Ride of Her Life In “The Story of an Hour” (1894), Kate Chopin presents a woman in the last hour of her life and the emotional and psychological changes that occur upon hearing of her husbands’ death. Chopin sends the protagonist, Mrs. Mallard, on a roller coaster of emotional up’s and down’s, and self-actualizing psychological hairpin turns, which is all set in motion by the news of her husband’s death. This extreme “joy ride” comes to an abrupt and ultimately final halt for Mrs. Mallard when she sees her husband walk through the door unscathed. Chopin ends her short story ambiguously with the death of Mrs.
Mallard, imploring her reader to determine the true cause of her death. The story beginnings with Chopin informing the reader about Mrs. Mallards “heart trouble” (1). This can be considered from two vantage points, the first being that Mrs. Mallard may in fact be afflicted with a heart condition diagnosed medically, and the second is that Mrs. Mallard had trouble of the heart, which was produced by her feelings toward her current life situation with her husband. Mrs. Mallard is a slave to her marriage and sets aside her own identity in order to be the wife her husband expects her to be.
This kind of sacrifice of self would lead anyone to have some weakness of the heart and soul. Richards, a friend of Mr. Mallard’s, is the first to hear about Brently Mallard’s death in a railroad accident. We learn that “great care was taken” in telling Mrs. Mallard as gently as possible about the death of her husband. Mrs. Mallard’s own sister, Josephine, delivers the news “in broken sentences” and “veiled hints” (1). This was done with her “heart trouble” in mind, in order to not cause her further heart complications. Upon hearing the news, Chopin makes it clear that Mrs.
Mallard does not take the news as some other women would; “with paralyzed inability to accept its significance” rather she breaks down in tears with “wild abandonment” in a “storm of grief” (1). In the article written by Selina Jamil, titled “Emotions in ‘The Story of an Hour’”, Jamil argues that “Chopin depicts Mrs. Mallard’s awareness of her husband’s death is stimulated by emotions, rather than by rationality” (216). This compliments the notion that Mrs. Mallard would immediately break down with raw emotion after hearing the news, rather then it taking time for the reality to set in.
After the initial reaction, Mrs. Mallard goes to her room to be alone and this is when the truly profound emotional and psychological ride begins for her. Mrs. Mallard is drawn to the “comfortable, roomy armchair” that faced “the open window” (1), which leads one to believe Mrs. Mallard has a deep desire to be “open and comfortable” in her own life. Chopin then narrates that Mrs. Mallard is weighed down by “physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul” (1). [->0] This line illuminates the great suppression and oppression that Mrs.
Mallard had been living in, in order to meet her social expectations as a wife. Jamil argues that up to this point Mrs. Mallard “ultimately purges her[self] of the sufferance of a meaningless life, as it becomes the impetus for the revelation that leads to her new freedom” (216). Chopin uses descriptive words that lend themselves to Mrs. Mallards own emotions in her current state of mind. The line, “The tops of the trees are aquiver with the new spring life”, speaks volumes about the newness of spring bringing new life to the world.
This plays a large role in the epiphany that is soon to be had by Mrs. Mallard about what is to come in her future without her husband. The words “delicious breath of rain… in the air” illuminates to feelings she will soon have about the death of her husband in relation to how her future will proceed. Jamil asserts that, “these objects inspire joy and hope in her, which, in turn, stir Louise’s attention: ‘[S]he felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air’” (217).
The next line, “There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds[->1] that had met and piled one above the other in the west facing her window”, Chopin is symbolizing the emotions that are breaking through the “pile[s]” of Mrs. Mallard’s suppressed self that she has endured in the formalities of her life (1). Chopin continues to express how afflicted Mrs. Mallard is with her struggle to come to terms with her current state of emotions and her vision of self by describing Mrs. Mallard’s “dull eyes, whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on one of those patches of blue sky. ” While Chopin depicts Mrs.
Mallard’s glance as not being one of reflection “but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought,” it can be inferred that Mrs. Mallard is processing her self-being not on a rational level but more on her emotional stimuli. Mrs. Mallard’s roller coaster continues to climb to the peak as she begins to feel “something coming to her”, she does so “fearfully”, as she is not clear on what “it” is that is coming. In her article Jamil indicates, “The ‘it’ that [Mrs. Mallard] feels emerging from nature is the vision, or perception, of [Mrs. Mallard’s] freedom, which occurs through [Mrs. Mallard’s] aroused emotions” (217).
Chopin thoughtfully deduces that Mrs. Mallard’s actualization of self is “too subtle and elusive” to be grasped with rational thought and that “it” can only be initially “felt” intuitively and then “it” can be processed emotionally (1). As Mrs. Mallard begins to acknowledge what “it” is; she in turn tries to “beat it back with her will” (1). Mrs. Mallard is attempting to fight her own will on a couple of levels at this point: first, she “beats it back” because she knows in her world this feeling of joy is inappropriate at a time of loss; second, she is fearful of this new identity of self, to be an individual with her own will and freedom.
However, when she “abandoned herself a little” she is able to allow her true emotions to escape with one small word “free, free, free! ” (1). This small four letter word at first brought on a “vacant stare and… look of terror” (2) because of the feelings she was having so soon after her husband’s death. This look quickly vanished as her body began to have a physical reaction to her psychological state of mind and “her pulse beat fast… coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body” (2). At this point Mrs.
Mallard is transformed into Louise, an individual that is no longer controlled by the “powerful will” (2) of another. She is no longer fearful of the “monstrous joy that [holds] her” as she has been enabled by “a clear and exalted perception” of self and individuality that no one’s “private will” shall be imposed upon her in the future (2). Louise is then left to contemplate the years to come beyond the day when she is obligated to lay her husband in his final resting place. The emotional incline she eels from the thought of years “that would belong to her absolutely” causes her to “open and spread her arms out … in welcome” (2). Louise has reacted the ultimate and “strongest impulse of her being” and that is her “possession of self-assertion” (2). Jamil confirms that, “Louise’s emotions enable her to feel harmony between her body and soul” (218). This enlightenment compels Chopin’s protagonist to whisper, “Free! Body and soul free! ” (2), as she has finally come full circle in her journey of an hour to becoming her own self after hearing the news of her oppressive husband’s death.
While considering the society with which Louise lived, it was common for people to associate emotions with being or making oneself sick. This explains why Josephine would ask Louise to “open the door—you will make yourself ill” (2) for fear of what may happen to Louise due to the depth of emotions she was processing. Louise attempts to send her sister away and continues to “drink in [the] very elixir of life” (2) by connecting to this new world that she finds herself in, filled with emotions for the future. Louise takes time to “fancy” about the days and seasons she would be able to experience with this new sense of self.
Chopin leads Louise to compare her desire to have a long life, when just yesterday she had wished her life to be short because of the lack of desire to continue her life in the prison of marriage she had with her husband. After she takes those last moments to relish in her coming days she opens the door to her sister with “triumph in her eyes, and she carrie[s] herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory” (2). This demonstrates that Louise has irreversibly transformed emotionally and that this inner change has transferred out into her outward appearance.
As Jamil observes, “Louise breaks the shackles of the patriarchal culture as she comprehends that she can ‘live for herself’ (2) instead of living the life that her husband sanctions for her. And this comprehension has to be felt with emotions” (219). As Louise makes the deviant descent down the stairs with her sister, she is confident in the future she will lead. However, when the front door is opened and her husband enters alive and uninjured because he was in fact far away from the accident, Louise takes her final shocking free fall off her roller coaster.
Louise is unable to bear the loss of her new found identity, and with the sudden return of her husband and the life she knew prior to this hour of self discovery, she dies instantly. She dies not “of the joy that kills” (2) with the return of her husband but of the hair pin turn that takes her back on a road she desperately never wanted to return. Jamil accurately proclaims, “Chopin makes clear that to simply observe the world through one’s rational faculty is nowhere near as powerful as observing it with the vibrant, vigorous, acute, and heightened awareness that emotion makes possible” (220).