The characters are caught up in the fury of loss and the ecstasy of relief. Of course, it's in the wrong order, around the most unexpected of inevitability.
I remember the first time I read Story of an Hour. It's that short story by Kate Chopin. I'd already read The Awakening. With all the oft-discussed controversy surrounding that novel, I offered to read the essay written by a brilliant colleague of mine. It was a work of literary criticism: a feminist criticism on The Story of an Hour, focusing on the rise and fall of Mrs. Mallard.
I read about all the tell-tale signs in the story, and quotes: "Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long." And, I was fascinated. I'd felt that same pull as I read The Awakening. I could feel something of Edna's passion and intensity in Mrs. Mallard, but she was a very different kind of woman.
Here, in The Story of an Hour, Mrs. Mallard's freedom seemed more tangible--real. Her self-reflective capacity is strikingly different, and she feared the wave: "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 through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air."
But, there's hope. In those moments, "she saw... a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome."
Then, just as suddenly--brutally--her world is turned upside down, inside out. Reality comes crashing back in. She could have lived, self-blinded and accepting. Always, she would have reasoned that she loved him "sometimes." She could have been numb. But, with those few moments of reflection, she'd allowed herself to imagine, to dream, to think--to give herself wings of flight.
All the fantasies of freedom suddenly become the vehicle of her own destruction.
Is imagination such a terrible thing?
Cover Art © Library of America.