“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin is clear portrayal regarding the role of women in the 19th century. The story involves a female protagonist, who is informed regarding the death of her husband in a railroad accident. According to the omniscient narrator “Mrs. Mallard heard the story with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance (Chopin 1).” The protagonist goes to wail in her room over the shocking news. However, Mrs. Mallard realizes that despite the death of her husband, she is free to live out her life. According to the narrator, “Mrs. Mallard looks out the window and realizes that it is spring and the world outside is buzzing and alive (Chopin 1).” This realization of a new day indicates the turning point in the “Story of an Hour” for the main character. Throughout the story, the writer uses symbolism to develop the theme of love and rebellion.
The desire for freedom by women, particularly in the 19th century is evident in this story. According to the narrator, when the protagonist learns of her husband’s death, her mixed feelings regarding her marriage and the lack of freedom resulting from the marriage plague her. The symbolism used to depict this mixture of emotion is the knowledge that Louise has heart problems. Moreover, the open window, from which Louise gazes at the world, symbolizes the lack of freedom and desire to rebel from the chains of marriage (Chopin 1). When the protagonist believes that her husband is dead, her heart beats strongly as she embraces the hope of freedom (Chopin 1). Mrs Mallard stares through the window and contemplates about living the rest of her life without marriage. Resultantly, Mrs Mallard dies when her husband enters the room and she realizes that she had received a false report.
The author depicts a negative portrayal of marriage, and eventually romantic love between spouses, in the story. For example, Mrs Mallard’s weak heart can be seen to symbolize her marriage. Typically, the heart is used as a symbol of love. Throughout the story, the author does not indicate that Mrs Mallard loves her husband, that is, there is no romance in their relationship. Although Mrs Mallard’s grief is genuine, the author informs the reader that “Mrs Mallard had loved her husband sometimes. Often she had not (Chopin 2).” This statement is significant as it provides evidence that the condition of a weak heart can also be as a result of a lack of love between Louise and her husband, Brently.
The perception of marriage as form of prison is evident in the story. Immediately Mrs Mallard learns of her husband’s fate, the narrator informs the reader that “there will be no powerful will bending hers (Chopin 2).”This statement explains the joyful emotion that the protagonist experiences upon learning of her husband’s death. In the 19th century, the society expected women to be subordinate to their husbands. In this story, which was written in 1894, the reader uses symbolism to inform the society that a majority of the women felt trapped in their marriages. Through marriage, women lost their identity and freedom. The weather outside is used as a symbol of freedom and new beginnings. According to the narrator, it was spring when Mrs Mallard received the news regarding her husband’s death. Spring is often used to symbolize a new beginning. Through the open window, the main character observes “the tops of trees were all aquiver with the new spring of life (Chopin 1).”However, when she moves away from the open window and looks in her home, she sees her husband standing before her and immediately her hope vanishes. In this context, the protagonist’s home also symbolizes a form of prison for the woman.
The quest for identity is evident in the story. For example, it is through the protagonist’s sister (Josephine) that we learn of Mrs Mallard’s first name, Louise (Chopin 2). The author informs the reader of the character’s name, after the apparent death of her husband. This transformation symbolizes the coming of a new age for the main character. The transformation of the protagonist’s role from a married woman to a free woman brings about a new sense of hope. Mrs Mallard can now take on the role of Louise and thus she was free to move on with her life and thus express herself without fear. It is possible that the author uses this transformation to indicate that women lose their individuality once they are married as the term Mrs is often associated with marriage. The name Louise symbolizes a new found identity where the character is no longer defined by marriage.
The comfortable chair is a symbol of the new found identity. According to the author, Louise sits on a comfortable armchair after she learns of her husband’s death. The armchair symbolizes the end of oppression in the character’s life as she is now free to move on. The description given by the author regarding the comfortable chair can be seen as an escape from an oppressive marriage which is ushered in upon the death of her husband. The narrator also informs the reader that “the delicious breath of rain was in the air (Chopin 2).”This statement also symbolically suggests that the new age of independence exists for Mrs Mallard. In conclusion, Kate Chopin elaborately uses symbolism throughout the story to describe the oppressive nature of marriage and the new found freedom that women often embraced upon the death of their husbands.
Chopin, Kate, “The Story of an Hour” Katechopin.org. The Kate Chopin Society 2015. Web. July 2, 2015.