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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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In responding to Kate Chopin's tale "The Story of an Hour," do you condemn Mrs. Mallard for reacting with such callousness to her husband's death?

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Mrs. Mallard lived in a society that, presumably, gave very little opportunities to women to succeed on their own. Moreover, she was ill and possibly unable to support herself independently, even if she had the chance to do it.

Living with circumstantial limitations is bad enough. When, to that, you add a physical/internal limitation the frustration can be quite searing.

Yet, her issues do not stop there. She has yet another limitation: An emotional limitation of feeling toward her husband. She does not love him. She seeks freedom. She cannot solve either of those problems. Now what we see is a woman trapped in three different ways, and none is better than the other.

It is no wonder why the sudden vision of herself getting rid of at least ONE of those limitations sent her into an extreme and intense surge of joy that, literally, only death itself could have extinguished. And it did.

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Not me.  Seeing her as callous would be like seeing a slave as callous if they rejoiced over the death of their master.  In a sense, Chopin is showing how marriage enslaves women and makes them totally subject to their husbands' desires.  If we accept this, Louise's reaction seems normal rather than callous.  She is understandably happy when she is given a chance to lead life on her own terms.  This is not callous.

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I do not see Mrs Mallard's reaction as callous. In fact, the realisation that she can think and be for herself is as liberating for the reader as it is for Louisa. It is a complex reaction, unorthodox and subversive, but nonetheless energising. Louisa is bewildered and awed by her reaction, the narrative refers to a 'monstrous joy'. She has loved her husband, and will grieve for him, but she sees herself, probably for the first time, as an individual whose future can be determined through control of herself rather than the control of a husband.  

Louisa has considered the grim prospect of a long life with her husband, and is then invigorated at the idea of being 'free' to think and live as she chooses. There would be no other socially acceptable way in which a woman would be able to be released from the fetters of male dominance as she would move from the rule of her father to her husband. Louisa is not callous as her feelings are intense, privately comtemplated and completely understandable in the social context in which she is bound. Through the character of Louisa, Chopin shows us a human, reaction, a feminist reaction. Some may see this as callous: I do not.

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Some readers do indeed condemn Mrs. Mallard for what they consider the callous nature of her reaction to her husband’s death. Among the arguments the make are the following:

  1. Mrs. Mallard is financially privileged and does not seem to appreciate either her economic good fortune or the extent to which her good fortune depends upon her husband’s hard work.
  2. Although Mrs. Mallard...

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  1. believes that her marriage has restricted her freedom, she is far more capable of enjoying a free life than were most men and women of her era. Because she is financially privileged, thanks to her husband’s efforts, she enjoys far more liberty than the working poor, such as the street vendor she hears outside.
  2. The mere fact that Mrs. Mallard is white gives her far more liberty, automatically, than any non-white person was likely to enjoy in her society and in her era.
  3. Since Mrs. Mallard is wealthy, it is safe to assume that her husband’s death will not hurt her financially. She seems to anticipate no financial hardship as a result of his passing.
  4. Mrs. Mallard concedes that her husband was a kind man, but she fails to reciprocate his kindness, barely giving him a moment’s thought.
  5. Instead of planning to spend the rest of her life in service to others (such as the poor or the handicapped), Mrs. Mallard seems to look forward to a life of total independence, unencumbered by any need to be significantly involved with others.

For a highly revisionary discussion of Mrs. Mallard, see the following article:

Berkove, Lawrence I. "Fatal Self-Assertion in Kate Chopin's 'The Story of an Hour'." American Literary Realism 32.2 (Winter 2000): 152-158

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

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.

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