Reflection: Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”

Kate Chopin’s “The Story of An Hour” uses the minimum of different characters to move the story forward.  Her style is almost abrupt in the brevity of sentences, and the jarring syntax.  There are few symbols; this story does not lend itself to much argument about the meaning of her words.  But the meaning of those words!  The theme here is clearly paramount.

Unarguably, this story is about death.  So many things die, and some are resurrected, in so few words.  The husband dies, and his death brings the death of a marriage.  Those deaths bring along the unexpected death of grief and the profound death of obligation.  Louise, the wife, experiences these deaths as a rebirth -into Louise, the person.  And the resurrection of obligation, marriage, and husband, bring about the death of Louise, and the more profoundly sorrowful death of her freedom.  The doctors say it is “the joy that kills” which kills Louise, but it seems more accurate to say that it was the death of joy which killed (Chopin, “The Story of An Hour”).

But the theme of this story does not seem to be one of death comes in many forms or death comes for us all, but rather that out of unexpected circumstances come unexpected consequences.  What should have brought unending sorrow – the death of the husband – ultimately brings the greatest joy imaginable.  For Louise unexpectedly comes upon the reality that her life can be other than she expected.  “Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. 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.” (Chopin)  She experiences true freedom and the reality of true joy.  And then her husband returns to his home, unwittingly from the dead, and experiences the death of his wife.  An opening door kills joy and freedom, and Louise cannot survive their loss.