In "The Story of an Hour," what is the freedom that Louise wants?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Irony abounds in “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin.  In this story, the main character, Louise Mallard, has a heart condition.  What the condition is the reader is unsure. Is it strictly physical or is there an emotional aspect of her heart problem? The condition requires that Louise be taken care of and not allowed to do anything for or by herself. 

The news has come that Louise’s husband has been killed in a railroad accident.  After her initial grieving and sobbing reaction, Louise goes to room to be alone. She sits in her favorite chair and looks out the window.  Occasionally, she releases a sob.  Slowly, Louise begins to feel something welling up inside her.

When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: "free, free, free!" The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.

Louise, protected and sheltered for so long, breathes a long sigh of relief. She loved her husband but now she is free from her marriage: from her responsibilities as a wife; and from his overprotection. Obviously, there had been some kind of problem since Louise says that sometimes she does not love him. No one will tell her what to do.  She will live only for herself.  Now,  she was free to do whatever she pleased.

Josephine, Louise’s sister, stands at the door, begging her to let her come in. Louise tells her that she is fine.  Breathing in the spring air with its connotation of a new beginning, Louise dreams of all the things that she will do now.  Just yesterday, she feared that life would be long in her miserable world, but today, she prays for a long life. How a day can change a person’s life!

To satisfy her sister, Louise comes out of her room feeling like Nike, the Goddess of victory.  They descend the stairs together. Suddenly,  the door opens: her husband walks in alive and well.

When Louise sees her husband, the shock is too much for her heart condition. She falls to the floor dead. When the doctors come, they determine that she ironically, died—from the joy that kills. Earlier in the story, her joy was described as a “monstrous joy.” How can joy be monstrous? It is happiness but because of a terrible event. 

Thinking that she was so overjoyed and shocked to see her husband, her heart burst with joy. Chopin uses dramatic irony here because the reader knows the truth.   Louise was overwrought by the discovery that, unfortunately, her husband had not died.


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