Literary elements support and develop the themes in all works of fine literature. The short story “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin is a work delicately woven together with different literary elements including symbolism, character, and point of view that contribute to the theme of the story, which is a study of individuality conflicting with oppression. Oppression in general can come from society, human beings, or even from the same person. In this short story, Louise is being oppressed by all three groups aforementioned.
She is oppressed by society in having to conform to a certain stereotypical method of mourning, oppressed by her husband and their marriage, and oppressed by her own heart, which dares not continue on after losing her independence once more. Oppression in America was not uncommon at this time, especially in marriages. Kate Chopin was a feminist and often tried to expose how confined women were in society and in marital relationships. Liu Zhuo said that “[This short story was] exploring how American main stream society ignored women’s values and imposed constraints on spiritual freedom. (Zhuo, 2004).
Individuality in this short story is seen strongly when Louise is contemplating her own life. She, a dependent and intelligent woman, feels as if she has shrugged off some horrid burden and is allowed to have a free and wonderful time after she learns of the accident. As impressive as this may sound, she was intended on being just another woman being oppressed in this time period, but the death of her husband liberates her enough to show her independent nature.
Emily Toth notes that Louise “will not have to live her life for anyone else; she will not have to submit to anyone’s wishes but her own. ” (Toth, pg 10). Her strong will and desire to be her own person is evident in this analysis. Louise desires nothing more than to be her own person, but she may have not been aware if that before the news arrived. When her unknown desire comes into light, she becomes a shining new woman that is apart from other ‘confined’ women. Symbolism in “The Story of an Hour” is both subtle and strong.
Symbolism of oppression is often here seen in her desire to be free. This desire is projected to an open window and this window becomes a symbol for her newly-found freedom and prospects after finding out that her husband has died. Peering out of this window, Louise sees life and earthly wonders she had never before hoped to enjoy, and she begins to wonder about how her life will be now that she is free from the marriage. The text even goes so far in stating that “She was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window. ” (Chopin, 1894).
This symbol becomes complete when she turns away from the window to find her husband lives, at which point she loses her life. Another symbolic aspect in this short story is her heart itself. In the story, her heart issues are the main focus of disaster and her joy. At the beginning of the story, her heart trouble is the first thing that is mentioned about her. When she begins thinking about her newly-acquired freedom, her heart races. The text relates that “Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body. ” (Chopin, pgh 11).
This would imply that her heart had been stoic and languid before this time, meaning that she was only now truly beginning to live. The news of her husbands death may have been broken to her gently so that her heart might not cause her death, but her heart actually stops beating when she finds out that he lives, alluding that she has symbolically and physically died again under her marriage’s oppression. Asserting that the heart troubles are symbolic, it would be easy to compare metaphorically her physical heart trouble to the trouble of her love life.
It is common knowledge that when one loses another their ‘heart might break’, or that when one is in love ‘their heart swells’. Hearts are symbols for love, and Louise’s heart clearly lacks strength here. Louise has no reason to hate her husband, or be glad that he is dead. Rather, she expressed that she would be mournful at his funeral, and stated clearly that she did not love her husband. The characters of this story are very interesting, but Louise Mallard is the only one that has any true depth given to her.
She is portrayed as a woman that has been confined to the cage of marriage, and would do anything to get out. She showed immense emotion to the onlookers after hearing the news of her husband’s death but her inner thoughts and desires were joyful and hopeful. She has heart problems, but they are presented very vaguely and without a true label of disease. This, along with her external mannerisms suggest that her heart problems are physical and emotional. The point of view is written in third-person omniscient and is essential for the story to be carried out correctly.
As a matter of fact, the entirety of the story would be very different if it had been written in the first-person point of view. The very first sentence would not have been possible, and thus the knowledge of her heart malady would not have been revealed. Perhaps if it had been written from her eyes, the entire story also might have sounded rather malicious. The narrator also serves to make Louise a sympathetic character rather than an uncaring one. Making excuses and sugar-coating her feelings of freedom, the narrator is essential in this story.
Louise was not seeking out freedom from oppression or her marriage, but she had a taste of freedom through her open window when she learned she was a widow. Rather than her heart breaking as her family feared, her heart started beating. Louise gained her individuality and became a very dynamic character in the hour shut up in her room. Through the sympathetic narrator, the reader goes on a journey of self-discovery with Louise as she claws her way to a free state of mind and being. It is with these literary elements that the story teaches the theme of an individual dealing with an oppressive marriage.