The Freedom of Mrs. Mallard Essay

The Freedom of Mrs. Mallard Essay

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As Louise contemplates the fact of Brently Mallard's death, however, her grief gives way to a far more powerful feeling—a feeling of joy in her own freedom. Louise realizes that she will feel sad when she sees Brently's "kind, tender hands folded in death," but she also realizes that for the first time in years she actually wants to live. While Louise is intoxicated with this newfound joy, Josephine, who fears that Louise might harm herself in her anguish over Brently's death, implores her to leave the locked room and come downstairs. As the two women descend the staircase, Brently Mallard walks in the front door. Chopin comments, "he had been far from the scene of accident, and did not even know there had been one." Upon seeing her husband, Louise suffers a heart attack and dies. This simple surface action belies the complexities of the prose style.

The first sentence of "The Story of an Hour" reads: "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." If we approach this sentence merely as factual communique, we might say that it conveys three messages: Mrs. Mallard suffers from a heart trouble; Mrs. Mallard's husband has died; someone has taken great care to inform Mrs. Mallard of her husband's death. If, however, we analyze the way in which we proceed through the sentence, we discover a more complex layer of meaning. The first word of the sentence, knowing, introduces a participial phrase. A reader expects, and grammatical usage requires, that a primary position participle modify the subject of the subsequent independent clause. Chopin violates our expectations. As we move through the participial phrase and into the indep...

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...s. If we review the story as a whole, we realize that the disquieting effect of the first sentence is heightened as we confront instances of agent disjunction and pronominalization, ambiguity, and diminution. Our positive feelings about Louise's self-assertion are qualified word by word. Although Louise struggles with a few moments of fearful anticipation, her progression toward self-assertion is predicated on "news" and "veiled hints," and she gives herself up to an undefined "something" without stopping to ask if it is or is not a "monstrous joy." As much as we would like to follow her, the route is closed to us. The cumulative experience of the text does not allow such simple complicity.

Works Cited

Madonne M. Miner, "Veiled Hints: An Affective Stylist's Reading of Kate Chopin's 'Story of an Hour'," in The Markham Review, Vol 11, Winter, 1982, pp 29-32

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