Essay questions (The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin)
Mrs. Mallard is described as descending the stairs “like a goddess of Victory.” In what ways does she feel herself victorious?
Mrs Mallard has been quite enjoying her time sitting alone in the room and watching the view outside the window. When Jospehine repeatedly implores her to open the room through the key hole believing that she was going to kill herself out of sorrow, Mrs Mallard opens the door half-heartedly. She slowly walks out of the room, and comes down the stairs like a Goddess descending from the heavens. She had been resting in paradise while she was alone, planning how she was going to spend the rest of her life. The author compares her with a goddess of victory because she bore a satisfaction in her heart that is felt after having found victory. For the first time had she felt such contentment in her heart. It was like a war had ended in her life and she had emerged the winner in her game. She is feeling victorious because she would not have to act like the wife of a man she only half loved. She was no more bound by the shackles every wife is. Being a widow was not her pain; instead she was pleased that she would be free to live her life like she wants.
The last line of the story is this: “When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease-of joy that kills.” In what ways is this an ironic statement? What is gained by having the doctors make such a statement rather than putting it in the mouths of Josephine or Richards?
Mrs Mallard is dead and even the doctors are not aware of what killed her. They predict that she must have died of too much joy because she had a heart condition. Chopin shows how even science has failed before the social traditions and customs. Every wife is expected to be overjoyed to know that her husband has escaped death. The doctors too think the same. They too cannot understand what underlies Mrs Mallard’s heart condition. The author has used the doctors instead of Josephine and Richards to deepen the sarcasm in the story. In an age of scientific thinking people adhered to old norms and customs. Even the doctors are not an exception. The situation is both ironic and comic because on the one side, it is not the truth and on the other no one finds out the truth in Mrs Mallard’s heart. It just dies with her.
What view of marriage does the story present? The story was published in 1894; does it only represent attitudes toward marriage in the nineteenth century, or could it equally apply to attitudes about marriage today?
The view of marriage that the story presents is not that of marriage as a bond, but marriage as bondage. In the nineteenth century, the society was largely patriarchal and the women were expected to behave like their husband’s shadow and follow their wish and will. When Mrs Mallard gets the news of her husband’s death, she feels like she has been released from bondage. Society and people’s attitude towards marriage has changed a lot since then. The situation has changed but not very much. Except for the women that are well educated and belong to the upper class, those who are not self-dependent, still lead a similar life as in the nineteenth century. Marriage is not bondage anymore because divorces have become common, but the irony related with marriage is still the same. The male partner still comes first. Women are more empowered in the 21st century and even law is there to help them but for the society’s mindset to change completely, it might still take ages.
If this is, in some sense, a story about a symbolic journey, where does Mrs. Mallard “travel”?
Mrs Mallard is on a symbolical journey to a different world where her soul can find eternal peace and liberty. She has been yearning for liberty and love. For an hour she has transitioned to this world where she finds solace and takes a fresh breath of freedom. This symbolical journey means a transition from bondage to liberty. As a wife she has been leading a bounded life where she has had to live under her husband’s control and per his will. Now, that her husband is dead she will enjoy the rest seasons of her life in freedom. Her journey also represents a transition to safe and free existence. However, the irony is that for a woman to find such freedom in life was not possible in the 19th century. She transitions to another world where soul is as free as she wants.