Freedom – Claimed and Lost within an Hour
In Jennifer Heeden’s analysis of Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour” entitled, A Woman Who is a Person” that “openly portrays the true feelings of a woman who feels trapped inside her marriage. In the period in which she lived, there were only two alternatives for her to achieve the much desired personal freedom—either she or her husband must die!” Heeden also comments on Louise’s health, “having no personal freedom—and the only way she could express this was through a physical illness.” She concludes her essay by hinting again at the fact that women of the time had no escape and so, “He (Mr.Mallard) was alive, therefore she (Louise) must die”. Though I agree with Heedens support via Chopin’s use of language, I disagree with her conclusion.
Heeden leaves her essay to believe that someone can just choose to die, in a moment, as an escape to freedom. My reading was that her death was a result of her loss of the feelings she had, when she supposed Mr. Mallard dead.
The first thing that leads me to this conclusion is the ambiguous, “they said” at the end of the story. Also, the pacing of the story, the places where time seems to speed up and slow down something Heeden does not touch on.
Upon hearing the news of her husband’s death, Mrs. Mallard let out a brief cry then she quickly retreats to her room where time seems to slow. The choice of words used by Chopin “sank”, “pressed down”, “roomy armchair”, “haunted her body” pulls us to empathize with her life which sounds, heavy and burdensome and it’s been this way for a long time. They weight is not the weight of her loss, it is the weight of her life.
Mrs. Mallards sits in her chair, and the next paragraph leads with her viewing nature and life going on outside her window. She views and experiences freedom a contradiction to her life with Mr. Mallard and she wanted to feel it for herself. Tension grew between her sitting in the chair and at the same time being pulled out of it; the something coming towards her that she would have to fight off. Quickly she accepts the something which is her new freedom from her marriage; the thing that was exhausting her life weighing her down.
Heeden makes numerous assumptions about the marriage and I too speculated the nature of the union. Information about the marriage is disclosed as Mrs. Mallard would “weep again” when she saw her husband in his casket. The burden of her life with him was clear in the statement, “powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence” to hint to his cruelty.
The end Chopin uses words like “running riot” “spring and summer days” “quick” makes me feel like Mrs. Mallard has accepted her husbands death and is overjoyed by her new sense of freedom that comes with his passing. The pace of the story-via the use of the language noted above-speeds up. So that Louise can speed past the guilt of finding the long awaited silver lining in his death.
The pace then slows again as Chopin writes, “Arose at length” “feverish triumph” “goddess of Victory” the imagery of a princess taking in every moment while being crowned queen. There is a regal presence about Mrs. Mallard, she had accepted her new “free” life and was after “shuddering that life might be long” with her husband was going to take on, “days that would be her own” a very contradiction to the weighted fraction of the woman she was at the beginning of the story.
The “they” in the ending of the story is her friends. They believed, they had to believe that she died from the joy of seeing her husband alive. Though she wants out, her husband’s re-appearance isn’t enough to make her suddenly die. If that were true she would have committed suicide or attempted to murder her husband long before the hour. Based on Mrs. Mallards grieving process while within her room, it is clear that she died not from her husbands reappearance,-one of them did not “have to die”- it was from the loss of her newly acquired freedom that came with it.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour”
Heeden, Jennifer, A Woman Who Is a Person http://facultystaff.vwc.edu/~cbellamy/Dream%20Child/Chopin-%20Heeden,Pate,McBride,Barnardo.htm web 16Mar2013