How did Mrs. Mallard's outlook on life influenced her actions in "The Story of an Hour?"

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Kate Chopin's stunning short story, "The Story of an Hour," Louise Mallard has seen her life as a "long progression of days" to simply survive. She has had no true freedom, no conscious sense of self. She is married, to a kind man, but he does not see her as an individual. She is isolated, like a lonely ship on the open sea without a compass: she has had no direction, passing one day like the next.

When news comes of Brently's tragic death in an accident, there is concern for the widow, especially in that she has a "weak heart," but Louise chooses the solitary confines of her room rather than the company of Richards (the family friend who brings the new) or her sister-in-law Josephine. Instead, she goes to her room to contemplate her life, her loss, and her future.

Looking out the window, an errant thought presents itself, paradoxically horrible yet wonderful:

She did not stop to ask if it were not a monstrous joy that held her...What could love...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!" she kept whispering.

Whereas she had formerly seen her life as a long line of empty days lying before her, now she sees a long line of days filled with endless possibilities. Here we read how her outlook influences her actions. With a new future ahead (even acknowledging that her husband had been a good man and she had sometimes loved him), Louise is filled with a sense of purpose.

Finally leaving her room at her Josephine's pleading, the new widow carries herself regally like a queen down the stairs, full of hope and plans. In that moment, the door opens and Brently Mallard appears, totally unaware of what has transpired.

It seems he had been nowhere near the accident that was reported to have claimed his life. Richards tries to shield Louise from the shocking sight of her husband, but the desolation that descends on her in her sudden loss of hope and certainly that she will again have to live a life of repression is too much for her. She is described as a strong woman, but even this cannot be borne, and she dies.

The doctors explain that her heart gave out, that she died of the "joy that kills," expecting the sight of Brently was too great a joy for her heart to handle; ironically, the loss of her freedom is truly what kills her, what the doctors could not know, and would not be able to fathom in any case, in the society of men that had dominated Mrs. Mallard's life.

Did Louise choose to die rather than face the bleak prospect of endless days without personal purpose? Who can say for sure. However, whereas she holds herself like a queen in knowing she is free, she, in essence, gives up and dies, rather than return to the life she had known until that day.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well, I think the big action that you need to focus on in this short but excellent tale is Mrs. Mallard's response to the news that her husband died in an accident. Although initially she responds with grief, soon afterwards it becomes clear that the experience of her life, and in particular her marriage, means that she looks upon her new-found situation in a very different way:

There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.

Note how she describes marriage as an imposition of "private will" in "blind persistence." It is this experience of marriage as a patriarchal institution that has suppressed her needs and desires as a woman that makes her whisper now: "Free! Body and soul free!" It is this experience as well that is the real cause of her death when her husband turns up at the door - having received even but a tiny taste of that freedom, she is unable to return to the oppression of matrimony.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Unfortunately we cannot assume that Mrs. Mallard had any specific outlook on life other than to hope and pray that she makes a good marriage, and that she is fortunate enough to live a good, healthy life as a wife and mother. This is because the women of her time could only aspire to that much. It is not like she had a variety of options (neither did any of the women of her generation) awaiting such as schooling, independence, nor the acquisition of personal riches.

In reality, there was not much he could want for and, for this reason, the influence of it in her life was that she married accordingly and probably without love in the first place- just for the convenience that women married for.

Therefore, her outlook in life was too poor to have influenced her in any transcendental way other than to do what she is told and to obey the expectations of society.

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The Story of an Hour

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