In “The Story of an Hour,” Kate Chopin describes to her readers a young woman’s response to her husband’s death, or at least his presumed death. The opinions readers will draw from this story will vary from person to person due to personal experiences. The experience and wisdom that I have gained through the trails and tribulations of my life help me to understand, relate, and even despise Mrs. Mallard’s character. On one hand, I feel pity for Mrs. Mallard. I think she felt trapped in a situation that she found to be inescapable. She felt lonely, restless, and did not know how to help herself. Yet, on the other hand, I do not feel sorry for her character. Almost immediately after finding out that her husband is dead, she rejoices at her newfound freedom. I think that her actions portray in her a selfish and cowardly nature.
The story takes place in the late nineteenth century, a time when women had very limited rights. Mrs. Mallard, a young woman who has a bad heart, plays the main character in this story. She receives news that her husband has been killed in a railroad accident. Mrs. Mallard is shocked and bewildered by the death of her husband. However, the feeling of bewilderment is only a temporary feeling that quickly leads to an overwhelming sense of freedom. A freedom she has desperately longed for. Yet, shortly after receiving the news of her husbands death there is a knock at the door. Upon opening the door, she discovers that her husband is not dead, for he is standing in the doorway alive and well. Mr. Mallard’s appearance causes his wife to die. “[T]he doctors … said she [has] died of heart disease – of joy that kills” (12). However, I believe that she dies because she realizes that she will never be free. In addition, I believe this fact disappoints her to the point where she seems to feel that life is not worth living without freedom.
I think Mrs. Mallard felt trapped in her marriage, a marriage where communication no longer existed. I believe this caused her to feel very alone and restless in her marriage. In the late nineteenth century, women basically had little or no rights. It was thought that women’s sole purpose in society was to marry, have children, and to care for their family and household. Women of this era were not allowed to satisfy their own wants and desires. Therefore, we can assume that Mrs. Mallard got married at a young age. This fact, along with the crumbling of her marriage caused her to feel lost in a world where she knew not even herself. The fact that she was unable to experience life for herself resulted in her yearning desire for independence. These explanations contributed to Mrs. Mallard’s overwhelming enjoyment of her newfound freedom.
I know how it is to feel trapped in a relationship that is going bad. One feels there is no reasonable way out; this can cause a person to become lonely and impatient for independence. The fact that I have experienced a similar situation enables me to relate to the character of Mrs. Mallard and can justify the feelings of sympathy and compassion I have towards her. In addition, I know how exciting it is to be able to experience life, adventures, and independence. In this way, I understand Mrs. Mallard’s irrepressible feeling of joy at her newfound liberation.
On the other hand, I feel that the instant happiness that Mrs. Mallard finds in her husband’s death is disturbing. This instant joy portrays the character of Mrs. Mallard as insensitive, selfish, and cowardly. The fact that Mrs. Mallard spent no more than a few moments mourning the presumed death of her husband depicts her character as heartless. She almost instantly converts her train of thought from mourning the death of her husband to rejoicing in her new life and newfound freedom. This conversion of thought shows the selfish aspect of her character. The fact Mrs. Mallard did not try to work out her problems with her husband exposes the cowardly side of her character. Instead, she just ran away from them, which simply increased the distance between her and her husband. I believe that simply facing up to the problems at hand and trying to work through them could eliminate this distance. In addition, Mrs. Mallard’s death reflects her cowardly characteristic. Although, Mrs. Mallard did not directly take her own life I do believe that indirectly she choose death as an escape from an unhappy life; a life where she had no freedom and was involved in an unhappy marriage.
“Each reader’s judgement of Mrs. Mallard and her behavior inevitably stems from his or her own personal feelings about marriage and the influences of societal expectations (14).” Thus, not every person that reads Kate Chopin’s, “The Story of an Hour” will feel both pity and dislike for Mrs. Mallard’s character as I did. This fact does not mean that the way I interpreted the story is wrong or right – it is just how I perceived it. Many factors influence the way individuals interpret stories or “things” in general. These factors include everything that shape people, such as life experiences, attitudes, age, gender, and so on.