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      Louise Mallard's Revelation: Epiphany in Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour"

      A very useful literary term in any thorough discussion of Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" is epiphany. According to LitGloss, the Bedford/St. Martins online glossary of literary terms, an epiphany is the moment in a story "when a character suddenly experiences a deep realization about himself or herself." Before the character experiences the epiphany, he or she may be confused, frustrated, or in an undecided state; after the epiphany the character feels as if he or she has experienced a revelation that has resolved all doubt and ambiguity. Louise Mallard's realization that she prizes her personal freedom more than her husband's life is clearly an example of such a moment of revelation.

      What we read of Louise's life before she hears that her husband has been killed makes it clear that she was already in a confused and unhappy state, that she was not at all sure of her feelings toward her husband, and that she was not even sure that life was worth living. One passage shows her uncertainty about her feelings for her husband: "she had loved [her husband] -- sometimes. Often she had not." In another passage we see that her life was not a joyful one: "It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long." It is pretty obvious that Louise is ready for an epiphany that will clarify her understanding of what she really wants from life.

      Over and over the action described in the story points the reader towards the notion of an epiphany:

      There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her.
      When Louise finally recognizes what "this thing that was approaching" actually is, she loses the "vacant stare and the look of terror" that was in her eyes. Now her eyes are "keen and bright" as she realizes her husband's death has set her free. She actually feels joyful that she is free from her husband, and she does not feel that her joy is "monstrous." We clearly hear her whispering, "Free! Body and soul free!" Chopin calls this new awareness "a clear and exalted perception" and a "brief moment of illumination." When the "new" Louise reappears at the head of the stairs, Chopin desribes her as "a goddess of Victory." Clearly the high point of the story for Louise is her moment of epiphany.

      Unfortunately Louise cannot stay upstairs forever enjoying her new-found understanding of what she really wants out of life. Downstairs the real world waits for her, a world in which she is still married to a husband who apparently has told Louise and everyone else that he was going to take a trip on the train but who actually went somewhere else. It is a world where for women divorce is impossible and independence is a dream that will not come true for more than a century. Louise has had a moment or two of joy, but when she sees her husband alive at the bottom of the stairs, she realizes she will not experience freedom after all. The disappointment is too much for her weak heart. The only freedom she will know is the cold, silent freedom of death.

      The picture of Kate at the top of this page was taken about 1870 when Kate was about 19 years old. Her hair was a dark, rich, auburn red. By the standards of 1870, Kate was considered a very great beauty.