Independence in ‘The Story of an Hour’: A Deep Dive
In society today, it is not unusual for a woman to be independent, but that has not always been the case. “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin was written in 1894, a time period when women did not have many rights and lived their lives for their husbands. The main character, Mrs. Louise Mallard, challenges these ideas when she becomes overjoyed about the chance of independence when hearing about the death of her husband. In “The Story of an Hour,” Kate Chopin presents the idea that freedom and independence lead to happiness through symbolism and imagery. Although this freedom is abruptly taken away from her before she can enjoy it, this short story still emphasizes the importance freedom has on emotional well-being.
Symbolism in ‘The Story of an Hour’: Mrs. Mallard’s Shift
Mrs. Mallard’s emotions change from sorrow to joy throughout the course of an hour, which is revealed through symbolism. This transition first happens when she goes to her room alone to look out her open window and sits in “a comfortable, roomy armchair.” The description of the chair is significant because it symbolizes the rest that she will now experience in her life. The roominess of the chair shows that she has room to move around and is no longer confined; she does not have to feel oppressed by her marriage and societal roles. Mrs. Mallard also witnesses “patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled one above the other in the west facing her window.”
Order your custom essay on
“The Story of an Hour”: A Window to Hope
The open window reflects the openness Mrs. Mallard has regarding her future. It gives her a clear view of the bright sky, which causes her to feel that she can have a bright future that she otherwise may not have been able to with her current lifestyle. Openness and hope are also represented by the blue sky. As she stares at the blue sky, she feels content with what her life will become and the freedom that will go along with it. These surroundings symbolize a turning point in her life where she will be happy. If she was truly saddened by her husband’s death, Mrs. Mallard’s surroundings would have been dark and gloomy, but it is not because she finally has her first glimpse of what life will be like as an independent woman. At first, she wants to reject this emotion because she knows it is not socially accepted, but just the thought of her new independent life is too overwhelming to ignore.
Heart’s Tale in ‘The Story of an Hour’
Mrs. Mallard’s real source of happiness is revealed through even more symbolism. Her heart, or more specifically, her “heart troubles,” symbolizes the lack of love in her marriage. Mrs. Mallard says, “and yet she had loved him- sometimes. Often, she had not.” Even though there were times she had loved him, ultimately, she was unhappy with her marriage. By being married, she feels as if she has lost her identity and freedom and alternatively morphed into what her husband wanted her to be.
This makes her feel trapped, so when she believes her husband is dead, she feels the weight of all those expectations lifted off her shoulders. Mrs. Mallard says, “There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself.” She no longer feels oppressed by her husband, and she finally feels independent. She does not have to follow anyone’s rules but her own. As Mrs. Mallard thinks of these days when she can live for herself, her heart races, and blood pumps through her veins. Essentially, her heart represents her emotional state, which begins to improve when the restrictions placed on her are removed, and she can create her own happiness through her own choices and actions.
Chopin’s Vivid Imagery in ‘The Story of an Hour’
Kate Chopin also uses vivid imagery to further convey the feeling of joy associated with Mrs. Mallard’s new awareness of individualism. As Mrs. Mallard looks out her window, she sees a “delicious breath of rain in the air” and “tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life.” The signs of springtime give the reader a sense of optimism about the situation and about the revelation Mrs. Mallard will discover. She begins to see her husband’s death in a more positive manner and sees the fresh start she will have.
Having a chance at a new beginning makes her feel liberated because she knows her life will be completely different compared to what it previously was. This realization reached “her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air.” It leaves her with one word that she whispers over and over: “Free.” Mrs. Mallard was never happy with her life when she was repressed by her husband or her heart disease. Instead, she feels true happiness when she believes she has the choice to live her life on her own terms. This makes her feel the most joyful she has been in a long time and makes it even harder to realize that she will never have the opportunity to experience it; she can only imagine it.
Mrs. Mallard’s true happiness, although short-lived, is the product of feeling freedom. When she realizes she can execute her freedom of will, she begins to feel as if she is living for the first time. Through symbolism and imagery, Kate Chopin reveals how happiness can be achieved through freedom and independence. Mrs. Mallard’s relationship between her happiness and independence makes the ending of the short story that much more significant. When her freedom is stripped away from her once she sees her husband is not really dead, then so is her purpose in life, causing Mrs. Mallard to die of a broken heart. “The Story of an Hour” proves that if people choose how to spend their days and not conform to anyone else’s rules, then they will genuinely live a life full of happiness.
- Chopin, K. (1894). The Story of an Hour. Vogue, 1.