In this paper I will try to explain and give reasons why Mrs. Mallard from “The Story of an Hour” is one of the most fascinating characters in Chopin’s literature. In this short story the main character Mrs. Mallard experiences transitory feelings about her husband’s death, who preliminary is supposed to have been killed in a railway accident. At the beginning of the narration the readers are misguided to believe that Mrs. Mallard “was afflicted with a heart trouble” (Chopin 2009). Within the context “heart trouble” has a double meaning. We may take the literal meaning which is that indeed Mrs. Mallard is suffering from a heart disease. The other would be that she was hiding her inner feelings and sensations. One of the interpretations why Mrs. Mallard is presented as such a conflicting character lie in the fact that Chopin wrote her story in a historical moment where women had less choices and freedom and they were not able to divorce. Therefore it was unable to disclose any feelings about the anticipated freedom that Mrs. Mallard would gain after her husband’s death.
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“She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance (Chopin 2009).” Mrs. Mallard did not hear what had happened to her husband and she was not even paralyzed. The readers are led to think that Mrs. Mallard did not hear the news because it was a shocking one. Then, we are astonished how fast the “storm of grief” has passed. The primary emotional reaction of Mrs. Mallard demonstrates the deep revelation about how this event would afflict her future life.
First, the news about her husband’s death is devastating. The open window – a symbol of freedom is in dissonance with the “physical exhaustion” of her body. The picturesque setting that is described helps the reader realize that Mrs. Mallard might not be so sad and unhappy of the news. The color contrasts employed – “new spring life”, “blue sky” have positive and reassuring influence. Life is changing for the better and new opportunities are coming to Mrs. Mallard. The “comfortable, roomy armchair” is a symbol of freedom, security and relief. The facial features speak that she “was young”, however the line on her face indicate hidden “repression”. For the first time we are introduced to the possibility that Mrs. Mallard had an unhappy marriage. In 1890s when the short story was written women were not allowed to divorce and it was a social norm to stay married, even if this caused discontented feelings in the partners.
Mrs. Mallard is characterized as strong and intelligent. “There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air (Chopin 2009).” Reading the story for the first time, we think that the external something that is coming is her own death. However at second glance we see that this is her freedom and the realization that she is at least free at her will. All her life she was living for her husband. Now that he is gone she can think for the first time for herself.
Realizing her freedom Mrs. Mallard is afraid to allow herself to be happy. She is striving “to beat it back at her will”. Chopin beautifully reflects the powerless position of women and how Mrs. Mallard’s marital responsibilities constructed her as “a product” of the social and economic circumstances of the late 19th century.
Mrs. Mallard wants to be independent, and the only way for that is to be a widow. This is not cruel, this is the late 19th century reality. Society controls her actions and thoughts and she is “abandoned”. To seek freedom is inappropriate, she is a married woman. She is abandoned in the imaginary imprisonment that society doomed her at. She is not permitted to escape physically from society, but she can escape emotionally, because she is free of the control imposed by others and by her husband. That is why “a little whispered word escaped from her slightly parted lips (Chopin 2009). The anticipated word is repeated three times “free, free, free”. We can notice the contrast between “little” and “free”. The author attempts to belittle the meaning of “freedom”, because society will not grant her fully the freedom. May be she will be obliged to remarry? By repeating the word she is making it seem more realistic. The emotional elation is in unison with the sensuality which is transferred to her body – “her pulses beat fast”, her blood is “warmed” and every inch of her body “relaxed”.
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Once again we are introduced by negative sentence. “She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy (Chopin 2009).” The reader is confused and may be judges her for the joy at the death of her husband. However, the oxymoron “monstrous joy” discloses that Mrs. Mallard is a kind and honest person and the joy she feels is genuine, but incompatible with her inner sense of attitude. However, “she knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death (Chopin 2009)”. His suggest that society expects from her to behave like that – to mourn and to weep and she would do it, because this would be considered her natural reaction. Mrs. Mallard already sees “a long procession of years that would belong to her absolutely (Chopin 2009). Here the author openly expresses the reason why Mrs. Mallard feels this way about her husband’s death. “There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature (Chopin 2009)”. These descriptions explain what the domestic life of Mrs. Mallard’s was like. She was unhappy in her marriage. She followed the desires of her husband who controlled her, she was not able to give her own
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