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“Short lived Freedom”
The death of a loved one, better yet a spouse, can be devastating. This time can be very critical to the person depending on the type of support system one has. The amazing artistic abilities of Kate Chopin, also known as Katherine O’Flaherty, focused on feminism; the women in her works often evoked sexuality and desires, something that women in the 1800’s were not allowed to have. She played a prominent role in the first wave of feminism in her era. In this short story, The Story of an Hour, Chopin writes about a woman who grieves the loss of her husband and furthermore, her freedom. In The Story of an Hour, a woman receives the news that her husband has died in a railroad accident, meanwhile, her sister is there to help break the news “easily” since Mrs. Mallard, the woman in the story, suffers from heart trouble. The story follows her as she goes through the five stages of grief to come to terms with the truth; along the way, she finds her own truth. Chopin integrates The Five Stages of Grief into this genuine story to show the reader that in life, there are gains and losses and everyone grieves in their own way. In the story, Mrs. Mallard goes through the stages of grieves upon hearing her husband has passed away in an accident, her sister Josephine at her side to help her through this process, as well as Richards who is her husband’s good friend. Everyone in the story serves a purpose, as the author was saying she had a weak heart, so they wanted to make sure she was okay. The Stages of Grief all vary per person, they don’t always have to go in a particular order- this story does a great job portraying that.
The first Stage of Grief is Denial, which is represented very well in the story. Mrs. Mallard has a hard time accepting this fact as she abruptly started crying then ran away to her room. “She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams”(Chopin 22-24). To put it in another way, like a child, this internal sadness came up to the surface suddenly and she did not know how to control it or make it go away. This is important to the story because it shows the reader that the conflict begins to manifest in ways she did not know how to deal with. In doing this, Chopin is supporting the notion that there is no correct way to grieve and it is okay to not be okay. This particular stage of grief is hard because it is the initial reaction; and it sometimes takes time to soak in. Its important that one gets that time, “This is the sense that this can’t possibly be true, that a great mistake has been made, that this is not really happening, that the person I love is really not dead and gone. The mind does denial because it needs to, and it will continue to do denial as long as it needs to”(Van Denbergh 1). In other words, the mind, after the initial shock, continues to deny until the brain can accept the fact and that time varies with everyone. This demonstrates that everyone is different and this is one of the brain’s substantial defense mechanisms. By claiming the above, Chopin sheds light on the commencing defense mechanism of the stages of grief. Chopin also illustrates in the text that Mrs. Mallard goes through a phase of bargaining.
Another stage of grief that Chopin exemplifies is bargaining, which inevitably goes hand in hand with guilt. Mrs. Mallard has a rush of feelings that she immediately feels guilt about. One psychologist says, “Guilt in the bereavement context has been defined as ‘a remorseful emotional reaction in bereavement, with recognition of having failed to live up to one’s own inner standards and expectations in relationship to the deceased and/or the death’” (Stroebe, 2014). In short, the author is saying that guilt is a normal part of the grievance process following the death of a loved one. This highlights the idea that the process of grieving someone is common and in this story this is something Mrs. Mallard really struggles with. In order to mourn a loved one’s death there are a series of steps that help one get the closure one needs. The Story of an Hour follows a young Mrs. Mallard through this hard time to find out how she truly feels about her husband’s passing and she immediately regrets it. “When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She says it over and over under her breath: ‘free, free, free!’ The vacant stare and the look of terror that followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright, Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body. She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and exalted perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial” (35-40). This quote offers us a look inside her thoughts; she is actually very eager for her future for herself without her husband. Immediately after this she feels very guilty for feeling this way and starts bargaining by saying “she knew she would weep again” if she saw his lifeless body. This illustrates that bargaining was the next step in Mrs. Mallard’s grieving process. At first glance she is ecstatic for her near future but then out of guilt of being happy states that she will be sad when she sees Mr. Mallard’s dead body. This is her process. Ultimately, later on in the story Mrs. Mallard acknowledges his passing, which is the last stage of grieving, Acceptance.
The fifth and final stage of Grieving, acceptance, varies for everyone, there is no time limit and there is no right way of coming to this conclusion. It is not saying they are completely over the loss and not saying they are not, it is simply saying they are okay and there is a new horizon, a new reality, a new life to look forward to. In this short story, Chopin proceeds to say “‘And yet she has loved him—sometimes. Often she did not. What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion, which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being! Free! Body and soul free!’ she kept whispering”(50-53). To put it in another way, Mrs. Mallard comes to terms with her feelings about what has happened, she realizes yes, she loved him but like a normal relationship there were times she did not, and is looking into the future with wishful thinking. This is important because the reader can see Mrs. Mallard’s progress though the grieving process; she is accepting her future without her husband. By saying the above, Chopin shows the readers that it is possible to move on at your own pace, there is no one-way to do so. Psychologists say that this process takes a while and no on does it correct, it all up to the mindset of the individual.
“Acceptance. At this stage, individuals are at a point where they recognize the current state of their lives, without their loved one, as the reality and can live with that understanding.”(Bolden, 2007). In other words, in the last stage of grieving it is important to not only realize what it is you are grieving but to accept that you are in a new chapter in life, without your partner. This important because the author gives importance to the fact that it is all so new; to accept it, is a feat on its own, but it can be done, in actuality, it has to. In doing this, Chopin is supporting the notion that everyone grieves in their own pace and style, Chopin illustrated Mrs. Mallard in a way that it is realistic in their era and also relatable to many women still today.
Chopin depicted Mrs. Mallard’s grieving process in way that is naturalistic in someone in that time frame. The grieving process varies amongst individuals and the stages do not necessarily need to go in the same order. The end result is what individuals seek. Individuals wish to pursue a life full of hope that one day they can accept their reality and strive for a life after.
- Bolden, L. A. (2007). A Review of On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Five Stages of Loss. Counseling and Values, 51(3), 235+. Retrieved from https://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A161500691/PPPC?u=lirn06981&sid=PPPC&xid=55765672Grief Through the
Guilt in Bereavement: The Role of Self-Blame and Regret in Coping with Loss
Stroebe M, Stroebe W, van de Schoot R, Schut H, Abakoumkin G, et al. (2014) Guilt in Bereavement: The Role of Self-Blame and Regret in Coping with Loss. PLOS ONE 9(5): e96606. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0096606
- VanDenburgh, D. (2013, November-December). After the goodbyes: 6 realities that will help during times of grief. Vibrant Life, 29(6), 42+. Retrieved from https://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A348996998/PPPC?u=lirn06981&sid=PPPC&xid=4ea05725
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