Commentary by Karen Bernardo
Most of Kate Chopin’s most well-known stories and novels deal in some way with a marriage that is out of balance, and a woman who either wishes she were free or is in the process of making herself that way. In “The Story of an Hour,” Chopin deals with an ironic twist on this theme: the wife in this story does not even realize she is dissatisfied with her marriage until she is told her husband has been killed.
As the story opens, a married woman named Louise learns that her husband is supposed to have been killed in a train wreck. Louise obviously is expected to be devastated by this news, but strangely, she is not. Chopin tells us that “She did not hear the story as many women would have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her.”
The reason “she would have no one follow her” is that she has sensed, somehow, that the process of adapting to widowhood will be somewhat different for her than it might be for women who are more emotionally dependent on their husbands. The imagery Chopin uses to describe Louise’s activities in her room—the way she sits in a comfortable chair, and looks out of the window of her room to see trees “that were all aquiver with the new spring life”—are definitely not emblematic of grief. Despite the fact that until this moment she was not consciously dissatisfied with her marriage to Brently, she suddenly looks forward to a life lived under her own recognizance.
For one blessed hour, she believes Brently dead, and in her own mind she sets about rebuilding her future; when he arrives at home safe and sound and she discovers that his train had not crashed after all, Louise drops dead of a heart attack. Her family assumes, of course, that the shock of seeing a live person believed to be dead was too much for her; but Chopin implies otherwise. It seems more likely that Louise could no longer bear the thought of returning to a life in which she was always the “little woman,” and never in control. She would rather be dead than go back to that way of living, and consequently, she dies.
All four Chopin stories reviewed on Storybites can be found in the collection The Awakening: And Other Stories.
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