When I first began reading “The Story of an Hour,” Mrs. Mallard seemed to me an old woman and as we are told in the very first line, “afflicted with heart trouble.” I was surprised in the eighth paragraph when Chopin tells us that “She was young,” but even more interesting to me that she is described as having “a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression” which depicts her as being old for her age. The description of this repression is backed up when Chopin gives us the reason for Mrs.
Mallard’s “monstrous joy” which reads thus “There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.”
After reading through this story the first time, I had many questions and many conclusions. For instance, it seems as if Chopin is showing us a social situation of the times with the woman as a prisoner of her husband.
It is common knowledge that marriages are not always about mutual love between two people and during the time that Chopin was writing, this was more often the case. Marriage was as much about monetary comfort, social status, and acceptance as it was about possible love. There are no children mentioned in this story which makes me wonder if there was a sexual relationship between the Mallards. It seems from the description that Mrs. Mallard has been trapped in this marriage for a long time even though we know she is young.
How young is she? Even though I say she is trapped, do not misunderstand me: I do not think this marriage is arranged, instead of that she has been coerced by her society to marry despite what she may want to do in her heart and soul. I believe she does love her husband, but it is possible to love a man and not be married to him. This was not her case; if she were able (meaning a man would agree with her decision) and she did engage in a loving relationship with a man who was not her husband, she would have certainly been looked down upon. Is her heart condition purely physical or is it also psychological and emotional? We know the stereotypes, as Chopin did, that women are hysterical, timid, weak, irrational. Could it be that her heart condition is created by those tip-toeing around her in conjunction with her own emotional weaknesses?
I find it interesting that her first name is only told to us after she hears of her husband’s death and when she feels the freest. Before this point she is referred to as Mrs. Mallard or “she,” and after this point when her husband returns home, she is referred to as “wife.” Chopin is pointing to something very interesting here which leads me back to the title of woman as “wife.” When Louise marries Bently she becomes Mrs. Mallard; she loses her identity and assumes a new and strange one. While it seems very normal and average for a wife to assume her husband’s name in marriage and in that time, to put it harshly, become the property of him, it cannot be ignored that a certain part of the self is lost. This woman is very in tune with this loss and even though her love for her husband keeps her from it, the freedom she feels when she thinks he is dead becomes unavoidable and enjoyable.
Chopin wrote the story and has given us a narrator who, if it is not Chopin personally, I believe to still be female. The descriptions and insight we are given into the character of Louise come from someone who understands her situation and is forgiving. We see Louise as she finds happiness out of her husband’s death and yet, by the narration, we see her struggle with guilt and overcome it. From the female perspective, it could be argued that her death was really ultimate freedom from her unhappy marriage. If we assume that the narrator is male, could it be that her death was a punishment for her happiness at the death of her husband? It is not as farfetched as it seems and raises many more questions as to the goal this story sets out to achieve.
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