What symbolism is used in Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour"?
In addition to the symbols of hope that the springtime present--the blue sky, singing birds, and "delicious breath of rain"--there are three symbols within Mrs. Mallard's house that are significant. The door to Mrs. Mallard's bedroom, the open window, and the front door of her house each represent a part of what happens to Mrs. Mallard during this eventful "story of an hour."
First, the door to Mrs. Mallard's room represents her mind and soul's inner sanctum. She retreats to her room and closes her door, staying there so long that her sister bows outside, looks through the keyhole, and begs her to open the door. That door represents her private thought life, her ability to consider her own needs for once, separate from the needs of anyone else, even those who love her. This is where she is able to indulge her true feelings without concern for what others will think of her.
The open window is symbolic of the years of opportunity that spread out before her now. She spreads her arms out to welcome the years that will now belong to her absolutely.
Finally, the front door of her home represents the public world that she must live in. It is through the front door that Mr. Richards and Josephine have presumably entered, and it is through the front door that her husband enters. This is the world that places demands upon her, either with "a kind intention or a cruel intention." The fact that Brently Mallard, her husband, has "a latchkey" to this door shows his ownership of her outer life--his ability to "impose a private will" upon her. The disconnect between her inner life and the outer life imposed upon her, now completely illuminated for the first time, is the shock that stops her heart.
Mrs. Mallard's heart trouble is a symbol of the way in which she feels crushed and imprisoned by her marriage. Her heart trouble is not just physical, it is also psychological in nature. As other educators have noted, the open window before which she stands is a symbol of the freedom she experiences upon hearing that her husband has died. The sparrows that Mrs. Mallard hears in the trees are also symbols of the freedom she has long desired, as are the spring and summer days that she imagines as she stands, arms outstretched before the windows. Her outstretched arms also symbolize her freedom, in contrast to her visions of her husband's hands, folded in death. His hands represent ties that bind and imprison her. In the end, her husband shows up, his hands gripping a sack and umbrella. His hands again stand for responsibility, for carrying the cares and restrictions of the world, unlike Mrs. Mallard's open arms that reached for the sky when she thought she was free.
Much of the symbolism used in "The Story of an Hour" is meant to symbolize the freedom and happiness that Louise Mallard has longed for throughout her marriage, perhaps even throughout her entire life. First, her name is a symbol, the name of a duck that can fly free. There are other birds used as symbols in the story, the "countless sparrows" that "were twittering in the eaves." Other natural elements are symbols of freedom, the open window and "patches of blue sky." Additionally, there is a symbol of freedom in the "open square" she sees outside her window. The hints of spring and the sound of a man singing represent happiness, happiness that Louise Mallard seems to have been deprived of, at the very least, in her marriage.
For further analysis of the story, watch this video: