The majority of writers use writings such as novels, short stories, and poetry, among others, to convey personal experiences or to share facets of society. They often use various literary techniques in their writings to either make it appealing or to evoke various interpretations from it. The tale of an hour, a short story written by Kate Chopin, relies heavily on symbolism to express its literal significance. As a result, the aim of this paper is to examine how Kate Chopin uses symbolism to give the story significance. However, a plot description is often essential for understanding the tale.
The tale is based on a young married woman who gets the news that her husband; Mr. Mallard, had died in a tragic train accident. While breaking the news, Mrs. Mallard’s Sister Josephine and Richards try to console her in vain. Louise Mallard appears distraught and decides to lock herself in her room as she mourned the demise of her loving husband. While in her room, she then realizes the freedom she is bound to get now that her husband was dead. She was still young and yearned for autonomy, which was limited to this marriage. She envisions the kind of happiness she is bound to get due to the freedom. However, Brently Mallard enters via the front door as Mrs. Mallard was coming out of her room. At this juncture, it appears that the news was not accurate and indeed Mr. Mallard was still alive; something that makes Louise Mallard collapse. By the time the doctor arrived, Louise had died from a “heart disease.” Though the primary theme revolves around freedom and confinement, the author utilizes symbolism significantly to emphasize on these subject (Chopin).
The main source of symbolism is drawn from the term “heart trouble.” In the modern globe, the word heart is used to typically symbolize love. Even the cultures and art strive to portray the heart as a sign of love, and in most case, individuals use this word in place of love. As portrayed in the tale, Louise had “heart trouble,” which stands for more than just the health status. In other words, when one states that he/she has a heart problem, it may mean the actual issue i.e. suffering from a heart condition, or have a deeper meaning that has emotional ties. Moreover, if she was suffering from a heart condition that is medically related, the author could have used other unhealthy conditions like ulcers or allergies. Instead of using all the other diseases, the writer concentrated on the “heart problem” because it symbolized more than the medical state. It is a polite way of describing a condition that also reinforces the “trouble” Mrs. Mallard was undergoing in her “heart.” She was not comfortable with the marriage as she felt undermined. She lacked the freedom, perhaps because her husband was quite authoritative. The “heart trouble” enabled Louise to ignore the love idea as evidenced by the statement, “What did it matter! What could love, the mystery, count for..…” Her lack of freedom heightened her “heart trouble” in the emotional view.
Symbolism is a common element in many writings and is sometimes left open for the reader to interpret. The troubles Louise Mallard underwent i.e. confinement in marriage were similar to what the 19th-century American Women underwent. Her worries typified the situation during this era, whereby wives were legally bound to the influential status of the men. The troubled heart symbolizes what married women underwent under their powerful husbands. They were confined within their marriages. On the other hand, Louise Mallard yearned to be free and was somehow contented with her husband’s death. Although the author does not specifically remark on the contemporary second-class state of the females, Mrs. Mallard’s exclamations of “Free! Body and soul free!” characteristically symbolize the historical view. A troubled heart was about to be autonomous, and sentiments such as “fancy were running riot along those days ahead….spring, summer…would be her own.”
Another form of symbolism is death, which consistently utilized in this tale. The heart condition and the constant mentioning of death illustrate that the family was bound to suffer some loss. Even in the normal days, Louise would be protected against anything that could shock her; an indication that she was also physically ill. When the Richards and Josephine learn about the death of Mr. Mallard, they hurriedly break the news to a feeble-hearted Louise Mallard. The entire tale is then based on Louise’s procession of her husband’s passing, only to realize that her husband had escaped death. In the process, she is overwhelmed by this realization; hence, she suddenly meets her death. The troublesome heart and the consistent mentioning of death are indicative of an impending calamity within this family. Mrs. Mallard yearned for the freedom to the extent that she longed for her husband to die so that she would enjoy the freedom.
Overall, symbolism is a common tool in many writings and is mostly left open to the readers’ interpretation. In the story of an hour, the literary element is used prominently to give the tale its meaning. For instance, the author uses the “heart trouble” to symbolize both the physical and emotional state of Mrs. Mallard. She was feeble in the physical aspect since people avoided exposing her to shocking information. On the other hand, she was emotionally troubled due to the marriage. Moreover, death is consistently used to symbolize a looming calamity in the Mallard family. The device is prominently utilized in this story to enhance the theme of freedom and confinement, which is evident in the story of an hour.
Chopin, Kate. The Story of An Hour. n.d. 12 April 2017.