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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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What can be inferred about Mrs. Mallard's marriage in "The Story of an Hour"?

In "The Story of an Hour," it can be inferred from Mrs. Mallard's reaction to the news of her husband's death that her marriage was a conventional and confining one. Her husband treated her kindly, but she is nevertheless thrilled to be free.

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We can infer that Mrs. Mallard's marriage was based more on she and Mr. Mallard playing their appropriate roles as husband and wife rather than on a deep affinity or intimacy between them.

Mrs. Mallard is upset at her husband's reported death. Alone, thinking about him, she makes clear that he was not a bad husband to her. She recalls that his face had always looked with love on her. She thinks,

And yet she had loved him—sometimes. Often she had not.

From these statements we can infer that he loved her more than she loved him.

Mrs. Mallard's marriage was not entirely satisfying to her, as she realizes when the implications of her husband's death dawn on her. She moves from grief to feelings of joy and liberation because she is "free." She realizes she can do whatever she wants and not have to bend her will to another person's. She is thrilled at the possibilities opening up before her to live in her own way.

We can infer that she has had a very conventional and possibly dull marriage and that now she can break loose. We can also infer from the ending that she had not realized how oppressive her marriage was until she saw the alternative. Her shock, which leads her to die of a heart attack when she sees that her husband is not dead after all, suggests that she was not willing to go back to being married after her brief taste of freedom.

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Readers can infer two main things about Mrs. Mallard's marriage based on her reaction to her husband's reported death. One thing that can be inferred is that she loves her husband. We are not told that she has to fake her sadness or her tears.

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.

They are legitimate tears of sorrow. Her husband has been a faithful companion and provider for her for however many years they have been together. The narrator flat out tells readers that Mrs. Mallard loved her husband.

And yet she had loved him—sometimes.

It's the "sometimes" that leads readers into other inferences about their marriage. A few lines later, readers get the following quote.

"Free! Body and soul free!" she kept whispering.

Mrs. Mallard is very excited at what life holds for her now that her husband is no longer a part of it. She is free to pursue her own interests. She is free to do what she wants to do when she wants to do it.

But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome.

There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would...

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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.

Readers can see that her marriage wasn't necessarily a marriage in which her husband supported her in the same way that she supported him. We are told that Brently bent her will into following his lead and his desires. This is no longer the case now that he is dead. Perhaps readers could call her marriage stifling, suffocating, uneven, or one-sided.

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Given her initial reaction to the news that her husband had been killed, we might suppose that Mrs. Mallard's marriage was very good and filled with love and devotion. The narrator says, "She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister's arms." Mrs. Mallard then retreats to her room to grieve some more. Such a dramatic reaction suggests that she had truly loved her husband and the news at losing him is devastating. 

But this initial reaction is just that: mostly a reaction. It is the reaction of a woman who had been playing the role of a dutiful, loyal wife. In this role, she had been fully dependent upon her husband. So, some portion of her dramatic grieving is the result of losing the person upon whom she depended so much. The reaction stems from living this role. 

When she begins to experience her new feelings of freedom and independence, it becomes clear that, while her marriage might have been good on the surface, her spirit had actually been repressed. So, her initial reaction of grief seems to have stemmed from that role of the loyal wife. But with her great awakening of independence, she reveals that her true happiness had been repressed by that role of living for her husband, rather than living 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. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination. 

No longer burdened by her husband's will, she feels liberated from that old role. She can now live for herself. Given this discovery of happiness in independence, the conclusion is that their marriage was functional. There may have been some degree of genuine love, but this was all on the surface. Inside, Mrs. Mallard's spirit was oppressed to the point that she repressed any notion of living for her own happiness. In that respect, the conclusion is that the marriage was deeply flawed because Mr. Mallard did not know how to, or simply would not understand and encourage his wife's free will and happiness. 

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How might Mr. Mallard describe his marriage in "The Story of an Hour"?

In Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour,” Mr. Mallard would likely describe his marriage as happy and satisfying, for he would have no real reason to think otherwise. After all, his wife admits to herself that his hands have always been kind and tender towards her, and his face has always been filled with love.

What’s more, Mrs. Mallard does love her husband, at least sometimes. Other times she has not, but she likely never showed that. She has been the obedient wife, the keeper of their home. Her husband would have no reason to expect that she ever thought anything else, and indeed, Mrs. Mallard has not realized it either until she believes her husband to be dead. Then a world of freedom opens up before her that she has never thought of. She can live for herself now instead of for her husband. This implies, of course, that Mrs. Mallard has been living for her husband. Mr. Mallard likely would not have thought of it in those terms, but his marriage would certainly have been comfortable for him with such a wife.

Indeed, Mr. Mallard likely never learns of any of his wife’s reactions to his supposed death, for the moment he walks through the door, very much alive, Mrs. Mallard’s heart gives out, and she falls down dead. The doctor says she has died of a “joy that kills.” Mr. Mallard has no reason to think otherwise, and therefore, his memories cling to his happy marriage even in his grief.

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