Is marriage a perfect union or an inclusive institution? Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” raises this question in the reader’s mind and takes the reader on an emotional rollercoaster through the narration of the main character’s inner thoughts and emotions during one of the darkest moments in a person’s life. In addition, the story concludes with a surprising twist that abruptly sends the main character to her grave when she sees that her husband is still alive. No surprise, the author lived during a time when women’s rights were on the forefront as this is apparent in her literary style.
The story presents a repressive view of marriage by showing Mrs. Mallard’s thoughts as she regains her self-identity, freedom, and power. The first insight into Chopin’s repressive view of marriage can be seen in the lack of Mrs. Mallard’s self-identity. When Mrs. Mallard’s sister, Josephine tells her the news of Mr. Mallard’s death, the narrator states, “she wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment” (Chopin 15). The main character in “The Story of an Hour” abandons her identity as Mrs. Mallard rather than grieving the loss of her husband, Mr. Mallard.
In doing so, she accepts her existence as a unique individual. Josephine comes upstairs and says, “‘Louise, open the door! ’” (16). The narrator does not introduce Mrs. Mallard’s first name until this point of the story, even though the reader knows Josephine’s and Richard’s names in the beginning. Through the omission of the wife’s name, Chopin illustrates the constraints marriage has on the main character’s self-identity, as well as her overall freedom. The next way Chopin reveals her opinion of repression in marriage is by the lack of Mrs. Mallard’s carnal freedom.
After Mrs. Mallard sits facing the open window where she sees the new spring life, she senses a vague emotion coming towards her, and then she whispers, “‘free, free, free! ’” (Chopin 15). As a result, the reader feels her overwhelming release of prior servitude and her instant acceptance of fresh independence. While still sitting in her arm chair fortifying her liberation, she keeps whispering, “‘Free! Body and soul free! ’” (16). Notably, Mrs. Mallard’s repetition of the word “free” resonates in the reader’s mind and solidifies her sense of sovereignty.
The author not only conveys the main character’s reclamation of her autonomy but also her desire for greater will power. Further, Chopin conveys her repressive view of marriage by showing the lack of the main character’s inner power. The narrator describes Mrs. Mallard’s battle against her feelings “as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been” (Chopin 15). The author indicates the weakness of the main character’s spirit by relating it to her physical weakness. Once Mrs. Mallard embraces her future, she feels enabled to live life for herself.
As a result, the narrator states, “There would be no powerful will bending her in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature” (16). Through the narrator’s use of contrasting words, “powerless” when referring to Mrs. Mallard’s will versus “powerful” when referring to Mr. Mallard’s will, it is evident that she is regaining her inner strength. When Louise Mallard finally opens her door, she emerges “like a goddess of Victory” (16).
This description indicates the main character’s conquest of her inner weakness and signifies her determination to live her life to the fullest, which proves she regains her power. The story’s vivid imagery depicts the emerging inner strength of the main character and also shows the narrator’s view on repression in marriage. Kate Chopin’s portrayal of marriage as an oppressive institution echoes throughout “The Story of an Hour” through the narrator’s graphic account of Mrs. Mallard’s reflections and meditations during her inner transformation.
In fact, Louise Mallard overcomes her inner oppression and connects with her former self. This new self-awareness allows Louise Mallard to break the shackles that bind her body and soul making her feel imprisoned. Moreover, Mrs. Mallard realizes how powerful this new freedom makes her feel. Therefore, marriage by its nature is an institution, because each person inadvertently infringes on the other’s personal existence.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour. ” The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. 15-16. Print.