Title: “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin
Kate Chopin (1851-1904) was a St. Louis-born author of short stories and novels. One of her better-known works is The Awakening, in which “The Story of an Hour” appears. Kate Chopin is considered a fore-runner of feminism in literature.
“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin utilizes a type of POV called limited omnipresent, which limits our understanding of a person’s thoughts and actions to only one major character, in this case, Louise Mallard, a woman who is shocked by news of the sudden death of her husband.
At the start of the story, Chopin informs the audience that people close to Mrs. Mallard knew she had heart trouble (273). At the end of the story, we learn that the doctors say her death was due to “heart disease – of joy that kills” (274). The haunting is revealed in-between, in the viewpoint of Louise Mallard. Chopin’s attitude towards Louise is sympathetic; when Louise begins to feel joy over the death of her husband she, “did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous [thing]” (274). Neither does anyone condemn or learn of the private joy she feels prior to her death.
What really enriches the story is the private epiphany she experiences we are privy to; Chopin hints that Louise realizes it’s about to hit her after she is awakened to the sights and sounds of life outside her window (273).
“There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully […] 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” (273).
This epiphany manifests itself in what is perhaps one of the greatest moments in women’s literature:
“she suddenly recognized [it] as the strongest impulse of her being! ‘Free! Body and soul free!’ she kept whispering” (274).
With the death of her husband, and the end of an unloved marriage, Louise can now look forward to a life of her own; she recognizes that yesterday she prayed it would be cut short, now she prays it will be long (Chopin 274).
Her sister is concerned that all this private ‘grieving’ is going to make her physically ill and unfortunately, the very act of coming downstairs to prove that she is well leads to her death – upon descending, the door opens to reveal a very much-alive Mr. Mallard (274). She dies, from the text it sounds, almost instantly. If not for the sympathetic portrayal by Chopin, if this story had been told from another POV, Louise might be seen as cold, unloving and deserving of her fate. As it is, it is a stirring portrayal of the marital disappointments that faced many women in our history.
Tip: If you are visiting the STL-area, you can visit Calvary Cemetery, the final resting place of Kate Chopin as well as playwright, Tennessee Williams.
Source Reading: Fiction 100: An Anthology of Short Fiction, 11th ed. Ed. James Pickering. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. 273-274.