Essay Questions based on Chopin’s The Story of an Hour
What is the nature of Mrs. Mallard’s “heart trouble,” and why would the author mention it in the first paragraph? Is there any way in which this might be considered symbolic or ironic?
Mrs Mallard’s heart trouble is both symbolic and ironic. It symbolizes the same trouble as the narrator is having in the Yellow Wallpaper. However, more than anything the pain is comic in Chopin’s story. Mrs Mallard’s heart cannot hold neither extreme joy and nor pain. However, it is ironic that she can receive the news of her husband’s death but his return becomes too painful for her to bear. Whatever be the real scenario, the author mentions this trouble right in the first paragraph. This adds to the sarcasm in the story. Her heart trouble also symbolizes her comic situation. As a wife she is expected to feel deeply pained at her husband’s death. The sorrow must be enough to break her heart. The irony is that she receives the news with relief and only acts like she is deeply shocked.
“She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome”.
Mrs Mallard cannot help feeling relieved that being free from the role of a wife means a new liberty for her. Her heart has been held captive and now it is ready to breath in freedom. Soon, her husband returns unscathed and she dies feeling shocked to see him alive. Her joy lives for a second and dies with her husband’s return. The flame of joy that had suddenly erupted in her heart to think she was to enjoy a free life of her own, gets extinguished when sees her husband’s face. With it, the flame of her life is also dead. The doctors declare that it was because of her heart situation and that she could not bear the joy that was too much for her.
Her pain is ironic that everything she does is interpreted in the context of a wife’s role. She is to feel pained at her husband’s death and act overjoyed at his return. Moreover, the pain that had lived with her dies with her enclosed in her heart and no one is able to know the real secret behind her pain. Her heart trouble is only a symbol that is used for the captive’s role women played in the society. Even their emotions were bound by their roles and no woman could think of acting otherwise. They were expected to display the emotions society had prescribed for them.
The setting of the story is very limited; it is confined largely to a room, a staircase, and a front door. How does this limitation help to express the themes of the story?
The entire story takes place within the confines of Mrs Mallard’s house. It reflects the confinement that Mrs Mallard bears in her life. The limitation of the physical settings reflects the limitations imposed upon her. It reflects the limited life she lives and which she feels relieved from upon receiving the news of her husband’s death. A room, a staircase and a front door; this is how the author has defined the physical limits of Mrs Mallard’s daily life. When she receives the news of her husband’s death, it seems like she can live a new life and that these limits will be removed.
“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”.
However, these limits are meant for life and they are removed only with her death. The theme of the story expresses the helplessness and confinement that was there in every woman’s life at the author’s times. Mrs Mallard has been leading the life of a goat confined by a rope. The theme of the story deals with how the women were made scapegoats at the hands of the men and the society in their lives. The confinement and suffocation that the author has noted in this story and how short lived joy and freedom could be in a woman’s life was reflected in every woman’s life. However, it is not just these physical limitations that pervaded a woman’s life but also the emotional and other kinds of limitations that defined their lives. The one hour’s limit that is at the core of the story is also a limit in itself which denotes that liberty and joy did not live long for a woman.
In what ways is this passage significant? “She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. .. twittering in the eaves.” What kinds of sensory images does this passage contain, and what senses does it address? What does the vision through the open window mean to her? Where else does she taste, smell, or touch something intangible in the story?
After her husband is dead, it is for the first time that she is seeing and feeling things around her freely. She feels as if the limits on her have been lifted and the author has used sensory images to depict how free her soul is feeling. These things have always been around but she has watched and felt them like a bird watching the outside world from inside the cage. The sight outside her window appears new because she is seeing it in a new light. She is free from captivity and these things now appear like a part of her existence to her. Her eyes are soothed and relieved to see the trees dancing in spring. For the first time has she felt the delicious breath of rain in her nostrils.
The twittering of the sparrows and the note of a song being sung by someone at a distance are pleasing her ears. Her vision is not bound any more. Her eyes are free to watch and it is for the first time that she is living her own life. For the first time, her senses and her soul are as free as the sparrows twittering outside her window. The author has portrayed the liberation of Mrs Mallard’s soul in this passage and what a great relief her husband’s death is for her. Before that she has been leading a limited and heavy life. She had never had that sensory pleasure she did that day. It happens only when your soul is free. The passage is also important for the reason that it records the peak of joy that Mrs Mallard gets to experience just once in her life.
At another point in the story the author writes,
“Go away. I am not making myself ill.” No; she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window.
Through the open window, nature’s elixir was flowing to her. She was drinking and feeling intoxicated. Her joy was not to last long but for the time it lasted her spirit rose to the skies and for the first time she had felt alive. Life is nothing without liberty and for Mrs Mallard there was no liberty in a wife’s role. While she sat in the room, she drank nectar that felt heavenly and for which there was no substitute. It was the taste of freedom and the elixir of life.