In my take on The Story of an Hour, freedom is a guilty pleasure that is kept locked within the deepest reaches of the soul. Louise Mallard hears from her sister and a family friend that her husband, Brently Mallard, has died in a train accident, she reacts vigorously. In the safety and comfort of her room however, her newfound freedom excites and frightens her. Even though these are her private thoughts, she at first tries to squelch the joy she feels, to “beat it back with her will.” Such resistance reveals how forbidden this pleasure really is.
When she finally does acknowledge the joy, she feels possessed by it and must abandon herself to it as the word free escapes her lips. Louise’s life offers no refuge for this kind of joy, and the rest of society will never accept it or understand it. Extreme circumstances have given Louise a taste of this forbidden fruit, and her thoughts are, in turn, extreme. She sees her life as being absolutely hers and her new independence as the core of her being.
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Overwhelmed, Louise even turns to prayer, hoping for a long life in which to enjoy this feeling. When Brently returns, he unwittingly yanks Louise’s independence away from her, putting it once again out of her reach. The forbidden joy disappears as quickly as it came, but the taste of it is enough to kill her.
My first thought when reading through The Story of an Hour, was that Louise Mallard would be another housewife wondering more about how they’ll support themselves than grieving about her dead husband. As was common in the late 1800s, women depended on men to take care of them as women were too fragile to work. Phrases like “She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment…” and “She sat… quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her…” only further enforced that notion. But as I kept reading, Louise starts to realize that she’s free from a semi-loveless marriage and that she no longer dreads living a long life. She proceeds to tell herself that she’s “”Free! Body and soul free!” I also noticed that her last name is Mallard which is also a common type of duck. Birds that happen to be associated with flying when not swimming. Throughout the story, small symbols of freedom such as the open window in Louise’s bedroom and the sparrows that were outside of it, were foreshadowing Louise’s feelings. Women in the 1850s-1910s didn’t have modern day “freedom” or equality.
Marriage was expected to maintain or increase a woman’s social status and level of security. They worked from home: cooking, cleaning, sewing, etc., while their husbands’ worked town functions and outdoors around the community. The matter of equality and independence is still an issue today.
You can argue that women today have the same rights as men such as the right to vote or own property, but in countries such as Saudi Arabia, it is illegal for women to drive or leave their home without a husband or male relative. It is difficult for women with these privileges to advocate for the ones without because we’re commonly told that “we shouldn’t be complaining because we have it so good.” But people these days continue to fight for the rights of women who don’t have a life without marriage. Maybe these women feel just like Louise Mallard on the inside.