Analysis of “The Story of an Hour” Essay

Analysis of “The Story of an Hour”

“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin is a short story that tells a sickly woman’s brief encounter with freedom. Louise Mallard receives the news that her husband has been killed in a “railroad disaster” (12), to which she immediately reacts with tears of “sudden, wild abandonment” (12). She then retreats to her room to be alone. Once her sorrow has settled, she begins to feel a sense of freedom take over despite her best efforts; she relishes over the thought of each coming day being her own. Louise exits her room with an air of victory, only to witness her husband walk in the front door. She immediately dies of an ironically misinterpreted “joy that kills” (14), but the reader knows that it was quite the opposite force that kills her. The central idea in this story is the power of freedom and the capacity it holds to cripple those who do not possess it.

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The central character in this story is Mrs. Louise Mallard. She is a dynamic character who undergoes complex changes both emotionally and physically throughout the course of this short story. In the beginning, she is said to understand the significance of her husband’s death instantly and allows a debilitating grief to come over her as her sister holds her. We see that she embraces her emotion without restraint and with full understanding, whereas “many women have heard the same” story “with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance” (13). This emotional maturity falters as she sits alone in her room “waiting” (13) “fearfully” (13) for something that she felt was “too subtle and elusive to name” (13). She, though for only a brief time, plays ignorant to the sense of freedom bubbling inside her because she knows that it is not the typical or acceptable feeling to have when one’s husband dies. We see a powerful change in her emotions as she embraces her new-found freedom. As the feeling grows stronger, she repeatedly whispers “free!”(13) underneath her breath, as though to embrace it but not in a loud, abrasive, or public manner. Once she fully accepts and embraces this freedom she exits her room as a “goddess of Victory” (14), leaving behind her period of remorse and life of co-dependence. She then makes the obvious and final change from blissful in her new freedom to crushed beneath the truth of her husband’s survival. Having her freedom snatched and dangled out of reach once again proves too much for a woman “afflicted with heart-trouble” (130) and she dies on the spot, making her final dynamic transition. This emotional progression that Louise undergoes is how the reader comes to understand the central idea of this story: that the power of freedom can liberate one even in the darkest of circumstance, and having this freedom taken away can be just as powerful, if not more so.

The supporting character in this story is the husband who is said to have died in the train wreck. His supposed death causes the changes in the main character, and it is in her reaction to his death and then his resurrection that we come to understand her as a character.

The most prevalent conflict in “The Story of an Hour” is man vs. self. This story revolves largely around the internal struggle that Louise has with her feelings of freedom. She sat alone in her room fearfully waiting for this emotion to make itself recognizable, and as soon as it was she “was striving to beat it back with her will” (13). She was “powerless”(13) to this feeling that was taking over and the words “free, free free!”(13) “escaped” (13) her lips. The diction used in this paragraph shows her inability to hide her sense of freedom, even from herself. She is defenseless and thus overcome despite her inner struggle. However, as she accepts and embraces this feeling, we see the struggle move very quickly to the thought of looking upon her husband’s “grey and dead” (14) face, which would be a “bitter moment”(14), but hastily day dreams past it towards the “years to come that would belong to her absolutely” (14). In this acceptance the central conflict is resolved as she “opened and spread her arms out…in welcome” (14), embracing her future alone. As she delves deeper into this sense of freedom we come to understand her as she notes that “this possession of self-assertion” was “suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!” (14).

The supporting conflict in this story is a short-lived but very important one, the struggle of man vs. man. The small interaction that is played between Louise and her husband, Bentley Mallard, occupies a mere ten lines but changes the story’s plot in epic proportions. Just as we see Louise in her hour of glory, embodying a “feverish triumph” (14) over life and hopeful for “all sorts of days that would be her own” (14), that freedom is taken with one glance at her husband who stands innocent and unknowing in the doorway. This conflict contrasts the proceeding conflict; exaggerating her loss of freedom and either out of shock or lack of will to carry on, she finds the ultimate freedom from marriage.

There are two points of view used in “The Story of an Hour” that play a very important role in divvying information from opposing perspectives. The story begins and ends in a 3rd person dramatic point of view. The most important place this contrasting perspective comes into play is at the end of the story when it is said that “when the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease—of joy that kills” (14). The reader knows this to be false because the narrator transitions to 3rd person omniscient in the third paragraph on through the twenty-first paragraph, and in this transition exposes Louise’s true feelings of freedom that were actually crushed in the moment her husband walked in the door, contradicting what has been assumed by the doctor and Louise’s loved ones . This 3rd person omniscient point of view presents us with an adequate amount of details throughout the whole story, often showing details that perhaps we would not have noted if it had been told from Louise’s point of view or from the 3rd person dramatic point of view that is used to show the actions and assumptions of the other characters. This omniscient overview is important in witnessing her internal struggle:

When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said over and over under her breath “free, free, free! The vacant stare and look of terror that followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulse beet fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body. (13)

In understanding her struggle, epiphany, and acceptance of her freedom from the 3rd person omniscient point of view narration, the reader is exposed to the irony in the final sentence.

“The Story of an Hour” is an unambiguous commentary on the power of freedom to the human psyche. Through Louise’s character we see a rollercoaster of emotion that comes with accepting one’s freedom, and the final downward spiral and crash that she experiences as it is taken back as quickly as it came.

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