In her short story “The Story of an Hour,” Kate Chopin portrays a woman – “young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength” – dealing with the death of her husband. Chopin laces the story with imagery – sounds, smells, sights, and sensations – to highlight contrasting traits of Mrs. Mallard’s experience for the reader.
Chopin waits until Mrs. Mallard receives the news of her husband’s death before showcasing her visual exposition. “When the storm of grief had spent itself,” introduces a weather-oriented comparison that enhances the mental suffering typically felt upon receiving this kind of news. Mrs. Mallard secludes herself in her room and “There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.” The spring time elements contrast the news that lingers over her: “The delicious breath of rain was in the air,” “The notes of a distant song… reached her faintly,” “Countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves,” Chopin uses these short, but descriptive, sentences to contrast how Mrs. Mallard appears to feel at that moment. The familiar smell of rain creates a connection between the reader and the main character, describing the common “April showers” that nearly everyone has experienced.
As Mrs. Mallard gazes out the window at the “new spring life,” she hears a person singing and a bird singing. The different descriptions of the spring life function as a barrier for Mrs. Mallard because she now has to deal with the death of her husband and, at the same time, enjoy a beautiful spring day. The imagery Chopin uses to describe Mrs. Mallard’s activities in her room – the way she sits in a comfortable chair, and looks out of the window of her room to see trees “that were all aquiver with the new spring life” — are definitely not emblematic of grief. Despite that she was not consciously dissatisfied with her marriage to her husband, she suddenly looks forward to a life lived under her own recognizance. To support the assumption of oppression and sadness in Mrs. Mallard’s past, Chopin says that the clouds “had met and piled one above the other.” This image of unity symbolizes the happiness that Mrs. Mallard never felt before.
The emotional divergence overwhelms Mrs. Mallard, leaving her “thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up in her throat and shook her, as a child who ahs cried itself to sleep continues to sop in its dreams.” The comparison to a child further supports the metaphorical rebirth that she is going through. Mrs. Mallard feels overwhelmed by her day’s happenings until a rush comes upon her. “When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped through her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: ‘free, free, free!’” She felt overjoyed about the news of her husband’s death.
“Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.” This sensation helped her to realize that this event finally gave her the chance to get away and live her life the way she had always wanted to. The reader has just accepted Louise’s reaction to her husband’s death, when the most unexpected happens; Mr. Mallard walks through the door “a little travel-stained.” This imagery depicts him as worn-down and docile, not valiant. Josephine’s “piercing cry,” highlights the abruptness of the situation, and serves as a curtain to the scene.
By effectively appealing to the senses, Chopin creates a story filled with suspense and dramatic descriptions. Mrs. Mallard feels trapped and alone in her room until she realizes the true potential of the open window that showed her the world outside her dull, gray life, “She was drinking the very elixir of life through that open window.” Sights, sounds, smells, and sensations all serve to support the reader’s understanding of Mrs. Mallard’s experience.