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Themes in The Story of an Hour

Personal Freedom Is More Important Than Love: Though most people would prefer not to think of them as being at odds, Chopin presents love and freedom in opposition to each other. While Louise acknowledges some love in her marriage, that love is not enough to compensate for her lack of control over her own life while her husband is alive. The loss of her husband allows her to achieve the full freedom that she desires from his “powerful will bending hers.” At times, Chopin seems intent on suggesting that both men and women exert control over each others’ lives, and she condemns any such exertion of control. But there is a clear suggestion, particularly at the end of the story, that women suffer most from the incompatibility of love with freedom.

Themes Examples in The Story of an Hour:

The Story of an Hour

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"It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long...."   (The Story of an Hour)

Before the news of her husband’s death, the idea of living a long life had seemed terrible to Louise because she didn’t feel that she was free. Now that she is free, she is excited about the idea of living a long life on her own terms. Chopin is showing how deeply the lack of freedom, the bending herself to her husband’s will, had troubled Louise.

"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!..."   (The Story of an Hour)

Here, self-assertion means the ability to say (assert) one's desires. Personal freedom is what’s so important to Louise, valuing the possession of this self-assertion more highly than the love she had for her husband. It doesn’t matter to her whether she had loved him sometimes or had not. What matters is the freedom, which she describes as her own “strongest impulse.”

"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...."   (The Story of an Hour)

According to Louise, it doesn’t matter what someone else is forcing you to do; the forcing is itself a crime—whether "kind," "cruel," or otherwise. So even if her relationship with her husband had forced her down a path that was good for her, a path that she found agreeable or fulfilling, it wouldn’t matter. The fact that her husband had forced her down that path would itself be a problem.

"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...."   (The Story of an Hour)

Louise continues her moment of epiphany with a strong condemnation of societal expectations. Through Louise, Chopin writes that both men and women believe they have the right to control others; in the 19th century context of the story, the majority of that control would have been exercised by men, making Louise's observations critical of treatment of women at the time.

"There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself...."   (The Story of an Hour)

This is the defining moment of the story. Louise realizes that without her husband she will be able to do the things she wants to do without worrying about what he wants. She realizes that she values this freedom more highly than the love that she’d felt, at times, for her husband.

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