The symbolism of the heart diseases and Louise's strive for identity in a man-dominated world. The "Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin

Term Paper, 2021

8 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Repression and Freedom

3 Marriage

4 Conclusion

Works Cited

1 Introduction

The narrator of the short tale "The Story of an Hour" describes Louise Mallard, a woman whose husband, Brently Mallard, was allegedly killed in a train accident in the 1890’s. The short story depicts the force of extreme male dominance over women in marriage, which was widespread at thetime, leaving women yearning for any release from oppression. Mrs. Mallard is secretly pleased for the new opportunity to discover her own identity and cherishes her newfound freedom much more than she loves her husband, as it can be seen from her behaviour. Mrs. Mallard understands she should be grieving her husband's death and fearing what the future holds, but she cannot help but be overjoyed with the amount of freedom she has now. The topic of the feminine desire for identity in a male dominated environment is represented in Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour," that employs the symbol of the heart disease, which illustrate the independence and opportunities, that await her after an unfulfilled marriage.

2 Repression and Freedom

2.1 The Repression of Louise

The pursuit of identity and freedom can only be evoked by the feeling of repression, which is caused by being maintain controlled during her marriage with Mr. Mallard in “The Story of an Hour”. The oppression that the main female character feels during her marriage is not clearly distinguishable from the strive of liberty. Hereby, it is crucial to emphasize that the oppression Louise faces in her marriage is largely psychological, not physical (Chopin, 44ff.), that she is emblematic of many women and that the Mallard marriage is just the norm of the 1890’s, which will be discussed in more detail later. In the text the female main character is described as "[...] young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression[...] " (Chopin, 24), which is caused by the fact that Mrs Mallard's husband is able to roam about freely. This adds to the evidence that she felt oppressed in her marriage. While the story's location appears to be restricted to the Mallard house as well as Louise and her sister, the reader is given impressions of the outside world. This demonstrates not just women's captivity and the tyranny Mrs. Mallard has experienced, but also men's liberation. Brently travels by train alone or, to put it another way, he may choose whether or not to travel by train at all. He has possessions, such as the house where his wife spends most of the time, and he goes to work, which is highlighted in the short story by his briefcase (66). The women's stay in the house can be seen as a suppression of desires and feelings that will never leave the house, while men can live out their needs. Louise’s husband is the best example of a life that expresses freedom, which she as a wife could never have. Therefore, it is understandable why the female protagonist feels oppressed and longs for the freedom her husband has after a marriage full of controlling and repression.

2.2 Freedom for Women and Men

Additionally, the Author of “The Story of an Hour” shows, that through the death of her husband, Louise can gain new male freedom and can find her own identity. First of all, it is important to understand what male freedom actually means and, above all, what it looks like. In the short story, man's freedom is portrayed as something untouchable for women, especially for married women. A man can do what he wants to do, while a woman's liberty is defined by the husband and by her social status of being a wife (Chopin, 44). The superiority of the man is evident at the beginning of the text by calling the female main character Mrs. Mallard, which expresses that the protagonist belongs to him, she is his (1). Chopin informs the reader of Mrs. Mallards First name, after the apparent death of her husband. This transformation symbolizes the coming of a new age for the protagonist. The name Mrs. is frequently linked with marriage, it is conceivable that Chopin utilizes this change to suggest that women lose their identity after they marry. The name Louise denotes a newly discovered identity in which the character is no longer defined by her husband. Louise is surprisingly happy about the death of her husband, which means for her the end of repression and the beginning of her freedom. Her relief and joy about her new gained liberty is described with the words: “She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been. When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: free, free, free!” (31-35).

For the female main character, freedom implies that she can now make her own decisions and will transition from wife to widow, which means she will no longer be bound by the chores and responsibilities of a wife. What a wife's tasks looked like is explained below. Therefore, it is no accident, that Louise's fantasy of independence and freedom, like Louise herself, fades away as soon as her living husband walks through the door.

3 Marriage

3.1 Gender roles: The Definition of Marriage in the 1890’s

Furthermore, the central theme of Kate Chopin's short tale is to illustrate that marriage confines women. The Mallards' marriage depicts a reality of life in the 1890’s that many people were familiar with (Adams). Through marriage, women lost their identity and freedom. Mark Cunningham describes the fate of women in his text, as the following: “women have been unable to create a system of their own. The female self will have gained autonomy only to find that she has no life to lead” (54).

This essentially implies that women are raised from a young age to be good wives and mothers in the future. Women were not taught to act independently, they were taught to be respond to the needs of their families and put their own wishes never as a priority. Marriage served as a tool for social control, allowing men to maintain social and political authority while keeping women under control. Basically, wives have no specific job, except to make their husbands happy and to follow his rules (Chopin,66). Wives were supposed to stay at home and be domestic, while husbands were free to travel the world on their own, going to work, and make crucial family decisions (ibid.). It is important to realize that Louise was not unhappy in the marriage because of the lack of love, but because of the role that she had to fulfil as a wife in the society(45ff.). Women like Louise, yearn for independence and self-discovery as a result of their constrained role as wives, which requires them to constantly comply with the demands of their husbands and families.

3.2 Love in Marriage

While the heart is associated with love, it is also said to be the core of the human body, as well as the repository of compassion and feelings. However, the focus is not on the heart, but on the heart disease, which indicates Louise´s oppression in her marriage and the lack of love. Because the heart sustains the rest of the body, damage to the heart frequently results in death, which is caused by her repression. In Fahimeh Q. Berenji’s Essay this deathly strive for liberty after oppression is explained in more detail: “It seems Mrs. Mallard plays no role in finding her freedom, and she only tastes it, and then loses all the freedom in the plays of fortune.” (230)

The heart defect that she already has through her male-dominated marriage is an indication that Louise felt locked in and repressed all along, which could ultimately have sparked the desire for freedom. Therefore, the heart defect can be seen as a symbol of striving for freedom. Despite having a heart problem, Louise believes after the death of her husband, that she is free and wants for herself a long life (Chopin, 59), which demonstrating how strong her desire for freedom is. Nevertheless, the heart disease expresses also the lack of love that the Mallard marriage has in it (49). Louise perceives her marriage as a lifelong relationship in which she feels bound, as evidenced by her admission that she only loves her spouse "[...]sometimes. Often she had not." (ibid.). It is hard to love someone, who is taking your freedom and independency away but represents a life full of liberty that Louise could never have as wife. Therefore, her delight at being free, free from her husband's oppression, free from the conventions, and simply being herself was finally too much for the female heroine, who did not survive the dream of freedom.


Excerpt out of 8 pages


The symbolism of the heart diseases and Louise's strive for identity in a man-dominated world. The "Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin
University of Tubingen
Catalog Number
Kate Chopin, Story of an Hour, Symbolism, Identity, Men, Women, Heart diseases
Quote paper
Christina Zent (Author), 2021, The symbolism of the heart diseases and Louise's strive for identity in a man-dominated world. The "Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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