In Kate Chopins The Story of an Hour the apparent death of the husband signifies a major turning point in the life of Mrs. Mallard. Until this time, she has been a possession of her husbands, much alike to his clothing, and she now realizes that she is free. For Louise Mallard, the illusive death of Brently Mallard is her rite of passage into a new, free life. Louise cannot live unless her husband is dead. When Mrs. Mallard learns of her husbands death, she not only goes straight into a period of grieving, but more importantly, she is not as shocked as most people usually are when they hear about a death of a close relative or friend.
She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. (p. 536) This is the first time Chopin alludes to Louise Mallards presumable lack of love for Brently. Had she been truly in love with him, she would never have broken into tears immediately, yet instead she might have smiled a little without truly hearing the words spoken to her seconds earlier. The latter is a reaction of normalcy and commonality. Often times when one reacts in such a way as Louise did, it means that she did not truly have a strong attachment to the deceased one.
Directly after her outburst of tears, she locks herself away in a room, also an unusual reaction for someone in her predicament. And yet she had loved himsometimes. Often she had not. 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! (p. 537) On the more obvious side, this is a direct reference to Louise Mallards lack of love for her husband, yet this quote also entails the brand new feeling one receives when entering into something new, such as a free life.
This is the moment that symbolizes so perfectly the freedom she is gaining by the minute. As soon as Louise Mallard locks that door, not allowing one thing to enter, aside from her thoughts, and later the monstrous joy, she is accepting the freedom from the shackles of her marriage. The irony here is that she becomes free in a locked room. Normally, when one locks a door, it seals that person in and gives them a lack of a sense of freedom. However, in Louise Mallards case, she is sealing out the other issues, and freeing herself inside the room.
Even though she cannot be free within the society, for the culture of the late nineteenth century would not permit such a thing, she can become free within her own world, within her own room. Immediately after enclosing herself in her room, she begins to have this epiphany, during which everything outside seems perfect and free. The spring had come, and all that is occurring outside appears to be quite pleasant. She could see in the open square before her the tops of the trees that were all aquiver with the new spring of life.
The delicious breath of rain was in the air The notes of a distant song which someone was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves. (p. 536) The language that Chopin uses here, like open square, or new spring of life, shows the freedom in the outdoors area as well as the new life she is coming into. The connotations of the words, open, and new, allude to freedom and a fresh start, which is exactly what Chopin wants the reader to feel that Louise is coming into now. After this foreshadowing of what is coming to Mrs.
Mallard, she begins to feel it, this so-called monstrous joy that will hold her. She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess hershe abandoned herself [and] a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips, free, free, free! The vacant stare and look of terror that had 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. (p. 537) When she utters those words of independence under her breath, it signifies the most obvious turning point in her life, allowing this thing to take over her.
At first, Mrs. Mallard is frightened of the possibility of becoming free, for it is neither what she is used to, nor what is accepted in society. Yet as the joy continues to take control of her, and gives her a sense of the impending freedom, she begins to realize how it is to be able to have power in your life. Suddenly, she feels truly empowered, and can make her own decisions, something she never felt while in a marriage. In the passage above, Louise is coming to the realization that in her life with Brently, she is truly caged up, and is not what we call free.
Therefore, she abandons the old, confined Mrs. Mallard, and takes on a new mindset as a liberated Louise Mallard. After figuring out the aforementioned facts, she recognizes that now her life is truly beginning, she is becoming her own person, no longer possessed by Brently Mallard. She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death. But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long precession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened her arms out to them in welcome. p. 537) Once Louise enters into her free mindset and her new, unconfined life, she cannot return to the way things were before her husbands presumable death. Now she thrives on life, instead of wishing that it may end shortly. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be longthere was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. (p. 537) In this quote Chopin illustrates how Mrs.
Louise Mallards mindset has changed after hearing the news of her husbands death. She has changed for the better. Enjoying this happiness for only moments, Louise descends the stairs, only to be killed at the bottom by the knowledge that Brently Mallard is not dead. Moreover, the reason she dies is not solely because he is alive, but the connotations reinforced by seeing him. She is no longer free, as she had been only seconds before, and is once again confined by the shackles of marriage.
Louise returns to being a possession of someone else, incapable of making her own decisions, disempowered. This knowledge and all of the connotations that go with it make up the joy that kills. (p. 538) Louise Mallard is unable to continuing living the life she had before the illusory death of Brently, having once tasted how lovely freedom is. Knowing that she can never achieve that wonderful feeling of freedom again, she has to die, for she cannot live unless Brently Mallard is dead.