Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour provides an explanation of the author’s personal view towards the oppressive nature of marriage and the potential for a happier, more joyful life of independence. The following brief excerpt from the text symbolizes Mrs. Mallard’s transition from wife to widow, and captures the liberation she feels upon making that switch:
“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.”
Her reaction of borderline hysteria is a response not to the loss of her husband, but to the reclaiming of her self; her own unrestricted life. “Her fancy was running riot,” captures the unbridled joy she feels as a result of her newly acquired freedom. Her newfound “fancy,” is given energy and power by its action of “running riot.” It seems akin to a metaphorical tidal wive, a band of rogue horses stampeding over a plain, a rioting mob perhaps—forces that cannot be controlled, a figurative riot of emotion. This puts into perspective just how powerful her feeling of freedom is, and provides a bit of foreshadowing that her feelings of deadly joy might be more than she can handle.
The next line, “Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own,” stirs up connotations of beautiful days, beautiful weather, and overall enjoyment. It is crucial to recognize that Mrs. Mallard only references spring and summer, leaving out fall and winter. She uses the more desirable seasons to describe her days to come, her days alone, allowing the reader to make the assumption that her days of marriage were harsh, cold, and icy, like winter and fall.
This supports Chopin’s personal philosophy that marriage is an institution that forces limitations and unhappiness on those involved. Chopin is also commenting on the idea of possession in marriage—the days of the future will be “her own,” whereas in marriage they were shared, perhaps not even shared. One could go so far to say that Chopin believed that marriage is an act of a husband possessing a wife, or vise versa. Through Mrs. Mallard’s story, Chopin makes it abundantly clear that the only things that truly bring us joy are the things that are our own.
Furthermore, the text could even be interpreted as loosely autobiographical. Chopin never thought her husband died, only to realize he was in fact still alive and then spontaneously have a heart attack. But her husband did die after twelve years of marriage, and Kate Chopin lived for twenty-two years afterward as an independent, progressive, reportedly flirtatious woman.
Finally, the passage concludes with “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.”
The power and effectiveness in the pairing of these two phrases lies in the repetition of “that life might be long” at the end of each one. Initially, she is caught up in her moment of ecstasy and prays that she will live a long life—a long life filled with many spring and summer days that she will have all to herself, days where she won’t have to answer to a husband or worry about the needs of any individual outside of herself. This signifies where she is going with her newfound freedom.
Then, Mrs. Mallard looks back and remembers how she “had thought with a shudder that life might be long.” The prospect of going on for years, potentially decades, as half of a married couple used to scare her so deeply that it roused a physical response from her.
Chopin is saying that married life isn’t life at all. It doesn’t feel like life, it feels like a slow trudge towards a welcome death. Mrs. Mallard’s life felt more like dying than anything else. As a result, when she realizes that her husband is indeed still alive, she has no choice but to allow herself to die. She’s seen the potential for what her life could be if she weren’t married, and faced with the reality that she would have to return to being a normal wife, she welcomes death with open arms.