The Story of an Hour Characters
The main characters in "The Story of an Hour" are Louise Mallard, Brently Mallard, and Louise's sister Josephine.
- Louise Mallard is a young woman who suffers from a heart condition. Her grief over her husband's supposed death transforms into joy as she reflects that his death means she is longer beholden to anyone but herself. She dies of a heart attack after Brently arrives home alive.
- Brently Mallard is Louise's husband, who is presumed dead. His reappearance leads to Louise's fatal heart attack.
- Josephine is Louise's sister, who gently informs Louise of Brently's supposed death.
Last Updated on July 15, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 911
Louise Mallard is the protagonist of the short story, and she represents a rather bleak vision of an unsatisfied Victorian wife. She is described as young, fair, and frail, with a weak heart. Those around her conspire to break the news of her husband’s supposed death gently, lest they upset her delicate health. Louise’s initial reaction to the news of Brently’s death is noted as unusual in that she reacts with immediate grief rather than shock or disbelief. Though Louise’s initial grief seems genuine, her quick acceptance of Brently’s death foreshadows her eventual shift from grief to elation. She mourns for the man that she professes to have “sometimes” loved, but his death is not so unwelcome a prospect as to render her mute with disbelief.
After retiring to her room, Louise’s grief slowly subsides, and she begins to realize that Brently’s death may give her the opportunity to live freely, something she finds herself desperately craving. She enters a sort of frenzy, becoming increasingly invigorated by the prospect of a life without her husband. Her reflections on her married life suggest that she feels stifled and unfulfilled. Though her husband is loving and provides for her, she can only find it within herself to love him “sometimes.” Late-nineteenth-century marriage was defined by the ideal of the submissive, selfless wife and the strong, capable husband. Louise seems to have upheld this ideal, remarking that in the wake of Brently’s death, she will have no one to live for except for herself, which implies that previously, she lived for Brently.
Though Louise could be interpreted as a callous and uncaring wife, Chopin frames her more as someone who has been twisted by circumstance. Louise does not hate Brently, and she admits that she genuinely did love him sometimes. Instead, it is the institution of marriage that she resents, as it renders her unequal and subservient to her husband. This resentment of marriage and its effects on her status corrupted Louise’s relationship with Brently as a man, and she cannot help the “monstrous joy” that overtakes at the thought of being free of him. His sudden reappearance at the end of the story leads to her death, which the doctors attribute to an overabundance of joy at the fact that Brently is alive. However, in light of Louise’s revelations, it seems more likely that a combination of grief, shock, and hopelessness killed her. Indeed, with her husband miraculously alive, death is effectively the only escape she has from the drudgery of her unfulfilling life, suggesting that perhaps her death is not entirely tragic.
Brently Mallard is Louise’s husband. He is mistakenly reported dead after a railway accident, leading Richards to report the false information to Louise. Louise is initially upset by the news of his death, crying hysterically to her sister. However, she comes to view Brently’s death as a positive event, one that grants her freedom. Louise characterizes Brently as a loving and kind husband, but she was only sometimes able to love him in return. Due to his role as a husband in a late-nineteenth-century marriage, Brently became Louise’s oppressor, someone who dared to “impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.” Whether his role in Louise’s unhappiness was intentional or not, Brently was responsible for preventing Louise from the “possession of self-assertion” she craved. His sudden appearance at the end of the story, having been nowhere near the site of the accident, causes Louise to die, presumably from shock and dismay at the implication of his continued existence.
Josephine is Louise’s sister. Despite Richards being the one to report the news of Brently’s death, it is Josephine who informs Louise of the accident, indicating the belief that Josephine is better equipped to comfort her sister through Louise’s inevitable grief. Josephine acts as a comforting presence throughout the story, worrying over her sister from outside the door. However, her belief that Louise will make herself ill with grief highlights Josephine’s limited understanding of Louise. Her repeated requests for Louise to open to the door are tinged with exasperated exclamations such as “for heaven’s sake.” This underlying frustration taints her obvious care for Louise, whom Josephine seems to view more as a child that must be protected from herself than as a capable adult.
Richards is Brently’s friend and the first person to receive notice of Brently’s apparent death. He hurries to the Mallard residence to break the news to Louise in the hopes of preventing someone else from delivering the news in a less “tender” manner. Richards is defined by poor timing, as he delivers the news of Brently’s death too early and blocks the returned Brently from Louise’s view too late.
Though the doctors do not appear directly in the story, their description of Louise’s heart attack as being caused by “the joy that kills” provides a final instance of irony. In the late nineteenth century, nearly all doctors would have been men, and their inability to conceive of a world where a woman was displeased by her husband’s apparently miraculous return from the dead leads them to conclude that Louise died from joy rather than horror. Their ruling on the cause of Louise’s death reasserts a patriarchal narrative over the newly emancipated Louise, denying her freedom and understanding even in death.
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