The Story of an Hour depicts the emotional experience of a young woman named Louise at the moment she got the news that her husband died in a train crash. After Louise has been informed by her sister Josephine of that fact, she locked herself in her room to mourn. Suddenly, she understood that the loss of her husband is far less tragic than she expected. The thoughts of regaining freedom seized her mind. She looked through the window at the world outside and her heart filled with joy and happiness. At the moment, Louise descended the staircase, her husband, Mr. Brentley Mallard had come home unexpectedly, alive and well. The young woman died from a heart attack caused by the shock of seeing her husband alive.
The real reason of her death, nevertheless, may prove uncertain for a regular reader and lies deep in the history of the 19th century and its way of life. The loss of the hope for independence killed her. Louise’s hope for personal freedom and expectation for new life collapsed in seconds with her husband being alive. She existed in the world with the high standards of virtue where women lived within severe boundaries of what they could do. Women enjoyed less freedom than men and often suffered from the imposed marriage. These features are characteristic of Louise’s life, as well. She strives for a better life, but the hope is almost gone and the woman is about to give up. Suddenly, she gets a vague hope that her life might change.
The narrator subtly conveys her emotional experience through nature effects and her own physical state. New life flourishes in “trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life” and “the delicious breath of rain”. “The patches of blue sky” which peep through the window, claim her inner emotional sky to be clear soon too. The window in her room represents new availabilities and new world that awaits her. This vision fills her with life itself.
The physical state of Louise does not resemble that of a woman with an illness. Despite the news, which a person with a weak heart would hardly bear, her “pulses beat fast and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body”. Her heart disease is itself symbolic. On the one hand, it is the symbol of her former life filled with melancholy and gloom. She is married to a man she barely loves, or never loved. She has to live a dull and formalized life. On the other hand, her disease is the concept of the overwhelming joy which can easily kill. Her state of mind can be regarded as ‘broken heart’ in the very sense of that phrase.
The anticipation of so much-loved independence, fostered by years of spiritual quest suddenly was not deceived. The visionary undreamed-of happiness has been brought to life and that was the core moment. Every bridge has been burned down inside her mind and there was no way to turn back. Once the hope has been stolen, she died of a broken heart.
From a global perspective, the narrator suggests that almost every marriage is burdensome and painful. Every forced or even voluntary union imposes restrictions on both sides. In the course of time, these boundaries arouse discontent and contradictions which lead to personal, emotional disaster of one or both spouses. This point of view reflects the narrator’s position on the state of women in the contemporary society.
The question of women’s freedom is relevant today. This short story is a must-read for everyone interested in understanding women’s emotional experiences and how painful the formation of a woman, as the full society member could be.