Kate Chopin’s The story of an hour: Themes
Socially decided roles
The social customs and traditions are an important theme in the story of an hour. The author explores how a person gets limited by the society and its customs and traditions. A wife is expected to feel shocked and wail at the news of her husband’s death. All husbands and wives are expected to deeply love each other. The love and bonding between Mr and Mrs Mallard is not so strong but Mrs Mallard still makes a demonstration of deep grief and sorrow upon receiving the bad news. It is because the people around her expect her to be deeply aggrieved. Everything happening around her appears comic. Outside it is an environment of grief for Mrs Mallard and inside it is like the celebration of a victory. In a patriarchal society, the situation could be funny beyond imagination. Chopin attacks these social divisions and limitations by showing how funny this customary role playing is. No one has the liberty to move beyond his social limits. Neither can a husband feel inclined to shower extra love on his wife nor a woman can expect more love than her husband grants.
Limits of being a wife
Being a wife does not come easy. Like Mrs Mallard one has to stay indoors, not demonstrate her true feelings and worship her husband like a God. You have to live a caged life where your home is the stage and all drama takes place within its limits. Mrs Mallard is happy inside and feeling liberated but she cannot dare to demonstrate it before others for the society will consider it disrespectful. She has been leading a complicated and knotted life. These knots are undone only when one of the couple departs. However, it is not just the husband who is responsible. It is the society’s doing. The society decides where to keep the husband and where the wife, even if the too feel comical following its norms. To earn her freedom Mrs Mallard has made a major sacrifice but then for a bird that has never tasted open air nothing can be more valuable than liberty. The limits are lifted but for any woman the costs can be quite big. Living in a state of identity crisis is her fate. If she tries to cross her limits, the society would consider her out of control or insane.
Short lived joy in a woman’s life
Life without liberty is no life at all and that is what Chopin is trying to tell the readers through her story. She lays it out openly in the form of Mrs Mallard’s story. Her joy lives for just an hour. It is only for an hour that she is alive. Overall, her life is a sad story of an hour. There was no life before it, there will be none for her afterwards. The irony is that the joy she has earned is of an hour. Actually, her joy has never mattered. It is not her husband but her God that has died. She is expected to mourn like she is herself dead. Only Louise knows that her soul is free. She enjoys the freedom sitting in a room closed to the outside world with its window open to allow fresh air in her life. However, the chirping of sparrows falls silent because death has decided to let her husband go. Again it’s the same world inside enclosures and again she has to be a woman. However, Mrs Mallard has decided to release herself and before people can again chain her back to her old limits, her soul has transcended to a world of her own.