The Story of an Hour
Gender inequality and discrimination have been one of the most challenging problems of the modern society. One of the most prominent women right activists of the 19th century, Kate Chopin, in The Story of an Hour speaks about the women’s freedom and the obstacles that the woman encounters during her marriage. In her short story, Chopin shows how a woman loses her freedom once she is married and how she becomes her husband’s property. This essay will analyze the plot structure of the story and outline the most important themes raised by the author.
Kate Chopin is a women right activist who always tried to express her viewpoints in her writings. It the beginning of her career, the readers used to consider Chopin’s works slick fiction. It took the audience some time to realize that the author’s stories expressed her own point of view. The main themes of her work are women’s independence and freedom, which is demonstrated not only in The Story of an Hour, but in her other writings. Social problems and challenges depicted by Chopin proved to be unacceptable by the community of her time. The Awakening, Chopin’s novel written in 1899 portrayed the story of a married woman who wanted to have an affair with another man. The theme of woman’s adultery was not approved by the society, and the author’s career and reputation were severely damaged. The Story of an Hour, covers the similar topic and is partly autobiographical. Chopin was married at the age of twenty, lived out and mourned her husband. After his death, the woman had an affair with a married man.
The Story of an Hour, published in 1894, narrates the story of a married woman, Louise Mallard, who suffers from a heart trouble and whose husband, Brently Mallard, dies in a train disaster. This news is brought to his family by his friend Richard, but since Louise has a heart disorder, her sister is afraid of telling her the news about her husband’s death. She is afraid that this news may kill Louise and tries to use some “broken sentences”. Louise cries and mourns her husband. After mourning her husband, she goes to her room and spends some time there. She starts thinking about her future life and discovers that now she is free. She starts making plans for how she is going to spend her life and she likes the idea. Then her sister comes back and asks her to go downstairs. Louise does this and finds her husband standing right in front of her, alive. At this moment she dies of a heart attack. The doctor later decides that the heart attack that killed her was out of an overwhelming joy because her husband did not die and went back to her alive. According to the doctor, her weak heart could not stand the joy and she consequently died.
In this work, Chopin tries to make every sentence important. Due to the literature form of a short story, every sentence is filled with valuable meaning, as there is no room for flashbacks or any background information. This writing speaks about one hour from the moment Louise receives the news about her husband’ death till the time she herself dies from a heart attack. Chopin’s introduction speaks about Louise’s situation and the health problems she has as she prepares readers to understand that this fact will play a major role in the story. The rising action comes when the heroine receives the news about her husband’s death. Her reaction is spontaneous and clear when it comes to any married woman. Here Chopin wants to explain that the behavior, feelings, and thoughts of a married woman do not necessary derive from what she really believes in; rather it is a must according to her society. In the story, Louise unconsciously follows the social rules of her community. This element is the key for further actions that occurr in the story as Louise realizes that now she is free and is able to lead her own free life. She can now plan for her future life without any duties or commitments. The story reaches its climax when her husband returns home alive. It represents the destruction of her plans because now she must go back to her normal life again. The climax is followed by falling action when the heroine herself dies because of the shock that affects her weakened heart. This means that the few moments of freedom that she imagined living have now slipped away taking her life away. Later, the doctor resolves the problem by saying that the heart attack was caused by her overwhelming joy. This demonstrates that no matter if the woman is dead or alive, people will never give her what she deserves or treat her the way she deserves. Doctor’s description could be considered an ironic moment, as she actually dies because of a big loss and not of a big joy. The narrative hook that attracts the readers from the beginning of the story starts with describing Louise health condition, as this will affect the incident of the story. Readers will look forward to find out how this small detail is connected with the story. Moreover, Chopin attacks the social habits in short story, she focuses on the context and not on the text in her deliberately short sentences.
Louise had a good and a loving husband, yet, for the author this never means that her life is happy. For Chopin, any marriage, even the one which is built on love, turns the woman into a slave because she becomes a property of her husband, similar to any object in the house. Louise realizes this when she starts thinking over her possibilities, and now everything for her has changed. She is now able to hear the sounds coming from the outside and view the scene rays through the open window. She hears the sounds of the birds and people coming from the streets, and she sees the top of the trees and smells the rainy air. Although she could see, smell, and hear all of those things in the past, she never did, and she was not able because her life was devoted only to her husband and her duties. As a wife, she had no time for such simple things. The window at this moment represents her freedom; the outer world that she was forbidden to experience when she was married and her husband was alive. She felt as any prisoner whose only connection with the outer world was a window. The episode with the window is a part of the action, since it represents her salvation and the connection with what she was not been allowed to have only because she was, as she thought at those moments, a married woman. Although she was not literally a prisoner, for her society she definitely was. Only after her husband’s death she is allowed to enjoy the world outside. The open window is a very important symbol in this short story, as it represents the water for the heroine’s soul that is thirsty for freedom. Her moments in front of the window, opening her arms, symbolize the best moments in her life, as she repeats “free” for several times as if she cannot believe herself.
The author uses repetitions to highlight the important points. It is the technique used in this short story alongside with short paragraphs which mostly consist of three or four sentences. Throughout the story, the word “open” is repeated, and when the heroine starts watching the streets and hearing the sounds of the outer world, she wants to have a long life to enjoy her freedom. Before being notified about her husband’s death, life for her was not an important matter. She even wanted a short life to put an end to her imprisoned soul. Nevertheless, now she has started to pray for a long one. This prayer is the only thing that she says and repeats with a loud voice, knowing that she is in her own room and no one can hear her. This also shows that the social habits still hunt her. That is why she says these words only alone in her room after she makes sure that she has lost her husband and free life awaits for her. The moment she stands in front of the window and opens her arms indicates that she is welcoming the new life and is ready to start and enjoy it.
As shown in the very beginning of this short story, the heroine, Louise, has heart problems. The author, Chopin, shows that this trouble is not only physical but also emotional. This trouble also affects her relationship with her husband. Although he was a loving husband, the author tries to show that the main problem is not with the husband himself but with the society in general. Louise’s heart trouble does not cause her death when she hears about her husband’s death; rather it causes her death when she sees him alive in front of her. Death for her represents life, while life represents and causes death. The moment when she sees her husband is the moment when she loses all of the joyful and independent life she has planned. Here again the open window represents freedom; when she looks through it, she experiences freedom, but when she turns her face and goes downstairs, she loses this freedom. She meets her death as she loses her freedom and not out of happiness for seeing her husband alive.
In conclusion, in her short story Kate Chopin shows the struggle between the woman as an object and property of her husband and the social habits that rule the lives of the married women. The Story of an Hour speaks about the freedom of women and how the idea of freedom makes the woman aware of the simple pleasures of the world. The story argues that the loss of the freedom puts an end to any woman’s life. Even after her death, people do not give her a true value when they believe that her death happens out of happiness, though in fact she dies because of the loss of her freedom. No matter in what condition the woman is, people will never give her what she deserves or treat her the way she deserves. This is the idea that the author as a women activist wants to show in her short story.