Is Louise Mallard's reaction to her husband's death understandable in "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Louise Mallard led a sheltered life. With her heart condition and a husband that watched her over, Louise had little freedom to do what she would wanted to do.  Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” portrays a lady who has a heart condition, which is not only physical but also emotional.

When Louise learns that her husband has been killed in an accident, of course, she grieves and weeps hysterically.  She loved him most of the time. After her initial grief, Louise goes to her room to mourn alone. 

In her room, Louise suffers an exhausting feeling that was not only physical but spiritual.  As she sits in her comfortable chair, her view allows her to survey the sky and  the trees and to hear the birds chirping.  The air was fresh from the rain and the spring time.

As she stares into the distance, Louise, a young fair woman, becomes lost in her thoughts. Something inside her rises to the top; and almost without hope of suppression, Louise knew what it was.  It was the feeling of freedom as she whispers to herself: “Free, free, free!”  Her reaction seems almost grotesque.

Is Louise to be admired for her feelings of freedom?

Within the boundaries of the story is not hard to understand that Louise wanted to have some freedom.  I do not think that she wished her husband dead.  On the other hand, since he was dead, her feelings of desire to be in charge of herself come rushing up.  What were the reasons that she might have wanted to be free?

  • Louise has been sequestered from life because of her illness.
  • Her husband has probably kept her at bay in an effort to keep her alive since her heart condition is so precarious.
  • She is young, possibly immature.
  • Her relationship with her husband is questionable.
  • According to Louise, her husband had made her do what he wanted her to.
  • Louise knows that her feelings are not proper and tries to keep them within.
  • In the time period, Louise probably married very young and had few adventures.

What does Louise want? Her greatest desire is to do what she wants and to live for herself.

What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being. “Free, body and soul, free.”

When Louise goes down the stairs with her sister, she seems strangely composed.  As the door opens and Louise sees Brently, her husband, at the bottom of the stairs, the author describes her falling down and dying with the ironic “joy that kills.”

Of course, this is verbal and dramatic irony. It is doubtful that it was joy that killed Louise.  Louise would have lost her much prized freedom if Brently were alive. The reader knows that Louise was already content with the fact that her husband was dead. Added to seeing him alive again, secures the required shock to her heart to send Louise to the grave.

Read the study guide:
The Story of an Hour

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