“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin paints a vivid picture of a woman’s emotional journey in the Victorian era with surprisingly few words. The story begins with a gloomy gray day assumedly set in the late 1890’s. A tearful sister breaks the news to her newly widowed sibling of her husband’s death, and it would seem this is just another romantic short story. Is the dowager choked up, suicidal, depressed? Does she resolve to live on knowing her life will never be the same? In the beginning, it is unsure what her emotional queries will be. As the story reads on, repetition, imagery, and metaphor convey irony, polarization, and sexual repression without being overly verbose, and as so little information is given, the reader is able to tap into his or her own personal experiences, allowing a deeper connection with the character of Mrs. Louise Mallard.
Chopin writes the piece in a sequence of short paragraphs made up of two to three sentences each. Similarly, the story covers merely one hour in Louise Mallard’s life—from the moment she learns of her husband’s death to the moment he unexpectedly returns alive. The short, compressed structure mirrors the powerful hour Louise spends envisioning her new independence. Polarization is also present throughout the story. Her husband adores her, but oppresses her. She loves him, but also is glad he is dead. She is dominated, but free once her husband is perceived to be dead.
The author’s brevity allows the reader to assume his or her own predestination of the character’s inner workings. The scene through the open window communicates emotions directly to the reader.
“She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which someone was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.”
Chopin uses phrases such as ‘aquiver with new life’ and the ‘delicious breath of rain was in the air’ to demonstrate the tenuous feeling of the scene, the newness, the sheer exhilaration of her newfound freedom, all without talking about Mrs. Mallard’s thought process. Nostalgia could be seen in ‘the notes of a distant song.’
Spring is another form of symbolism represented. Mrs. Mallard welcomes the new spring life. This symbolizes a new beginning for her. Spring represents life and that is what Mrs. Mallard gains as a widow. It also helps to note that spring comes after winter. Winter can be seen as Louise while she was married to her husband. Winter is symbolically a depressing, cold and isolated season. Contrasting that to Louise’s new-found spirit and life in the story’s “Spring” setting certainly paints a vivid picture of Louise’s inner thoughts.
Chopin also uses imagery and metaphor in the subtle idea that Mallard’s approaching freedom is sort of a seductive lover.
“Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over again under the breath: “free, free, free!” …Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood that warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.”
This is very telling of Mrs. Mallard’s mind, without actually delving into her thoughts and feelings. Chopin uses physical imagery to represent mental functions. This entire paragraph is extremely sexual metaphorically speaking.
Every reader’s conclusion of Mrs. Mallard and her behavior ultimately stems from their own personal feelings about marriage and the sways of prospects in our society. Chopin’s ability to demonstrate the complicated moral problems without being too particular will appeal in a different way to each individual reader.