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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin
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What are the internal and external conflicts in "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin?

In "The Story of an Hour," Kate Chopin demonstrates both internal and external conflicts. Internally, Louise struggles with mixed feelings about her husband's death. She loves and mourns him but is also happy to be free of him and looks forward to living for herself for a change. Externally, Louise is shocked and disappointed to discover that her husband is, in fact, alive.

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Louise Mallard's external conflict is with a society that expects herself to define herself through her husband and bend herself to his will—and to be grieved when she hears a report of his death. More profoundly, she realizes that a wife can also bend a husband to her will. She...

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Louise Mallard's external conflict is with a society that expects herself to define herself through her husband and bend herself to his will—and to be grieved when she hears a report of his death. More profoundly, she realizes that a wife can also bend a husband to her will. She rejects the idea that anyone has the "right" to impose their will or dominion on another.

Her internal conflict is between the grief she experiences over her husband's death—he was, after all, good to her—and the elation she feels once the first wave of grief passes: she is filled with relief and a sense of rising potential. Instead of being sad, as is expected, she becomes alive with all the possibilities before her as a single woman. For the first time in her adult life, she can do what she wants without having to consider another person. As happiness floods her, she begins to repeat over and over that she is "free, free, free!" She realizes that she is "Free! Body and soul free!"

Mrs. Mallard now hopes she will have a long life in which to experience her newfound sense of autonomy. However, as she leaves the room where she has been sitting alone, her internal conflict comes to a head: she sees Mr. Mallard enter the house. The reports of his death were wrong. The conflict between her desire for freedom and this reality is too much, and she dies.

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Louise Mallard's external conflict is with society, not with her husband. In fact, she acknowledges that

she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead.

Her problem is with marriage and the fact that she, as a woman, has practically no rights within a marriage at the end of the nineteenth century. Legally, her husband has the right to make all of the decisions for their family, and she has had to compromise, apparently, in ways that have led to the narrator's sense that Louise has experienced enough repression to create the lines on her face. Now, Louise thinks,

There would be no one to live for 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. 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.

Now, she can exercise her own will. Her husband was not a bad one, but society determines the ways in which husbands and wives are supposed to act, and her prescribed role is clearly not something that Louise has ever been comfortable with. She does not seem to want another husband, because she does not want to ever feel controlled again.

Her internal conflict is brief. Initially, she seems to have little sense that she is actually feeling relief—relief that she will no longer have to "live for someone else" rather than herself. She seems to try not to feel this way, at first. Soon, however, she begins to understand:

There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? . . . She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will—as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been. When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: "free, free, free!"

In short, Louise relishes her freedom, not from her husband, necessarily, but from her marriage. It was marriage, not the man himself, that caused her problems. Once Louise understands how she is truly feeling, and why, her internal conflict seems to resolve.

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There is one primary external conflict in the story and one internal conflict, but quite cleverly, each manifests itself in two opposite ways. The external conflict is between husband and wife, while the internal conflict is one of freedom versus the imprisonment of the marriage.  In fact, it would not be unreasonable to say that the external and internal conflict are the same.

As the story begins, the wife, Mrs. Mallard, hears of the supposed death of her husband, which the reader is led to believe might be the conflict in the story because the wife suffers from a heart condition, and the news might kill her.  But as the story proceeds, we see the wife as a bird in a gilded cage, someone for whom the husband's death would provide freedom from what we begin to see as conflict between husband and wife.  The wife, we begin to understand, has been trapped in a marriage in which her husband dominated her, which has created a conflict within her, wanting freedom and being caught in the marriage, simultaneously internal and external conflict.

But as the story ends, we learn that Mr. Mallard is alive, and this is the external conflict that kills Mrs. Mallard, who saw, for a brief moment, a vision of a solution to her internal conflict, the freedom that Mr. Mallard's death would have brought her.  It is the cessation of that dream that is responsible for her death, a conflict between the hopefulness and the sudden  restoration of hopelessness.

 

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In her short story entitled "The Story of an Hour," Kate Chopin demonstrates both internal and external conflicts. As implied by the title, the story takes place during a one-hour-long time span, during which Louise Mallard is informed of and processes her husband's supposed death.

Louise experiences internal conflict after receiving news of Brently's death. She struggles to process and understand her feelings. She loves her husband and part of her is devastated by his passing. Her initial reaction is crying "with sudden, wild abandonment." After sitting alone for a while, reflecting on the news of her husband's death, Louise begins to feel hopeful and glad. She whispers to herself, "free, free, free!" She feels liberated for the first time in a long time and looks forward to living for herself for a change:

There would be no one to live for 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.

Just the previous day, Louise viewed the future with a sense of dread, but after hearing of her husband's demise, she is enthusiastic about the future:

She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.

The story also illustrates external conflict. Approximately one hour after receiving news of her husband's death, Louise is shocked and disappointed to find that Brently is alive. He was nowhere near the scene of the railroad accident thought to have killed him and is unaware that the accident even occurred. Upon seeing her husband alive, Louise has a heart attack and dies. Her doctors, ironically, believe that her heart attack is the result of being overjoyed at the sight of her living husband. They say she died of "the joy that kills."

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The short story "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin tells of a young woman with a weak heart, Mrs. Mallard, who hears that her husband has been suddenly killed in a train accident. As expected, she bursts into tears. However, after she goes to be alone in a room upstairs, she realizes that she is ultimately happy, not sad, about her husband's death, because she will be free of his domineering influence and able to make her own decisions in life. When Mrs. Mallard unexpectedly discovers that her husband is still alive, she dies of a heart attack.

When you are writing your essay, keep in mind that the inner conflict in this tale involves Mrs. Mallard's struggle to accept what she really feels in her heart. She admits to herself that she had sometimes loved her husband, but she is glad to be free of his influence.

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.

The internal conflict, therefore, is between her love for her husband and how society expects her to feel about his death, and the relief and freedom she truly feels in being out from under his influence and no longer subservient to his demands.

The outer conflicts in the story involve the people around her who have expectations of how she should react, the physical condition of her weak heart, and the actual relationship that she has with her husband, the dread of which causes her to fall down dead at the end of the story.

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