In The Story of an Hour, discuss Mrs. Mallard's conflict in the story and how she deals with the conflict.

Expert Answers
Stephen Holliday eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mrs. Mallard has a couple of conflicts to handle in "The Story of an Hour."  Her first conflict is what to do as a newly-widowed woman in the late 19thC, and the second is what to do as a newly-free woman in the 19thC.

When she hears of Brently Mallard's death in the train wreck, she has what appears to be a normal woman's grief--we're told she cries in "wild abandonment," a completely understandable response from a woman who has lost not only her husband, presumably a loved one, but also the economic center of her universe.  We are on notice, of course, that she has a weak heart, and other characters in the story are obviously concerned about the effect of this news  and take pains to break it to her as gently as possible.

The second, and significantly more important, conflict arises after Mrs. Mallard goes upstairs and, perhaps partly prompted by all the life-affirming signs outside her window, she decides, after significant struggle to deny her reaction, that she likes the idea of her husband's death because she is "free, free, free" from the repression of the institution of marriage.  Part of her conflict resides in her description of her husband as kind and loving--he is clearly not a problem in this marriage.  The problem is marriage itself, which limits her overriding drive to be self-assertive.

Mrs. Mallard clearly, at first, feels somewhat guilty about her sense of freedom when she envisions all the years of freedom ahead of her, but, just as clearly, she embraces this vision of freedom or, perhaps more accurately, the lack of repression.  The difference between what she should be feeling and what she is actually feeling is, perhaps, the real conflict in this story.

At the end, we know how she has resolved this conflict.  She is so transported by the idea of freedom, of all the years ahead being hers alone, that when Brently Mallard walks through the door, Mrs. Mallard drops dead, not from overjoy, of course, but from the realization that she has nothing to look forward to except continued repression.  She has resolved this critical conflict by checking out entirely, a very effective way of dealing with perpetual unhappiness.

Read the study guide:
The Story of an Hour

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question