In Kate Chopin’s very short tale titled “The Story of an Hour,” Louise Mallard unexpectedly learns that her husband, Brently, has been killed in a railway accident. She quickly retreats to an upstairs room, collapses into a chair, stares out the window, and then begins to think about her life without her husband.
However, instead of grieving intensely, as many wives might have done, Louise has a somewhat unexpected reaction:
When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under hte 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.
Freedom, then, is the crucial thing Louise desires in this story, including
- freedom to live her life as she wishes
- freedom from the sense of being imposed upon by anyone else
- freedom from stifling affection or from any restrictions, even those resulting from kind motives
- freedom of the sort not granted to many women in her era
As the narrator puts it,
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.
Note that this paragraph implies that men as well as women can feel oppressed by the “blind persistence” of others. This point is too little emphasized in discussion of the story. The paragraph just quoted implies that persons of either gender can deeply desire freedom, and that persons of either gender can obstruct the freedom of others even when acting upon the kindest of motives.