"The Story of an Hour" (Kate Chopin):
Descending the stairs with her sister was supposed to be the beginning of her new life. Instead it was cut short in an hour and she died. Could this be considered her being released into freedom? She will no longer be inhibited by health problems or anyone else for that matter? Is this event symbolic of her finally getting what she always wanted? Is death the only way anyone has freedom?
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I think that this moment in the story can be read in several ways. On one hand, there might be something to the idea that freedom from a repressive social order that has been built upon the silencing of voice and the institutional denial of its articulation might necessitate that death is the only freedom possible. I sense that Louise's death was caused by the reality of her new found voice was going to be taken away. Her death reflects to me that once one has found their voice, established their identity, and grasped how this is going to be pursued, a corner has been turned where individuals can no longer go back and to revert into silence is an impossibility. Louise's heart surrenders because the notion of having to give up what was claimed is too painful to bear. Freedom, once it is tasted, seems to have a subsuming effect on individual consciousness.
No, I suggest you are misinterpreting the ideas presented in "The Story of an Hour."
The freedom the protagonist momentarily thinks she has and treasures for that short time is freedom from marriage. She does not attain freedom when she dies. She attains freedom when her husband dies, reportedly, and she loses freedom when he turns out to be alive.
Her health problems provide foreshadowing, making sense of her heart attack when it occurs. She believes she has been set free from the confines of marriage in a patriarchal society and the shock of finding out that she isn't free causes her to have a heart attack.
The story, like much of Kate Chopin's work, deals with women in a society dominated by men. America in Chopin's time was still decades away from even allowing women to vote. The protagonist finds marriage stifling. She finds momentary freedom and the shock of losing it kills her.
You should avoid reading anything else into the story. No evidence in the story exists that suggests death is any kind of answer or any way to achieve freedom. Such an interpretation negates what the story is actually about. In other words, if death is the answer, then the feminist issues raised are meaningless.
I think Chopin uses her female characters' deaths as a means to freedom.
In The Awakening, Chopin's most famous protagonist, Edna Pontillier, commits suicide by drowning herself. She too was confined by patriarchy, social institutions, and gender limitations. She consciously chose death because it was one of the few aspects of her life that she had complete control over. As such, she felt that the society was so corrupt that death was preferred to it.
Other critics agree that Chopin uses death as a means of freedom:
Edna has slept for years and years. She slept through motherhood, through marriage, and though most of her adult life. When she was enlivened, it was by a mirage. She followed this apparition, aspiring to a life she could (in reality) never achieve. But how can a woman conceive of these things and then forget? Once our consciousness has been roused we cannot snuff that candle, put in on a shelf, and return to a life in darkness. Edna has been awakened; she has realized the unjustness of life, and of her own role in it. With this new awareness, there was no way for her to continue the current charade she participated in. There was also no way her world would have allowed her to pursue the notions of independence and freedom she had perceived. The social roles she was trying to break away from would never really have released her. "Leonce and the children…were a part of her life. But they need not have thought that they could possess her, body and soul" (137). I find myself wishing that she had never opened her eyes; that she could have lived out her days blissfully ignorant of the circumstances which bound her. This being impossible, even more than the idea of a life of her own, Edna chose the only possible option to escape from an existence full of unfulfilled desires and unhappiness.
Edna re-enters the sea; scene of her first taste of power and emancipation. She returns because it offers her the only other possible freedom she is allowed; the freedom of death. It is not an act of weakness, or romanticism…it is that of a woman claiming her liberty, her strength…and her self…one last time.
Like Antigone (the first and greatest female tragic hero who also used her death as a means of defying male authority) and Edna, Mrs. Mallard's death is her only freedom left, the freedom from life.
In my opinion, this is a pretty grim way of looking at things. I suppose you could argue it this way, but it depends on what you call freedom.
For example, I am not at all free. I have promised to be faithful to my wife so I cannot be with any other women. I have promised (not on quite the same level) that I will stay home and take care of the kids. That means that I cannot go out and do whatever I want whenever I want like I used to. But since I have voluntarily made these promises, I do not think I am unfree.
By contrast, I would argue that women back in Chopin's day really were unfree. You could argue much more convincingly that death was the only thing that set them free. Of course, as Hamlet says, we don't know what comes after death and so it might be worse...
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