Imagery in the Story of an Hour

In the short story “The Story of an Hour,” by Kate Chopin, a psychological conflict occurs within the main character, Louise Mallard. Mrs. Mallard suffers from heart trouble and is told her husband has passed away in a tragic train accident. Because of the incident, she isolates herself in her bedroom to mourne. By the end of the story, Mrs. Mallard shows the psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud.

To start off, there is a latent reaction that shows the appearance of Mrs. Mallard as a caring wife. Upon being informed by her sister Josephine about Mr. Mallard’s death after the train accident, Mrs. Mallard “wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms” (Chapin). This latent reaction, the time of an onset stimulus to a response, shows the truth of Mrs. Mallard’s feelings. Judging from Mrs. Mallard’s reaction, it can be said that she feels terrible for her husband’s death. Her reaction is contrasted to that of, perceptively, most women, which is to react “with a paralyzed inability to accept a significance” (Chapin) meaning her instant weeping shows her true emotions. With Mrs. Mallard behaving this way to the news of her husband, it is inferred that Mrs. Mallard is really devastated. She is given the image of being a very caring wife. Introducing the protagonist this way allows for the plot to twist later in the story.

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Further using the psychoanalysis theory, Chopin includes the influence of the protagonist’s id, superego, and ego. The protagonist experiences conflict in the areas of her conscience and unconscious. After learning of her husband’s death, Mrs. Mallard goes to her room to mourn. Upon entering her room “there stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair…” and, “Into this, she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body…” (Chopin). This behavior is Mrs. Mallard’s ego, possession of unconscious thoughts into conscious behavior or personality, at play. Her personality suggests that she mourns when she is sad, and this shows her ego. Further in the story, she is described by Chopin in a super-egotistical manner. Chopin says, “…now there was a dull stare in her eyes, whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on one of those patches of blue sky. It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought.” The appearance of this part of Mrs. Mallard’s behavior shows her superego, the part of the mind that acts as a self-critical conscience of taught values. The superego is generally put as being the “angel on one’s shoulder.” In Chopin’s statement about Mrs. Mallard’s appearance, it is easy to tell that the intelligent thought is the superego making the event to better cope. Noticing small details of the sky may be an indication of Mrs. Mallard’s superego forcing peace to get through her strong emotions. Shortly after this display of superego, Chopin continues, “There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully… it was too subtle and elusive to name.” Chopin writes, “She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will. When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips… “free, free, free!”. In this part of the passage, the id is shown for emphasis on Mrs. Mallard’s secret desires. This emphasizes the unconscious parts of her actions following her husband’s death by explaining the process by which Mrs. Mallard experienced her id. Chopin carefully shows the conflicting nature of Mrs. Mallard’s superego and id by demonstrating how id slowly takes control over Mrs. Mallard’s behavior. These three elements of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory show the fundamentals of human nature in regards to dealing with consciousness.

In addition to using latent reaction and the psychoanalytic elements, Chopin creates the idea of repressed desire to expose Mrs. Mallard’s human nature. Shortly after Mrs. Mallard’s demonstration of id, her repressed desire is shown. Mrs. Mallard’s thoughts are exposed: “There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself… ‘Free! Body and soul free!’” These hidden desires are realized as Mrs. Mallard’s emotions between the mourning her husband’s death and her future of freedom. This explains why Mrs. Mallard would think about her life without her husband, and why these desires would be repressed. These desires combine with Mrs. Mallard’s motivations, which happens to be experiencing joy. Mrs. Mallard looks forward to “spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own,” (Chopin). This proves Mrs. Mallard’s motivation to have her freedom, which is made stronger by her repressed desires. This explains Mrs. Mallard’s excitement at knowing her future for herself. These ideas of repressed desire and intrinsic motivation increase the psychoanalytic parts of the story and characterization of Mrs. Mallard.

In finality, the importance of the setting created further adds to the story’s psychoanalytic lens. In the scene after Mrs. Mallard hears about her husband’s death, she enters a room with nothing specified but an “open window, [and] a comfortable, roomy armchair” (Chopin). The open window, to work with previous ideas of freedom in the story, may symbolize the importance of Mr. Mallard’s death in the eyes of Mrs. Mallard and her ‘free’ future. Chopin writes, “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” (Chopin). This imagery and setting symbolize the beauty on how Mrs. Mallard’s eyes are opened to thoughts of a free future.
In all, Chopin uses latent reaction to show how caring Mrs Mallard is as a wife, psychoanalytic lens to develop Mrs. Mallard’s conscience and unconscious, and setting to portray the importance of Mrs. Mallard’s feelings. Though Mrs. Mallard seemed to be a caring wife, she just wanted to live freely in the world.

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