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Kate Chopin wrote “The Story of an Hour” in 1894. Women were limited in their rights and primarily served in a secondary capacity to her husband. Most women were subservient to their husband and his wishes. The main character in this story is no different than other women in her time period except that she had a heart condition which meant that her health was extremely fragile.
The story literally covers one hour in the life of the protagonist, Louise Mallard. Her debilitating heart condition renders Louise a prisoner in her home. Her husband treats her like a beautiful flower under a glass covering.
When Louise Mallard learns of her husband’s accidental death, she is grief stricken. She loves her husband most of the time. He is a good man. After the initial onslaught of weeping, Louise retires to her room to rest. Her sister, worried for Louise’s health, waits outside her door.
Her bedroom window stands open allowing the spring to come into the room. She sits near the window resting her head. When she looks out on the beautiful day, Louise begins to feel something rising within her. Unaware of what the feeling was, Louise waits powerless to keep the words within her.
“…free, free, free!” She repeated the words over and over.
Louise allowed herself to feel the “monstrous joy” that overwhelmed her. Brantley was dead, and she was free from the restraints of the marriage. She could do whatever she wanted to do. No more eyes watching her every move or telling her what she could or could not do.
“Free! Body and soul free!” she kept whispering. 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!
This was Louise’s epiphany. No one would force her to do something that she did not want to do. The doctors, her husband, her sister---she would choose to do, say, and feel whatever she wanted. This was her greatest desire.
Finally, her sister convinces her to come downstairs with her. Louise prays a quick prayer that life might be long. As she proceeds down the stairs, the front door opens and her husband comes inside. Louise falls to the floor dead from heart disease---“of joy that kills.”
The author uses dramatic irony since the reader knows that Louise did not really want her husband dead; but rather, she wanted her freedom. Louise died from the shock of seeing her dead husband return and knowing that she would not have the freedom that she desired so much.
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