Study Guide

The Story of an Hour Mortality

By Kate Chopin


The Story of an Hour

She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. (4)

Even though Mrs. Mallard is deeply saddened by the life that's been lost, all around her life goes on. Her husband has died, but all she can see from her window are signs of "new spring life." Spring itself, of course, usually signifies rebirth, so it's extra ironic that her husband would die during this time of year.

She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister's arms. (3)

Mrs. Mallard starts crying immediately when she finally finds out what happened to her husband. Her grief is "wild" and "abandon[ed]," which from the outside certainly makes it look like she really loved her husband and is devastated that he's gone.

She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams. (7)

Here, it's almost like Mrs. Mallard's body "continues" to cry without her. Even though her mind is already moving away from the thought of her husband's death, Mrs. Mallard is still occasionally wracked with a sob. Chopin uses the metaphor of a kid falling asleep crying to illustrate the point. Comparing Mrs. Mallard to the crying child seems to stress her innocence and vulnerability, almost as if to say that her later thoughts of relief at her husband's death aren't that bad after all.

Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband's death. (1)

Death hovers over this story from the beginning. It's not just that one person has suddenly died; it's that just the news of that death has the potential danger of killing another person. Mrs. Mallard's friends are worried she could die of shock. Every piece of news has the potential to be lethal.

When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease – of joy that kills. (23)

Based on the other characters' views of events, this interpretation of Mrs. Mallard's death seems understandable, if tragically so. It's unfortunate but natural that after such an exhibition of grief that her heart wouldn't be able to take the shock of seeing her husband come back, presumably from the dead. Other elements of the narrative, though, seem to suggest something different – maybe the doctors are wrong in saying that her happiness killed her. Maybe it was the opposite.

He stood amazed at Josephine's piercing cry; at Richards' quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife. (21)

Poor Mr. Mallard. He has no idea that, because he's supposedly died, the very sight of him would be enough to shock his wife into an early grave. No wonder that the "piercing cry" and "quick motion" of the others simply "amaze" him – how would you feel, if other people acted like you were a ghost?

Mrs. Louise Mallard

No; she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window. (18)

In contrast to her sister's fear that she is making herself sick, Mrs. Mallard seems to think that she's never felt more alive. In opening herself up to this idea of freedom and letting go of the shackles of marriage, Mrs. Mallard seems to be reviving herself with a "very elixir of life." Unlike other elixirs, though, this one can't promise immortality. It's as if it's so powerful that it burns right through her system, leaving her with nothing to defend herself with against the shock of seeing her husband again.

There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. (14)

The parallel structure of this sentence almost seems to imply that Mrs. Mallard is "no one"' there's "no one to live for" so "she [will] live for herself." In each part of the sentence, the verb used is the same, so "no one" and "herself" occupy the same relationship. Either Mrs. Mallard thinks that "no one" values her, or she's suggesting that it's only possible for her to be "herself" if there's no one else around.

She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long. (19)

Up to this point, Mrs. Mallard has been dreading the rest of her life. It's only once she thinks her husband has died and she's free that she's excited about living. In another example of Chopin's ironic style, though, this "prayer" goes unanswered.

Mrs. Louise Mallard

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. (13)

One could argue, in a moment like this, that Mrs. Mallard is putting aside the much larger grief that her husband's death has caused because she understands that she'll "weep again" when she sees his body. This makes it sound like she's trying to concentrate on freedom and other ideas that will distract her from her grief. Of course, this idea seems to be undercut by the other passages describing just how much this newfound freedom means to her.