“The Story of An Hour” focuses on sixty minutes in the life of a young nineteenth-century woman, Mrs. Mallard. Upon learning of her husband’s death, Mrs. Mallard experiences an epiphany about her future without a husband. Her life, due to heart problems, suddenly ends after she unexpectedly finds out her husband is actually alive. Mrs. Mallard’s actions cause the reader to cogitate a hidden meaning weaved into Kate‘s short story. Chopin had an idea that women felt confined in their marriages, and the idea is brought out through the protagonist’s initial reaction, excessive joy, and new perspective of the world following the upsetting news.
The first example of the theme arises when the protagonist “wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment” (Chopin 1); Mrs. Mallard is showing that she is complacent to her marriage. Her reaction, to the news, was extreme because she felt that was the normal way to react. The character is confined to the expected response of such tragic news; her feelings of joy are not instantaneous which initially exemplifies the main theme. As she retreats to her bedroom, she sinks into a “comfortable, roomy armchair” (Chopin 1). The reader senses something to be wrong by the author’s portrayal of the chair; a newly widowed woman would not experience solace from a simple piece of furniture. Mrs. Mallard clearly felt relieved by the armchair. The second example arises when Mrs. Mallard sits in her chair dreadfully staring out at the world waiting for something “too elusive to name” (Chopin 1) to come out of the clouds. She did not know it was the forbidden joy her life lacked. As Mrs. Mallard felt the joy of independence engulfing her conscience, she tries to “beat it back with her will” (Chopin 2).
The character was not accustomed to her newly gained freedom; therefore, she felt opposed to the emotion because she never before experienced those types of feelings. She reluctantly succumbs to her overpowering emotions before whispering “free, free, free” (Chopin 2). Her verbal reaction gives indication that she is happy to be emancipated. Mrs. Mallard’s unexpected bout of joy also supports the theme; if she was not feeling confined, her feelings of grief would not have been replaced by excessive joy. Time moves along, and she continues to whisper “free! Body and soul free!” (Chopin 2). It is further understood that the character was released from a constricted marriage because the words willingly slip roll off her tongue. The last example occurs during and after Mrs. Mallard watches the “tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life” (Chopin 1). This shows that the character’s image of the world is already changed since she was informed of her husband’s death. In the twelfth paragraph, Chopin uses her character’s new perspective of the world to exemplify the confinement women felt.
The character understood she had “no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself” (Chopin 2). Mrs. Mallard’s thoughts revolve around her limitations during marriage. She soon realizes that she would have “no powerful will bending hers” (Chopin 2). Mrs. Mallard was likely controlled her entire marriage; and now she is released from her husband’s dominance. Before opening the door for her sister, she was thinking about “all sorts of days that would be her own” (Chopin 2). The character looked forward to her new life ahead of her because of the new freedom she has gained; she thought about the future that involved her freedom from marriage. Mrs. Mallard eventually says a prayer to herself that “life might be long” (Chopin 2).
The character does this because for once in her life she has the ability to conduct her own self-determination. She has the power to do what she pleases because she is no longer confined to the ball and chain presented by marriage. Mrs. Mallard obviously feels free; otherwise, she would not have gone about “like a goddess of Victory” (Chopin 2). Kate Chopin’s story presents the thought that women were trapped in their marriages due to the feeling of confinement. The way Mrs. Mallard could hardly wait to live freely tells the reader exactly how marriage was conducted in late nineteenth-century. The story has a great effect because the reader knows that Mrs. Mallard, despite being unhappy, had a good marriage. The restricted impression that is presented gives the reader a good idea of how limiting marriage, or the thought of marriage, was in that era of time.