The short story, “Story of an Hour”, by Kate Chopin affirms that liberation is an extremely significant issue, and the means through which women acquired their freedom is remarkable. Chopin attempts to demonstrate the unreasonable life that women experience, and how men controlled every part of their lives.
Mrs. Mallard receives devastating news from her sister-in-law (Josephine) about her husband that he had died following a train accident. In demonstrating women’s liberation, Chopin introduces major themes that revolve around freedom, love and marriage, and socially defined roles among others. The theme of freedom is evident when Mrs. Ballard receives the news about the sudden death of her husband. She feels devastated and runs in her bedroom to wail and rejoice at the same time. Although she feels distressed by the unexpected death of her husband, she is also happy about it since now she can exercise her freedom without any restraints. She experiences the excitement of freedom instead of despair of loneliness. The message conveyed by Chopin in the story challenges the stereotypical role that a woman has to play during that period, especially when married to a man that believes it is right before God and society to control their wives. Mr. Brently was unkind to his wife on purpose. He did not allow her to exercise her independence or be herself, which is wrong .Unfortunately for Mrs. Mallard, the perceived freedom is short-lived as she learns that her husband is still alive. The devastating news kills Mrs. Mallard at the end of the story.
Interpretation of the Story
In 1894, Kate Chopin wrote the “Story of an Hour”. In that era, women were voiceless in society. They had no political or voting rights. Their appearance in the public was perceived as disrespect. They would only appear in public when accompanied by their husbands. In her study Heilmann (87) asserts that women had no power to do or say anything social, economic, or political in society. As well Cannon reckons that the roles of this gender were confined to the household chores, including giving birth, cooking, and taking care of the family On the other hand, men/husbands were the breadwinners and offered security to the family. The society required women to disengage from activities perceived to be men’s roles and their views and opinions were considered irrelevant. They were even not allowed to reveal their desires or feelings publicly. They would not dare share with anyone or even amongst themselves about their frame of mind or their rights. It was a period entirely dominated by men, and women lived a life of silence and isolation from society.
Kate Chopin lived in such an era when the rights of women were unheard of. Therefore, she uses female characters to emphasize their predicament in such a hostile environment. Chopin is famous for writing short stories revolving around women that experience violence and discrimination. Nevertheless, most of the stories that Chopin has written about women take on a different perspective. Most of the female characters as revealed by Chopin in her stories choose their destiny or use a different path rather than what the society expects them to pursue. In the end, women achieve what they truly desire in their life.
A major theme in Chopin’s story is freedom. The first scene of the story introduces Mrs. Mallard who receives news about the death of her husband. The initial reaction of Mrs. Mallard is similar to any other person who may receive such devastating news about the demise of a loved one. However, as mentioned earlier, a woman was never supposed to express her emotions publicly and Mrs. Mallard seems to understand better. It is a type of society that is uncaring and harsh to the women. The society expects Mrs. Ballard to grief but not to demonstrate her sorrow or even weep publicly .Weeping or wailing publicly was seen as a sign of disrespect and one would face severe consequences. The society had already established the norms that defined their way of life. It was a life that women despised but without any alternative to better their lives. Therefore, death was their ultimate solution. Life without freedom is not life at all and that is the message Chopin tries to convey to the readers in this story. The author lays out the message clearly through Mrs. Mallard’s predicaments. Her joy lasts for one hour only. She had no life before, and she will have none afterward. It is ironical that the happiness she has gained for a short while cannot be retained any longer. Her joy does not matter at all, but rather her husband’s who is like a God to her. The society expects her to mourn but not express it publicly. Only Mrs. Ballard knows that her soul is liberated. She seems to enjoy the freedom seated in a room isolated from the rest of the world with its windows wide open to invite fresh air in her life. Nonetheless, the sparrows are silent because death has taken away her husband’s life. Mrs. Mallard has decided to liberate herself and before the society can shackle her back to the old life, her soul has traversed to her own world.
Social customs and traditions also play a significant role in this story. Chopin examines how the society, its customs, and traditions can limit the roles of a person. For example, a wife should experience shock as well as moan at the news of her husband’s death. It is expected for husbands and wives to love each other. The love between Mr. Ballard and Mrs. Ballard is weak, but Mrs. Mallard has to show deep grief and distress after receiving the news. It is because society expects her to behave in such a manner. Chopin shows that being a wife in such a society is not easy. Mrs. Mallard has to stay in her room, hide her true emotions, and adore her husband. In this society, wives and mothers live in a confined environment where all their actions in life occur inside the confinements of their home. As noted by Chopin, Mrs. Mallard feels happy inside and liberated, but she cannot express it in front of other people. The news about the death of Mr. Ballard sounded as a rebirth for her. She expected to experience a new life altogether. A similar term to rebirth as noted by Johnson is sanctification. When a baby is born, it needs to be sanctified. The same case for Mrs. Mallard, she is experiencing some cleansing to attain her freedom of doing whatever she desires without being questioned by anyone
Mrs. Mallard understands that her life belongs to herself and not subjected to any person. During those times, women were perceived as part of the property and men could use them as they desired. Mrs. Ballard felt liberated by the death of her husband. She will now live her life the way she desires without being chained by any man. Although it is very clear that Mrs. Ballard feels wicked for rejoicing her sovereignty at the expense of her husband’s death, she is quite aware that her life will have some meaning, which is something that was missing in that society, especially for the married women. The aspect of having personal freedom is so overwhelming that she almost forgets about the incident that had befallen her. After a moment of delight in her room, Mrs. Ballard opens the door and walks down the stairs. Everything happening around Mrs. Ballard seems comical. The things harbored in the hearts of people are entirely different from what is observed externally. It is a hypocritical society. Their pretense is very evident. Furthermore, Chopin (10-12) notes that the society cannot even allow Mrs. Ballard to mourn her husband in peace but are very keen observing her moves to ensure that she sticks to the established norms. Mrs. Ballard is aware of their intentions and that is why she runs into her bedroom. When she comes out of her room she wears a mournful look to align with the expectations of the society
However, the freedom that had lasted for about an hour ends following the unexpected appearance of her husband. Mr. Mallard is unaware of his death. He was not even near the train incident that had seemingly killed him. The return of Mr. Mallard halted the freedom and joy that Mrs. Mallard had already embraced in her life. She never imagined tolerating the harsh and unbearable marriage life again. She collapsed and died before the arrival of the doctors. Her death, as revealed by the doctors, was caused by a heart problem. The shock of envisaging her old life was unbearable.
The paper has attempted to interpret the “Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin by discussing several themes evidence in the story. First, the theme of freedom is evident following the news about the death of Mr. Ballard. Mrs. Ballard has mixed feelings of joy and sadness. On the one hand, she feels happy because of the freedom she would enjoy without any limits. On the other hand, the death of her husband is devastating because the society has set norms that the survival of a woman entirely depends on the man. In the 18th century, the society was male-dominated, in that, women were rendered voiceless. The roles of women had been confined to either being a wife or a mother. The men/husbands were the breadwinners and offered security to the family. The society compelled women to disengage from any activities that would empower or render them relevant in society. They were expected to keep their views and opinions to themselves. They were not even allowed to express or even reveal their desires or feelings. Mrs. Ballard faced similar predicaments. Therefore, the death of her husband came as a relief. Chopin notes that immediately Mrs. Ballard received the news about the death of her husband, she felt relieved for the first time. She was overwhelmed by the extent of freedom that she would enjoy in the foreseeable future. However, the freedom was cut short by the unexpected appearance of her husband.
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