What lessons can be learned from "The Story Of An Hour"?

2 Answers | Add Yours

billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

One lesson that everybody can and should learn from Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" is that marriage is a very complicated relationship. Many young couples start off thinking that they will stay in love forever. But it seldom, if ever, works out that way. In fact, there is nothing in life that is perfect. Everything changes. Mrs. Mallard evidently loves her husband, but marriage has required her to put up with a lot of things she hardly even knew she resented. When she hears the news that her husband Brently had been killed in a railroad accident she is overcome with grief.

She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. 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.

But after she has finished weeping and is alone in the privacy of her room, she begins to realize that her husband's apparent death is not without its compensations. Mainly, his death has given her new freedom and a new lease on life. She no longer has to play the single, stultifying role of a housewife, a submissive possession of a dominant male. 

Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. 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 the breath: "free, free, free!" The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.

Although Kate Chopin does not say it in so many words, Mrs. Mallard is realizing that she no longer has to be a sex object. This was not something authors wrote about in Chopin's day. Girls were brought up to be completely ignorant about matters of sex. They were taught that they should not, and did not, have sexual desires of their own. That was something limited to men, and something that women had to put up with once they were married--but not something they were supposed to enjoy. As a result, many women were frigid and found sexual intercourse with their own husbands an unpleasant experience which recurred only too often. Mrs. Mallard's sensations of freedom and joy probably have a lot to do with her realization that she no longer has to be available to satisfy her husband's physical needs--although this verboten subject is hardly even hinted at in Chopin's story.

Of course, Mrs. Mallard receives a fatal shock when she is informed that her husband is not dead after all. The shock may come from an overwhelming combination of relief and disappointment. Her husband is alive. She does not have to grieve from him. But she has to go back into that same role from which she thought she had been freed by his death. Marriage is a complex and ambivalent relationship. It is certainly not a relationship to be entered into lightly--although many people think they are in "love" and will be in love forever. 

Sources:
litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I agree.  I also think that one of the things you learn from this story is that you need to live your own life.  I think this is why Louise only lives for an hour.  

Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband's death.

They are worried that she will die of grief, when in fact it may be more accurate to say she dies of joy.  It amounts to the same thing, though, because she is still dead!  Life is short.  She lived that entire time in the loveless marriage because that is what people are expected to do.  That is what women are expected to do, specifically, especially at the time of the story in the late 1800's.

By emphasizing that all of the events of the story take place in only an hour, Chopin is telling us that everything can be taken from us at any time.  Louise goes through a whirlwind of emotions during that time.  She goes from grief to joy to relief.  She gets to be relieved for so little time before she is dead.  

When she first experiences joy, she does not even know what it is.  She is a good person, and good people are not happy when their husbands die.

She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her. ... 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.

Louise understands that the difficulties of her marriage are now behind her, and she can go on with her life.  Unfortunately, this does not happen for her.  Sometimes lives are cut short in the happiest moments.  By ending Louise's life here, the author is sending a message to us to live our lives to the fullest, and not allow ourselves to be trapped.   When a situation is not working, we have to do something about it.  At lease she died happy!

Life is complex, and relationships are complex.  None are more complex than marriage.  You should not give up on something without giving it a fighting chance, for sure.  However, you certainly should not waste your life either.  I believe the author's message is that you need to control your own destiny.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,926 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question