The story of an hour is a classic example of literary fiction that uses symbolism and themes to tell the story. In the first sentence, Kate Chopin introduces the main character Louise Mallard as having heart trouble. Louise’s sister and friend came to tell the disturbing news that her husband died in a train wreck. They take great care to relay the news gently, so as not to upset her heart condition. Chopin does not go into detail about the heart trouble, leaving the reader to think what they will.
The heart trouble mentioned in the first line is symbolic and has double meaning. It refers to not only the actual physical condition of her heart, but also to the pain she feels being trapped in a marriage. It was not uncommon in Chopin’s time that married women felt oppressed by their husband’s power and social status. (Shmoop Editorial Team)
After hearing of her husband’s death, Mrs.
Mallard began crying at once, then retreats to her room by herself to be left alone with her thoughts. While she is sitting there, staring out an open window, her thoughts take over and she begins to feel something that she is trying to repress, because she knows society would not allow her these feelings. What she feels is an extreme need and urge for her freedom and independence, which she would now have because her husband is gone. The symbolism here is that of the open window. Chopin uses the word “open” to describe several things in this scene.
“The open window from which Louise gazes for much of the story represents the freedom and opportunities that await her after her husband has died.”(Grade Saver)
The climax of the story takes place when Louise finally lets go of any thoughts that are holding her back and as she begins to feel this “freedom” she exclaims, “Free! Body and soul free!” (Booth and Mays, 354) Once she is elated by her newfound thoughts, she realizes that her sister has been at the door begging her to open it, for fear that she is making herself ill. She replies, “’Go away, I am not making myself ill.’ No, she was drinking in the very elixir of life through that open window.”(Booth and Mays, 354) She opens the door and descends down the stairs with her sister and as she reaches the bottom, someone is opening the front door with a key.
This is where the story takes a dramatic turn of events which leads to a twisted ending. The door opens and her husband walks in, with no knowledge that there even was an accident. At the sight of her husband, Louise dies suddenly. The doctor determines that she died of heart disease brought on by the joy of seeing her husband. This is true, but also ironic, because “it had been the loss of joy that had actually killed her”(Shmoop Editorial Team), the loss of her independence. The obvious twist in the end is that her husband would be the one who is released from the oppression of marriage.
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