Of joy that kills.

“…Of joy that kills.”
Poor Louise. Dead by the end of the hour. Society’s pressures could do that to a girl. In
1894 when “The Story of an Hour” was published, gender roles and patriarchy were still
prominent in society. This is revealed by Louise and her skewed perception of her recently
deceased husband. Throughout the “hour,” we see her newly-acquired goals are revealing the
new enthusiasm she now has for life, and are encouraged by her husband’s death. This social
patriarchy—“any culture that privileges men by promoting traditional gender roles”—weighs on
Mrs. Mallard due to her age; as well, patriarchal society has a powerful influence on her
marriage (Tyson 85). Her sense of freedom and hope for the future, without a man to hold her
back, is what ultimately caused her death.
The pressure of patriarchy is easy to see through the characterization of Louise, who
imagines finally being able to “live for herself” and “[have] no powerful will bending her”
(Chopin 313). It’s only when Mrs. Mallard “abandon[s] herself”—pushing back the meek,
submissive house wife she always is—when she declares “free, free, free!” after only hearing
about her husband. Her excitement grows: her pulse quickens, her blood warms, and her body
relaxes, as if to show complete relief.
While comforting herself and building up her new future, Louise thinks of her husband,
Brently. She explains her mourning when she will see his dead body at the funeral and “the face
that had never looked save with love upon her…” (Chopin 313). Their relationship overall seems
genuine when describing the love he had for her during their marriage. There was an underlying
cause for her need for freedom and “self-assertion” which she suddenly recognized as “the
strongest impulse of her being” (Chopin 313). Her stream of consciousness was going against the
patriarchy and gender role-influenced society that she is bound under, identifying the underlying
Mrs. Mallard is young, fair, and calm, but was afflicted with heart trouble that makes her
weak and frail. It is ironic that this author portrays her as a weak woman who is stubborn toward
society’s rules and restrictions. This idea enhances the view of how women were portrayed in a
patriarchal society. Traditional gender roles, especially in the late 1800s, “cast men as rational,
strong, protective, and decisive; they cast women as emotional (irrational), weak, nurturing, and
submissive” (Tyson 85).
Mrs. Mallard’s last name is also ironic of her role as a woman in the story. A mallard is a
wild duck. The males usually have the most distinctive color, while the females are one solid
color (“Mallard Ducks”). This represents the patriarchy between Mr. and Mrs. Mallard. Brently
wears all the color and Louise blends into the social norm. It’s only now—after his death—when
she can spread her wings and look toward the many years she has in front of her; she no longer
“[thinks] with a shudder that life might be long” (Chopin 313).
Louise is finally able to think for herself, and is able to find her freedom and dreams
because of the sudden abandonment of Brently. Mrs. Mallard loves her husband…sometimes and
other times, does not because of the character she is expected to play for society’s delight. She
recognizes this liberation as being “’Free! Body and soul free!’” (Chopin 313). When she finally
brings herself back to reality and unlocks the door for her sister Josephine who waits for her, she
“[carries] herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory,” victory over the patriarchal marriage
she was bounded by (Chopin 313). Mrs. Mallard walks down the stairs with a new-found joy,
only to see Brently walk through the door. Her heart being weak already, her surprise is too
much, and when the doctors arrived “they [say] she [dies] of heart disease—of joy that kills”
(Chopin 313). If she hadn’t died of “joy,” her reaction may have been different. She may have
sulked back into her submissive shell and held back her disappointment, or taken action in order
to break out of the social norm of patriarchy.
Works Cited
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” The Literary Experience. Ed. Beiderwell, Bruce, and
Wheeler, Jeffrey M. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2008. 312-314. Print.
“Mallard Ducks.” National Geographic. n.p. n.d. Web. 10 Jul. 2013.
Tyson, Lois. “Feminist Criticism.” Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. Ed. 2nd ed.
New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2006. 83-130. Print.