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The Story of an Hour

by: Kate Chopin

Themes

The Forbidden Joy of Independence

In “The Story of an Hour,” independence is a forbidden pleasure that can be imagined only privately. When Louise hears from Josephine and Richards of Brently’s death, she reacts with obvious grief, and although her reaction is perhaps more violent than other women’s, it is an appropriate one. Alone, however, Louise begins to realize that she is now an independent woman, a realization that enlivens and excites her. Even though these are her private thoughts, she at first tries to squelch the joy she feels, to “beat it back with her will.” Such resistance reveals how forbidden this pleasure really is. When she finally does acknowledge the joy, she feels possessed by it and must abandon herself to it as the word free escapes her lips. Louise’s life offers no refuge for this kind of joy, and the rest of society will never accept it or understand it. Extreme circumstances have given Louise a taste of this forbidden fruit, and her thoughts are, in turn, extreme. She sees her life as being absolutely hers and her new independence as the core of her being. Overwhelmed, Louise even turns to prayer, hoping for a long life in which to enjoy this feeling. When Brently returns, he unwittingly yanks Louise’s independence away from her, putting it once again out of her reach. The forbidden joy disappears as quickly as it came, but the taste of it is enough to kill her.

The Inherent Oppressiveness of Marriage

Chopin suggests that all marriages, even the kindest ones, are inherently oppressive. Louise, who readily admits that her husband was kind and loving, nonetheless feels joy when she believes that he has died. Her reaction doesn’t suggest any malice, and Louise knows that she’ll cry at Brently’s funeral. However, despite the love between husband and wife, Louise views Brently’s death as a release from oppression. She never names a specific way in which Brently oppressed her, hinting instead that marriage in general stifles both women and men. She even seems to suggest that she oppressed Brently just as much as he oppressed her. Louise’s epiphany in which these thoughts parade through her mind reveals the inherent oppressiveness of all marriages, which by their nature rob people of their independence.