage.

I A Short Story Based on Irony and Symbolism

Chopin’s short story is peppered with irony which makes the point of the story itself.

The author uses irony, a technique that reveals the distance between what appears to be true and what is actually true, to conclude her story. There is incongruity between what is understood to be true by the characters within the drama and what is understood by the reader. The question is "what has killed Mrs Mallard?". While Richards, Josephine, Brently and the doctors believe that her weak heart gave out upon such sudden happiness, the reader is led to suspect that sudden grief has killed her. At the story’s conclusion, the first line, "Knowing that Mrs Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble", becomes ironic, because it refers to Mrs Mallard spiritual condition and not to a medical condition. Because to a certain extent it echoes this first line, the concluding line "she died from the joy that kills" is also ironic. Nothing could be further from the truth. Louise thought her freedom would come from her husband’s death, instead she gains freedom from his domination only in her own death.

When Louise begins to think about Brently’s death, her heart begins to race and her pulse quickens. Louise is becoming more alive and stronger than ever. When Josephine begs her to come out of the bedroom, she is worried that Louise cannot handle the grief and will make herself ill. She does not realize that Louise’s health has improved because of his death. Instead of thinking of her life as a widow, Louise ironically sees her future as an endless stream of joyful Springs and Summer days.

And all this situation results from an ironic idea that everyone – including the reader! – takes for granted, and this idea is the death of Brently double checked by Richards.

We have in the relation between the title and the text an ironic jot too. Indeed, the title "The Story of an Hour" is ironic because Louise only needs an hour to realize that she did not need her husband to be happy, whereas it would take another wife, perhaps several months or years to fully recover from a spouse’s death.

What is even more ironic, is that the death of her husband leads to Louise’s rebirth. After learning about his death, Louise loses the blank stare and look of terror that has been in her eyes. This is further demonstrated in the imagery in the story, which certainly does not reflect the devastation usually experienced at the loss of a loved one. The reader is shown the beautiful transformation from Winter to Spring, which seems out of place at first. It soon becomes apparent that the new season symbolizes the transformation of Louise’s character.

The internal changes taking place within Louise are mirrored by what she sees : when she is distraught with grief, rain falls, and when she realizes her freedom, the sky clears up. What occurs outside the window parallels what is occurring to Louise.

The open window is a symbol of the possibilities that are suddenly available to her. Besides, the word "open" is mentioned many times strengthening the idea of liberty. The springtime setting represents her rebirth as an independent person. The "rain" (17), the "sparrows" (19), and the "peddler" (18) are signs of the coming "Spring" (17), signifying her awaking life. The "sparrows" (19), related to the moment when she opens her arms to "welcome" (45) her new future, can also be an image of a bird which spreads its wings to fly away, to set free.

II The Prohibited Delight of Independence Leading to the Search for Identity

In this short story, the feeling of independence cannot be shown in the public eye. At first, when Louise learns about her husband’s death, she is thunderstruck, and her obvious display of sadness is perfectly understandable and appropriate, even if it is too ostentatious as she experiences a "storm of grief" (11).

However, when she withdraws in her room to be alone, she sees that she is now a freed woman and this thought makes her gloat. She quickly begins to feel a previously unknown sense of freedom and relief. Firstly, she is frightened of her own awakening: "There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully" (29). And then, this feeling of exultation creates a pandemonium in her mind and she feels she has to struggle against it "[to] beat it back with her will" (34). She tries to resist this feeling of joy and that shows that joy is a prohibited reaction.

She finally accedes this feeling of ecstasy and is overwhelmed by it as a form of enjoyment, but she knows she cannot share this sentiment with other people as society would be shocked by such an unexpected behaviour.

She is so out of her depth by this enjoyment that she even starts to pray and becomes somebody else: "she breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long" (61-63). The identical structure of the second part of the sentence, "life might be long", does not mean the same in both statements and shows the changing of personality.

Before the death of her husband, Louise perceived her life as tasteless, lacking in flavour, because she felt chained and she felt that this insipid life might seem long to her as she would be bored, that is the "shudder" she felt. Now, it describes Louise’s gradual change from a repressed individual who has been kept restrained from things she could be doing, to someone who has the possibility to start living life her way and who wishes to live long in this freedom.

This quotation marks the climax of Louise’s euphoria which also emphasizes the unexpectedness of her reaction. It also marks the climax of the structure of the short story: the tension raises little by little from line 25 to 37 and reaches its top when she is bewitched by the flow of her new emotions. It is interesting to note that there are only a very few passages where the reader can find direct speech and the three little moments when it is Louise speaking are two moments when she is exulting saying out loud to herself that she is free "free, free,free" (37) and matches again with the climax of her awakening. The other moment is when she tells firmly to her sister to leave her alone, "go away, I am not making myself ill" (58), which shows she has become a new unfettered person. She is now ready to crunch her life with full tooth, to be a fully-fledged human being. Nevertheless, when her spouse comes back, she dies because she is emotionally incapable to face again the life she hated and feared so much. In other words, she cannot bear to abandon her newfound freedom to return to life with her husband, where she will be required to bend her will to his.

III Immanent Enslavement In Marriage (The Role of Women in Marriage)

Intimately connected with the theme of identity and selfhood is the theme of the role of women in marriage.

All marriages, even the kindest ones, are immanently subjected to enslavement. Louise admits that her husband was caring and tender, "[his] face that had never looked save with love upon her" (43), and she admits that she might have loved him "she had loved him - sometimes" (51), but she cannot refrain from feeling so content that he has passed away. It does not mean she has an evil mind because she knows she will feel sorrow when she sees his dead body "she knew she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death" (41), but she feels released and relieved that she will no longer have to suffer from the oppression of her marriage.

As Louise does not give particular or personal examples of forms of enslavement, it hints that marriage, in general, enchains people and maybe more specifically women of that time by thieving their independence from them. Indeed, at the beginning of the story, Mrs Mallard is only known as a wife and very little is revealed concerning Mr and Mrs Mallard’s relationship. Thus, the specific character of the relationship matters less than the conventions of marriage in general. Besides, the setting of the story is unspecified. It takes place in the Mallard’s house but the reader is not offered many clues as to where or when the action takes place. The breaking of the news takes place in an unspecified room within the house, the revelation of freedom occurs in the bedroom, and Louise’s demise occurs on the stairway leading to the front door. There are no details about the stairway or the room in which the reader first meets Louise. Although news of death and death itself occur in these areas, the setting could be anywhere, which implies that the focus should be on the story itself at a generic level.

The story opens with the narrator telling us that Mrs Mallard has "heart trouble", which can have a double meaning. Either the reader can think that it means she has a heart disease or that she experiences heartache in her marriage. Later on, when Louise is seen as "warmed and relaxed" (39) the reader discovers that her heart problem is that her marriage has not allowed her to "live for herself" (46-47). Louise’s supposed heart problem illustrates the way nineteenth Century society treated women as weak beings who must be protected from the harsh realities of life. By carefully wording the explanation of her husband’s death, Josephine and Richards treat Louise "as a child" (23), not an independent adult. Moreover, when the narrator says that Mrs Mallard "would have no one to follow her" (12), it implies that she would have no one to follow her to her room, but Mrs Mallard might have meant that she would have no one interfere with her life again, underlying the oppression she felt as a wife and consequently, putting to the front of the stage the troubled situation of women in marriage.

It is important to note that Louise’s first name is only revealed to the reader when Josephine calls her through the keyhole. Until that point, she is referred to as "Mrs Mallard" (1) or simply "she" (9). It shows that while she was married, Louise had ceased to exist as her own person. Her name Louise is returned to her upon his death. However, as Richards sees Brently return, she is no longer called "Louise" (56)and is now referred to as "his wife" (72). Louise dies as Brently’s possession.

CONCLUSION

To conclude, it is important to remember that the major irony of the story comes in the twist of fate at the climatic end. The joyful, long life that Louise imagined for herself lasted for just an hour. However, in that short time she experienced how it felt to be an independent person, not tied to the constraints of societal oppression.

Despite the illusions of Spring and Louise’s excitement, this story is full of tragedy. Chopin makes it clear that women in the nineteenth Century who sought self-identity and freedom could ultimately only experience defeat. The realization that she is not free is what kills Louise. The doctors may think she died feeling happy, but the reader knows she died of grief. The short story is therefore more than an ironic tale. It is a condemnation of marriage, as it existed in this era. By presenting Brently as a decent man, the writer shows that even supposedly happy marriages forced women to lose their identity. For Louise, freedom through death was better than a life of enslavement.