Kate Chopin’s The Tale of an Hour is a reflection of late-nineteenth-century customs in which most of American society retained the profoundly rooted norm that women are inferior and should therefore remain dependent on their husbands. Women were essentially supposed to cook, clean, and see to their husband’s needs. The plot revolves around a woman (Louise Mallard) whose husband (Brently Mallard) is allegedly killed by a train. When Louise learns of his presumed death, she is initially devastated, but then filled with a new passion for life and newfound freedom, despite the fact that she sensually loved his supposedly deceased husband. However, the story’s turnaround occurs when the husband suddenly appears in her doorstep, alive and well. At that moment of shock, she collapses and dies of heart attack. Therefore, by exploring Chopin’s styles of symbolism, ironic juxtaposition and character development, the paper seeks to discuss how the novelist delves into the theme of forbidden joy of independence coupled by the inherent oppressiveness of marriage.
To begin with, the theme of forbidden joy of independence is explained by Louise’s realization that her husband had died. At first, she reacts violently due to obvious grief but later she is enlivened and excited. Chopin writes, “She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms in her private thoughts” (Chopin 2). Thereafter, Mrs. Mallard tries to squelch her joy. Such resistance is an evidence of the forbidden pleasure, especially if his husband would be around. Eventually, when she accepts her new found independence, she swims in it as shown in the scene where the words free escapes her lips. Principally, Mrs. Mallard’s society offers no refuge for such kind of joy. Therefore, to the society it was forbidden and if people read her thoughts, they would condemn her eternally. However, Louise does not care about what other people think and she embraces her independence as the core of her new-found being. In fact, she turns to prayer hoping that God would make the joy long lasting and fulfilling. Sadly, her husband returns and he unwittingly yanks her independence away from her. To cap off, the theme expounds the sad reality that her forbidden joy disappeared as quickly as it came and the most depressing part is that the taste of joy was enough to kill her (Chopin 23).
In explaining the theme of forbidden joy of independence, the story itself is built with elements of ironic juxtaposition, a style that is used later to destroy Mrs. Hallard’s new found peace and independence. For instance, the author writes, “Knowing that Ms. Hallard was afflicted with heart troubles, great caution was taken to break to her the possible news of her husband’s death” (Chopin 1). Fundamentally, her health was obviously corresponding to a condition of fragility but in a twisted way Louise is actually preparing for her husband’s death and not his life. Moreover, Chopin’s whole style is kind of tease. For instance, she describes the end of the story by using an array of juxtaposition. The author forces the reader to blanks as noted in the scene where Mrs. Mallard is coming down the stairs. The sudden entry of her ‘dead’ husband is met with a fatal shock. Richard, the family’s friend tries to move between them in order to keep Mrs. Hallard from sustaining another attack. Thereafter, Chopin simply writes, “But Richard was too late” (Chopin 22). Juxtaposition is elaborated in the paragraph after that: “When the doctors came, they said she had died of heart disease” (22). Essentially, between “too late” and when the doctor arrived, we weren’t informed on what exactly happened. In the whole story, the reader is aware of the little details but at the end, nobody knows how Mallard feels.
Upon further decryption of the story, it is evident that Chopin uses symbolism to suggest that most marriages are inherently oppressive; even the kindest ones. Symbolism is evident from the beginning as the author stresses on the woman’s heart trouble. Her heart problem is both symbolic and physical because it reflects the ambivalence towards the state of unhappiness that the marriage had put her through. In the end, Louise seems to have died of joy due to a broken heart rather the physical hurting. Chopin writes, “Died of her disease – of joy that kills” (Chopin 23). The irony in the statement is that the joy was not over her husband’s arrival, but rather distressing over the freedom that she would lose. Also, the open window that Mrs. Mallard gazes represents the freedom and opportunities that awaited her. Chopin writes, “There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair” (Chapin 21). The sight of the clouds and sounds of birds symbolized joy. However, when she turned away from the window, the same old feeling of lack of freedom rushes back. Mrs. Mallard admits that her husband was caring and loving but she still feels joy when she receives news of his death. Despite the fact that her reaction does not suggest malice, she still feels that her husband’s death was a release from oppression. The author narrates of her thoughts which reveal the inherent nature of oppressiveness in most marriages.
The paper expresses the theme of forbidden joy of independence and inherent oppressiveness of marriages by using literary devices such as juxtaposition and symbolism. The protagonist in the story is Louise Mallard, and the narrative rotates around her brief mourning after her husband’s death. However, she is filled with ‘forbidden’ joy after realizing that she had all the freedom to do whatever she wanted. The two themes are related because they explain how marriages act as virtual cages. Eventually, Louise dies of heart attack after seeing that her husband was alive and well.
Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour: Short Story. Toronto, Ontario: HarperPerennial Classics, 2014. Internet resource.