The Story of an Hour

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Themes and Colors
Women in 19th-Century Society Theme Icon
Freedom and Independence Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Story of an Hour, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Freedom and Independence Theme Icon

In “The Story of an Hour,” freedom and independence—not love, not friends, not family, not honor or glory or anything else—are held up as what make a life worth living. Though Louise is at first genuinely upset by the news of Brently’s death—and though she makes it clear that she will greatly mourn the loss of her husband—over the course of the hour in which she believes him to be dead, she comes to see the incredible gift she has been given in the form of the freedom she will have as an unmarried (and well-off) woman. She delights in the fact that without a husband she will be able to spend the remainder of her days exactly as she pleases. While Louise’s delight in her freedom is closely tied to her status as a woman in nineteenth-century American society, it is important to note that the story doesn’t limit its idea of the preeminent importance of independence only to women. As Louise herself thinks, “There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.” In Louise’s conception, it is both women and men who lack freedom; it is both women and men who, in all their interactions with each other, steal freedom from each other.

Yet, just as the story indicates society and the world’s resistance to female empowerment, so does it imply the impossibility of actual human freedom or independence. It is no coincidence that Louise’s sense of the possibility of freedom only comes to her when she is locked, entirely alone, within her room. As her own thoughts about how men and women take each other’s freedom suggests, any social interaction or connection impinges upon freedom. And so it is further no coincidence that Louise’s dream of freedom, along with Louise herself, dies almost as soon as she leaves the solitary ecstasy of her room.

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Freedom and Independence ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Freedom and Independence appears in each chapter of The Story of an Hour. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Freedom and Independence Quotes in The Story of an Hour

Below you will find the important quotes in The Story of an Hour related to the theme of Freedom and Independence.
“The Story of an Hour” Quotes

She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms.

Related Characters: Louise Mallard, Josephine
Related Symbols: Louise’s Weak Heart
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:

Louise has just been told that her husband, Brently Mallard, died in a train accident. The “wild abandonment” she displays challenges her weak heart and defies the limitations and expectations that her body and social context have placedupon her. Indeed, if other nineteenth-century women would respond to similar news with passive denial rather than with the passion Louise shows, then Louise is, perhaps, different from the average woman of her day. She seems to be somebody who, rather than refusing to accept tragedy, is willing to confront difficulty and hardship, even if this means straying from the societal norm and possibly risking her physical wellbeing.

On the other hand, though, this reaction doesn’t exactly mark Louise as someone more in touch with her true emotions than others. As the story reveals, Louise’s initial wild grief is at odds with her deeper reaction to her husband’s death: her joy at her newfound freedom. In this way, Louise’s ability to accept the truth of her husband’s death faster than “many women” who would have been in denial points to the fact that her reaction is not what it initially appears. While other women might have a numb reaction to the news that precedes grief, Louise has a grief reaction that precedes joy. This suggests a similarity between Louise and other women, in that each of their reactions to tragedy involves initial emotions that do not reflect their deeper feelings.

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She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which some one was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.

Related Characters: Louise Mallard
Related Symbols: The Window
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:

Having mostly stopped crying, Louise retreats to the isolation of her locked bedroom and sinks into a chair placed by the open window. What she sees beyond the window frame takes on symbolic meaning. The treetops full of “new spring life” represent new beginnings and possibilities. Though she hasn’t yet realized it, the spring-like qualities of the outdoors endear themselves to her, as evidenced by the fact that the smell of rain in the air is described as “delicious.” Having returned from their winter travels, the birds symbolize a freedom and a resurgence of life, and it is important to note that even something as mundane and ordinary as a “peddler crying his wares” seems to take on an alluring quality alongside the attractive descriptions of springtime. Louise’s seduction by the springtime outside her window is a powerful echo of her own growing sense that a new life is waiting for her on the other side of her grief.

It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought.

There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully.

Related Characters: Louise Mallard
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:

In this moment, Louise looks out the window, her gaze settles on the sky, and the nature of her looking out the window begins to change. Her “glance” is initially not one of deep thought or introspection, but rather “a suspension of intelligent thought.”This “suspension” of thought is a response to a feeling that Louise fears but knows is coming, and her reaction seems to be an attempt to comport herself in the way that society would expect a new widow to behave; if she is to meet nineteenth-century society’s expectations, she must repress the joyful feeling of freedom that the symbolism of springtime outside the widow portends. Chopin tacitly condones Louise’s eventual break into independence by using the word “intelligent” here, essentially making clear that to continue repressing these feelings would be unwise and unenlightened.The quote’s insistence that Louise is “waiting for” the feeling makes clear, too, that the unintelligent gaze is an ineffective defense against the powerful reality of her new feelings.

There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.

Related Characters: Louise Mallard
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:

After Louise allows herself to rather unconventionally embrace the freedom of widowhood, she considers the institution of marriage and how she now exists outside of its oppressive dictates. Interestingly enough, she sees marriage as a cruelty enacted not just on wives by their husbands but also on husbands by their wives. This “powerful will” is not specific to men; it is the direct result of the imposition of one person upon another, an occurrence inevitably and unavoidably brought about by the institution of marriage. Through this logic, it can be understood that “The Story of an Hour” champions independence above all else, making clear that humans don’t truly have “a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature,” regardless of possibly good intentions.

What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!

Related Characters: Louise Mallard, Brently Mallard
Page Number: 219
Explanation and Analysis:

On the heels of admitting to herself that she sometimes loved Brently (and sometimes did not), Louise comes to the conclusion that the point is irrelevant. By calling love “the unsolved mystery,” Chopin frames marriage as a somewhat abstract concept, in contrast to the more tangible and clear concept of “self-assertion” and independence. Love, it seems, pales in comparison to freedom and self-empowerment, which is readily available if only an individual acknowledges it.

It is noteworthy that Louise recognizes her “possession of self-assertion” as “the strongest impulse of her being,” since the word “strongest” contradicts the previously established idea that women—and specifically Louise—are weak, fragile, and passive.This implies that the only reason she was previously weak was because her ability to realize her own “self-assertion” had been hindered by the oppressive qualities of love and marriage.

She arose at length and opened the door to her sister’s importunities. There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She clasped her sister’s waist, and together they descended the stairs.

Related Characters: Louise Mallard, Josephine
Page Number: 219
Explanation and Analysis:

Finally acquiescing to her sister’s plea that she come out of the locked bedroomso that she won’t make herself ill, Louise confidently stands and leaves the room—her victorious demeanor seems to defy the very premise of her needing to leave the room to avoid illness. Thatthe word “importunities” carries with it connotations of annoyance and intrusion underscores the sense that Josephine’s assumption of Louise’s weakness is at odds with reality;Chopin is revealing her allegiance to Louise and her fondness for the character’s newfound feminine confidence. However,Louise is once again portrayed as physically excited to the point of possible agitation, as evidenced by the word “feverish.” Hernewfound emotional strength and her confident demeanor are, once again, at odds with her supposedly weak heart, but in this moment it is not clear whether this puts her in danger or if it is proof that she has, until now, been overprotected and sheltered by the meddlesome and intrusive people around her.

It is significant, too, that Louise joins her sister in the hall, as this is the first time since her personal liberation that she has been in the company of others. As she “unwittingly” carries herself like a “goddess of Victory,” Louise finds herself able to disregard the expectations and limitations placed upon her by her immediate peers.