In “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin, the author tells a short story of harsh irony and a wife’s realization of a new life after her husband’s death. Chopin introduces the main character, Louise Mallard, as a married woman with a weak heart and a marriage that is complicated and restrictive. In the beginning of the story Louise hears the news of her husband’s death in a train accident. She is distraught and filled with grief, so she goes up to her room where she sits in her comfortable armchair and thinks about how her life will change now that her husband is gone. She realizes that his death is the birth of her new found freedom. She can look forward to tomorrow and not feel imposed by his will in her activities. Yet Mrs. Mallard’s freedom is quickly abandoned as Mr. Mallard comes through the door. At his sight Louise succumbs to her weak heart. “When the doctors came they said she died of heart disease-of the joy that kills.” However the reader knows that her death is due to shattered dreams of freedom.
After the initial onslaught of grief Mrs. Mallard goes to her room. As Louise sits in the armchair staring blankly out of the open window, the narrator observes that, “There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled above the other in the west facing her window.” Already, the reader recognizes the blue sky as a sign of hope emerging from a heavy gloominess. Soon the reader’s suspicions are confirmed as Louise sits in her armchair chanting, “Free, free, free.” However there were several conflicts in her life that brought her to this point. Louise felt her marriage was restrictive and at times lacking love. She was reminiscing on how difficult it was to love her husband and how demanding their marriage was. As she stares out the window she sees the positive in the negative situation. She, along with nature, has experienced new life and has been rejuvenated by the spring season.
Concerning symbols, Chopin uses several throughout the story to create a feeling of comfort within the reader’s mind. Firstly, the armchair in the story in which Mrs. Mallard sits after hearing about her husband’s death is described as “comfortable” and “roomy”. The chair’s location is also important. It is facing an open window, and this symbolizes being open to change. The fact that it is open shows that it is somewhat warm outside, suggesting life rather than the cold of winter, symbolizing death.
The adjectives “comfortable”, “roomy” and “sank” symbolize a feeling of being embraced by the chair, a feeling of love and warmth. Secondly, through the open window Louise sees many other symbols, furthering the feeling of goodness in the reader. She sees the tops of trees that “were all aquiver with the new spring life” symbolizing a new life to come. The setting of a “delicious breath of rain in the air” refers to the calmness after a storm when the sun comes back out. The author is using this to refer to the death of Louise’s husband and the joyous life she will lead now that she is free of him.
“The Story of an Hour” is both a liberating story as well as a tragic one. The author cleverly uses symbols to describe her opinion about women’s rights, as well as what sixty minuets can do to a person’s life. Overall though, the author does an amazing job of bringing the reader into the mind of the protagonist.