Although it was written in 1894, Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” is one of the earliest feminist texts popular today. Chopin’s short story narrates Louise Mallard’s life, a youthful woman who struggles in an oppressive marriage. Freedom is the central theme of “The Story of an Hour”. Chopin identifies freedom as the indicator of a life worth living. When Louise learns about her husband’s death, she becomes genuinely disturbed. Immediately Louise recognizes that she could have freedom while living. She is happy because she will spend her life on her terms with no husband. Chopin uses various literary techniques to depict the short story’s main ideas. In essence, Chopin uses several fictional elements such as irony, symbolism, and setting to show the theme of freedom.
Chopin uses symbolism to depict the central idea of liberation. Two symbols are used to advance the story’s concept of independence; heart trouble and the open window. The short story states that Louise had “heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death” (Chopin 1). The heart trouble is a symbolic malady that shows Louise’s ambivalence towards unhappiness in marriage caused by lack of freedom.
When she reflects on her privilege, Louise’s heart races and starts pushing blood into her veins. An individual with a weak heart cannot deal with their husband’s death. In the end, Louise dies, and doctors allege that she died of heart disease. However, heart trouble is used symbolically to show how freedom was essential to Mrs. Mallard. The open window is another symbol used in the short story that exemplifies Louise’s opportunities and freedom after her husband’s death. Louise experiences a new life and joy through the open window as she hears people talk and birds sing.
Chopin utilizes irony to advance and present the theme of freedom. The story uses both dramatic and situational sarcasm to explain its ideas. The entire plot is understood as one that is grounded in situational irony. For instance, Chopin states that Louise “wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms” after hearing about her husband’s death (Chopin 1). Such a reaction is expected from someone who recently lost their spouse. However, after going to the room, she looked outside the window, and “it was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought” (Chopin 1).
The wise thought was caused by the recognition that Louise could have the freedom she craved and experience happiness for the first time. While she grieves at first, it is ironic that, afterward, Louise takes joy in the favor that widowhood has given her; freedom. The dramatic irony occurs when readers find out that the loss of freedom and fear of living in oppressed marriage killed Louise. Although the story characters do not understand what killed her, the readers know the cause of Mrs. Mallard’s death.
Chopin prefers using the setting to convey the message of her work. The setting and its imagery communicate the theme of freedom. The story’s narration starts in a public place since some people are congregated there. However, soon after, Louise goes to her bedroom, a private setting representing a place with confinement and no freedom. In her bedroom, readers can find out about her internal thoughts when she goes there and cries.
She stays in a closed room, which represents Louise’s feeling of being in a trapped marriage and loss of freedom. When she looked outside the window, she saw the “tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life” (Chopin 1). The beauty and serenity of the outside show the theme of freedom. The outside represents the beauty and new beginning of freedom and reflects the end of patriarchal suppression. The story’s setting is critical to the development of ideas.
In conclusion, Chopin utilizes various fictional elements, such as setting, irony, and symbolism, to depict the central idea of freedom in her short story. Chopin uses symbolism to advance the story’s themes and deliver its message. For example, she uses the open window symbol to show Louise’s possibilities and freedom after her husband’s demise. Furthermore, Chopin uses irony to show the theme of freedom. When Louise receives her husband’s death news, she is disturbed and worried.
However, after a few minutes, she recognizes that she can have real happiness and freedom; therefore, she becomes elated, which is ironic and develops the theme of freedom. In addition, Chopin uses the setting to depict confinement and loss of freedom. When Mrs. Mallard goes to her room and closes the door to reflect, the act represents the oppressive marriage’s lack of happiness and freedom. Although Chopin’s literary work was written years ago, it is still a popular feminist text that has captured the interest of readers and remained relevant. Chopin’s short story is an incredible literary work that exposes the oppression and loss of freedom in marriages.
Chopin, Kate. The Story of An Hour. Joe Books, 2018.