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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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How does Mrs. Mallard’s death in the conclusion of "The Story of an Hour" contribute to the story’s overall meaning?

In the short story "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin, Mrs. Mallard's death at the end contributes to the overall meaning by adding emphasis to the difference between how society expects her to react and how she really feels inside.

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In the short story "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin, Louise Mallard is informed by her sister Josephine of the death of her husband in a railroad accident. Aware of Louise's heart trouble, Josephine tries to tell her "as gently as possible." Mrs. Mallard breaks down in tears and then goes alone to her room. However, instead of mourning for her husband, she spends some time in contemplation in front of an open window.

The lovely sounds and images of springtime that Mrs. Mallard hears and sees outside help her to realize that she is not sad at all. Instead, she is relieved. Although she supposes that she loved her husband, at least sometimes, her overwhelming thought is that she is free of his "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."

We realize that here is the heart of the story. Chopin is showing us that relationships are not always what they appear to be as viewed from the outside. Mr. and Mrs. Mallard may have seemed to have a good, healthy relationship, but he was a domineering husband. In the prevailing culture of the time, which dictated that the man was the head of the household, there was nothing Louise could do about it. Now that her husband is dead, she can live a long life free to do what she wants. We see, then, that Louise Mallard's inmost desires are the opposite of what they might outwardly appear to be.

At the end of the story, Louise joyfully descends the stairs with her sister, appearing "unwittingly like a goddess of Victory." However, her husband Brently Mallard appears at the door alive and well, and then Louise dies from the shock. Onlookers suppose that she dies of a heart attack brought on by sudden joy, but because of the thoughts that have been passing through her mind only moments before, readers realize that she dies from the horrifying realization that her dreams of freedom will not be fulfilled.

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Kate Chopin’s short story “The Story of an Hour” argues the importance of self-discovery and personal freedom. In the story, Mrs. Louise Mallard learns that her husband has died in a train accident. Instead of reacting in an expected way, tears of sadness over her loss, she retreats to her room and begins to imagine the new world that waits for her without him.

She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister's arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her.

In her room, she sits and looks out the window. As she calms down, she sees the blue sky beyond the storm clouds, a symbol of the freedom waiting for her now that her husband is gone. In fact, as her “storm of grief” passes her the realization that she is “free, free, free!” escapes her as she talks to herself about her new life. This recognition gives her power as for the first time she looks at her hands and considers all that she can do with them. She continues to describe this new world, a long and happy life, where she would be in charge of her own life and able to make decisions for herself.

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.

Her death at the end comes suddenly. In the hour since learning of her husband’s death she’s realized that though she loved her husband, her life was not her own. When she comes downstairs, “unwittingly like a goddess of Victory,” she had accepted his death and had already begun to move on. Seeing her husband come through the front door, alive and well, killed all of her hopes and dreams for the future. Unable to handle the idea of losing her newfound freedom, she dies.

Much like her life with Brently Mallard, even her death is misunderstood. Having watched her transformation, the reader knows that her death comes after her self-discovery. Threatened with having to put aside her own desires for her husband is too much for her. Even the doctor misdiagnoses her death. He believes that she was so happy to see her husband alive that her heart gave out: “When the doctors came, they said she had died of heart disease—of joy that kills.”

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