Kate Chopin published her short story “The Story of an Hour”, on December 6, 1894 (Koloski 2019). The story revolves around the character, Louise Mallard, who feels repressed by her marriage to Brently Mallard. She learns that her husband has died because of the railroad disaster, and she feels as if freedom from her marriage was within her grasp, only to find out he was alive. Then, she dies, ironically, at the end. The setting of the story takes place in England in the late 19th century. During the Victorian era, women were expected to desire marriage and becoming a mother, so it is no wonder that Louise felt an overwhelming sense of freedom when she learns of her husband’s death (Hughes 2014). I believe that Kate Chopin’s character, Louise Mallard, embodies her desire for freedom and individualism from a society restricted belief of how married women should behave in marriage.
The short story starts off with the death of Brently Mallard, Louise’s husband, and how her sister, Josephine, and Brently’s friend, Richard, tries to break the news to Louise gently because she had heart trouble, symbolizes problems of love in her marriage. When Mrs. Mallard learns of the news, she requested to go up to her room alone. In the room, she sat down on the chair and began to sob in grief, at first, but then realizes she will live the rest of her life entirely to herself, as she whispered under her breath, “free, free, free!” (Page 570). Louise drank in the “very elixir of life through that open window”, and the “open window” represents new opportunities that are now available to her, and the “elixir of life” symbolizes Louise’s rebirth into a favorable new life (Page 570). She then descends down the stairs triumphantly like the Goddess of Victory and this can be regarded as obtaining freedom with her husband’s “supposed” death (Page 570). But the victorious feeling soon evaporated the moment her eyes landed on her husband, standing alive near the door. In the end, she had died, according to the doctor, from a “joy that kills” (Page 570). The last three words are ironic because Louise died from extreme disappointment, not joy, from witnessing her husband alive when she was so close to grasping the idea of being “free, body and soul.” (Page 570).
Throughout the majority of the short story, Louise Mallard was referred only as Mrs. Mallard or “she”, and the only time her first name, Louise, was used is when her sister, Josephine, calls out to her near the end. A reason for this is because married women were seen as the husband’s property, so they had to take on their last name (Holliman 2015). While Josephine was Louise’s sister and fellow women, so the use of the first name is appropriate. This further exemplified the restrictions placed on married women during this century. It was after Brently’s death and awareness of the freedom that followed was she identified as Louise, an individual not bound by her husband’s name (Holliman 2015).
Kate Chopin was nineteen when she married her husband, Oscar Chopin, who later died from malaria. Chopin was widowed at the age of thirty-two with six kids and a twelve thousand dollar debt left behind by her husband (Kronstadt 2012). According to the article, “Oscar’s death offered Chopin, like Louise Mallard (albeit fleetingly), a chance to live as a free woman.” (Kronstadt 2012). Chopin eventually paid off all the debt herself, by managing Oscar’s store and plantations; she even refused offers to pay off the debt from her husband’s creditors, because she wanted to be independent and self-reliant (Kronstadt 2012). Women, married or not, during that era did not manage businesses or deal in fiances, because society’s standard for them was motherhood, and their job description included, caring for the husband, kids, and household chores (Hughes 2014). So the fact that she dealt in business and understood fiances is very noteworthy, and uncommon of women during this time period.
Throughout the eighteen hundreds, married women led very restricted lives, and were obligated to their husbands. And Chopin wrote her character, Louise Mallard as one of those confined women, who experienced, though briefly, a taste of freedom (Kronstadt 2012). Women were expected to marry men who were five years or older than they were, and this made taking over the finances easier for the husbands (Huges 2014). This further limited women’s self-reliance and freedom. Like those restrained married women of this era, Louise must have also felt the same sense of minimal freedom. She felt “physical exhaustion” from her marriage, and this leads me to think that her marriage was not fulfilling and joyous (Page 569). So, when Brently supposedly died, Louise felt a “monstrous joy” possess her and realizes she can live the rest of her life for herself (Page 570). Louise believes that imposing a will onto others, even kind intentions was a crime, and felt that self-assertion was more important than love (570).
Louise’s character was based on Kate Chopin’s own marriage life experiences and thoughts. As the article stated, “Oscar never tried to control Kate, and yet her fiction suggests that she found even well-intentioned love to be a form of entrapment. (Kronstadt 2012). Although Brently Mallard, Louise’s husband, loved and treated her very well, she still felt that “self-assertion… was the strongest impulse of her being” (lines 17-18). She wanted to live for herself and be free from the standards and restrictions that are placed on married women during the Victorian era. Both Chopin and Louise felt that marriage was a form of imprisonment, which constrained them to only live for their husband’s fulfillment and needs.
Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”, reveals the struggle of Louise, a conflicted woman in a restrictive marriage to a loving husband. Louise longs for freedom and a life where she is able to live for herself, and not tend to her husband’s needs. Despite the fact that Louise’s husband loved her dearly, she still felt the physical and mental weariness of her marriage to Brently. As shown in Chopin’s story, “ the face that had never looked save with love upon her…”, and “Free! Body and soul free!”, expresses her spirited vigor of renewed energy (Page 570). Although Louise loved him, she also hated him, for he was the cause of her limited liberty. Kate Chopin created her character, Louise to portray her desire for autonomy, based on her marriage to an equally caring man, Oscar, despite the standards of society for women in marriage.