Louise Mallard in the Story of an Hour is a great example of a tragic hero, because of her strange reaction to being newly widowed. Louise’s reaction to Brently’s death is unusual compared to how a stereotypical widowed woman’s grief would be. This coordinates quite well with the time period and society that Louise lives in. Louise’s reaction is not only a shock to the readers but also a shock to herself, which is why she partially regrets the feeling.
Ultimately, Louise Mallard is a sympathetic character and becomes a tragic hero. Due to her potentially abusive marriage, Louise blossoms into a confined yet strong and intelligent woman. However, Louise passes with a tragic heart disease as she encounters a live and well Brently with an unfair plot twist, and she has done nothing to deserve it, which makes Louise a sympathetic, tragic hero.
The first clue of Louise being a sympathetic character is given when she faces the undeserving tragedy of dying from heart disease after discovering that Brently is not dead. After coming to terms with the death of Brently, alongside not having someone take control of her life, she finally grasps a sense of relief. Subsequently, Louise faces death after the shock of Brently being alive, even after she accepts that his death is good for her. This makes Louise a sympathetic character in a way because she does not deserve either death, especially after all she has been through.
“He stood amazed at Josephine’s piercing cry; at Richards’ quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife. But Richards was too late. When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease—of joy that kills.” (Chopin 3)
In the last sentences, her alive husband shocks Lousie to the point of passing away. This can add to her tragedy as she is finally joyful about the passing of her husband, and does not deserve such a turn of events. This can be especially upsetting because Louise’s happiness comes from Brently’s death due to the “ownership” men believe they have over their wives in society, but is now being taken away due to him being dead.
“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.” (Chopin 2)
In the well hidden line of Louise’s thoughts, she implies that no man is watching over her after Brently’s death, meaning there is no one to claim ownership of her anymore. This can grant Louise a justified reason not to be grief-stricken by Brently’s death as she will finally have a reassuring sense of freedom. Louise’s death is very undeserving, especially after the possible abuse of her husband, which gives her the title of the tragic hero.
Louise’s potential of facing abuse, repression, and oppression by the patriarchal system of her society may be the leading cause as to why she feels ‘free’ following hearing about her husband’s death. In her room, Louise reflects as to why her soul is finally free, which relates to escaping Brently’s ‘ownership’ and no longer having to live for anyone but herself.
“There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself.” (Chopin 2)
Louise being an independent woman after probably all the years of marriage sounds like
a good idea to her as she would no longer have Brently watching her every move. There could be abuse-like actions being done by Brently, which can reinforce what he desires from her. Within Louise’s society, verbal or even physical abuse from men is a common rule to make the decisions of their wives. Although Brently claims to love Louise, she feels oppression and repression from him by merely being his wife.
“There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully.” (Chopin 2) Following that statement, Louise is implying how she faces oppression from her husband,
but now that a patriarchal system does not control her life, her female independence can be openly expressed. The description of Louise as “young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression” (Chopin 1) infers that it is clear in her body that she is dealing with some form of abuse or repression. This concludes with Brently treating her like a stereotypical housewife as her only purpose to him is to complete the household chores. Through the abuse, repression, and oppression that Louise faces in this period and society, her spotlight as a tragic hero shines bright as she has done nothing at all to deserve this mistreatment, but spirals into her becoming a mentally strong woman.
Lastly, Louise is a strong, independent woman who does not approve of her husband managing her life. Following Louise’s independence, she receives the news that her reaction to becoming a newly widowed woman is atypical.
“She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance” (Chopin 1)
Instead of sulking and isolating herself for several days like the stereotypical widowed woman, Louise simply wipes away a few tears, which the statement“when the storm of grief had
spent itself” (Chopin 1) explains greatly. Louise initially regrets telling herself that she is benefitting from Brently’s death, but eventually comes to terms with the truth. Louise does attempt to hide her true feelings from the world by locking herself up in her room as well.
“When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her.” (Chopin 1)
In the room, she claims to herself that she is “free, free, free!” (Chopin 2). This is because she does not react to the news as a stereotypical newly widowed woman would due to her independence, which reveals her strong mindset, and she is a bit free due to the lack of Brently’s control. Because of Louise’s independence, which differs from the typical reaction of a stereotypical woman at the time, she can find a benefit in her husband’s death and does not treat it as a life-ending experience the way other women typically react.
Louise can be seen as a tragic hero after analyzing how she undeservingly died from shock, how she faces abuse and ‘belongs to’ Brently, and how she does nothing wrong, but she cannot be her true self – a strong, independent woman. Louise’s essence as a tragic hero showcases itself at the end of the story as she passes away. She also could be experiencing abuse from her husband, further proving the oppression and repression she faces in her society’s patriarchal system.
Lastly, Louise is trying to be a strong, independent woman and is maturing after her husband’s death, but now that her husband is alive, she can prove that she is truly a tragic hero in terms of not being able to control her own life despite her efforts. Louise is the perfect definition of a tragic hero because of her continuous injustices. She is a sympathetic character but, can she achieve the title of ‘Aristotle’s tragic hero’?