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Louise Mallard is the protagonist of The Story of an Hour. The entire story is about her preservation. Chopin portrays Mrs. Mallard as a woman who is in deep suffering. She is not only suffering from a marriage she is not happy with, but she is also suffering from her medical condition. As if she had not suffered enough, she also puts a threat to her own life. We see this when Josephine is knocking on her door while she refuses to open it (Chopin). What is unknown to Josephine however is that her sister is in fact not suffering but savoring the moment.
Josephine, who is her sister, is concerned that she may be harming herself and is persistent in her quest to be admitted to the room. The entire story is centered on saving Mrs. Mallard right from the time the breaking of the sad news of her husband’s demise had to be done in a way that would not be fatal to her up to the time when her husband returns home and Richard tries to shield her from seeing her husband from the fear that she will suffer an attack due to the huge surprise (Berkove 153).
Suffering in Marriage
Mrs. Mallard is a woman that is suffering in marriage. We realize that she was not very optimistic about her married life. The night prior to the “death” of her husband, she had quietly prayed for her life to be short. She had reached a point of disillusionment and would gladly welcome death as an option out of the marriage. When she learns that her husband had perished in the train accident, she first reacts by weeping due to her loss but after the moment of grief ebbs away, she suddenly realizes that she has been freed from her marriage. She makes a prayer that is opposite to what she had made only a few hours prior to this. She now prays for long life long (Chopin).
Chopin reveals how Mrs. Mallard was not enjoying her marriage to the point that she was ready to die as a way of getting out of the marriage. This in effect reveals that Mrs. Mallard respected the institution of marriage a lot (Xuemei 168). She dint think that divorce was an option. The only possible way out of the marriage would be through her death. That is why she prays that her life be short.
Chopin reveals a view of marriage through the perception of Mrs. Mallard. She thought that marriage was a place where two people thought that they have all the right to impose their rights on the other person. To her, this was a big misconception and as the story reveals, it was probably the main reason for her suffering in marriage. She most definitely did not like the way her husband treated her. Marriage was like a bondage to her and when she receives the news that her husband was dead, she is happy that she is at last free. Mrs. Mallard can be said to represent many marriages in society where many people are not enjoying the marriage but for varied reasons, they don’t want to get out of the marriage (Xuemei 168).
Louise Mallard is the character in the story that is subject to masculine discourse (Berkove 154). From the very onset of the story, she is introduced as Mrs. Mallard and Chopin simply uses “she” when referring to her for the rest of the story. In fact, the next time that Chopin uses a name to reference Mrs. Mallard is after she proclaims that she is now “free! Body and soul free! ” This shows the change that happened in the perception o life in Mrs. Mallard’s mind. She now stretches her hands to welcome the new life of freedom as we see her saying that from now on, she will have no one to live for but herself.
As Xuemei (168) observes, the freedom is short lived as we realize when Mr. Mallard comes back. The language used in the story makes it clear by reestablishing the fact that she was a wife. The realization that her freedom was in fact a mirage is too much for her that it proved to be fatal. This further reveals the disillusionment she had as far as her marriage was concerned. The previous day, she had been sad and praying that her life ends soon but when she was told of her husband’s death, her mood changed immediately as she suddenly realized that she had a new lease of life. While she is still thinking about her apparent freedom, her husbands returns home something that makes her spirit sink again for reality hits her hard that she is still trapped in her marriage.
A Frail Woman
Mrs. Mallard is portrayed a frail woman. We see this right form the onset of the story when her medical condition is introduced. However, her frailty is not just of body but also of soul and this is what prompts Richard to try to the best of his ability to protect her. The author uses says that Mrs. Mallard sobs as a “child who has cried itself to sleep.” The phrase reveals that Mrs. Mallard was a woman of a weak will. She is also described as having very frail hands. It is her frailty that probably led to her eventual death.
Mrs. Mallard’s relationship with her husband serves to explain the kind of shaky relationship that the women of the society had with their husbands. She is quick to reveal that in fact, her husband was a loving man who always looked upon her with love yet quite on the contrary, she seldom felt love for him. Her husband is portrayed as man that imposed on her and she is portrayed as a woman that had little choice but to obey her husbands will. The irony that plays out is that although Brently loved her wife, he gives little or no concern to her happiness Xuemei 167).
A Failed Marriage
Children are conspicuously absent in the narration which confirms two things: the marriage between Louise and Brently was unfruitful and it also confirms of just how free she would be after the death of her husband. Mrs. Mallard reveals the state of the wives of the 19th century America who had no freedom unless they husbands died first. The absence of children in the marriage is the legacy that she leaves when she dies. In a society that wives were there to attend to their husbands, it is now clear that Brently will have no one to care for him after her death (Xuemei 168).
The main reason for the troublesome marriage is not given but the absence of children can be a huge clue. It could be possible that the husband who loved her wife was not at all pleased with the fact that they had not gotten any children. Traditionally, the husbands blame the women for the lack of children even if there was no biological evidence that they were the barren ones.
The absence of children presents an interesting dynamic in the story following the death of Mrs. Mallard’s husband. She was now free to carry on with life as a free woman again. She had no husband to live for and she had no children too. That offered her many new options in life. May be she could now look for a another husband, this time one she loved, or may be she had had enough of marriage and she would leave alone for the rest of her life.
A “Modest Widow”
When her Husband supposedly died, Mrs. Mallard has a totally new perception to life. Although the trees outside her window had always been there, for the first time, she realizes just how beautiful the landscape is. She looks at the clouds and they seem to reflect her story so well for she sees “patches of the blue sky showing itself here and there after the storm of grief had spent itself.” Mrs. Mallard does not receive the news of her husband’s death with the characteristic grief that any widow would have (Berkove 158).
On the contrary, she cries only for a while and then seats back in the privacy of her room to savor the moment. When she mourns, she is not mourning due to the grief of loosing her husband but due to the overwhelming realization that she has “abandoned” by her husband. This portrays a selfish nature in her since even when her husband is dead; all she was thinking was how he had abandoned her (Xuemei 169).
Mrs. Mallard tries her best to be a modest widow. When she receives the news of the demise of her husband, she responds by weeping profusely in her sister’s arms. At the back of her mind however, she is in realization that there was another feeling that was anything but sorrow or grief. She realizes that she was happy that he had died since it guaranteed her victory. However, she pretends that she extremely sorrowful following the demise of her husband. She does not allow the other part to be revealed in the glare of the other people so she chooses to retreat to her bedroom. She is preparing to fulfill her social responsibility as a widow to mourn again when she sees her husband’s remains.
Mrs. Mallard is however to overjoyed to continue keeping her joy a secret. When she finally ushers’s her sister in the room, she gets hold of her waist and she walks with the characteristic joy and freedom of a goddess and as the author points out, “There was a feverish triumph in her eyes.” Even though Mrs. Mallard was well aware that she was required to at least show grief, the unexpected yet very welcome freedom that she gets following the death of her husband overwhelms her with joy to the extent that she can not hide it any more.
The narrator shows the irony of life in that Mrs. Mallard was happy that she had eventually found her freedom in the death of her husband but her husband actually returns home safe and sound which terminates her quite celebration. Ironically, the one who was thought to die is back alive while, Mrs. Mallard who believed that she will live long enjoying her new found freedom dies.
Mrs. Mallard as a Metaphor
When the doctors examine her, they all concur that she had died as result of the “joy that kills.” It was not normal for a widow to rejoice over her husband’s departure. It was expected that his resurrection would make her happy; happy to the point of getting a heart attack. Mrs. Mallard is used to reveal the role of a widow in the society who was expected to grieve after the death of her husband.
The entire story is founded on how Mrs. Mallard suffered. She suffered due to a troubled marriage which gave her no joy and she suffered due to the sickness that she had. The kind of suffering that she goes through is used by the author to depict what the woman of that society had to endure in marriages. The narrator reveals her passion on the plight of women in the society when Mrs. Mallard realizes that she is nothing but happy in the marriage. The character of Mrs. Mallard is used to illustrate that men oppressed women in marriage.
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