There is the popular saying that states – action speaks louder than words. It is the standard that many are judged. There is little value given to words if what a person says does not coincide with his or her actions. But this standard is difficult to apply to Mrs. Mallard. It would require a wary reader to distinguish the different shades of meaning based on her actions. On one hand she was devastated by the news that her husband died in a train wreck while on the other hand she was happy that he was dead because she regained her freedom. In The Story of an Hour Mrs. Mallard was able to show two different reactions to the tragic news by demonstrating two sets of actions that at times were in conflict with each other.
Actions Speaks Louder
The news of her husband’s death was greeted with deep sorrow. It was her sister who tried to break the news gently to her and yet even with the use of veiled hints and broken sentences her response was abrupt and direct, for Mrs. Mallard wept at once, “…with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms” (Chopin, par. 3). It was as if the dam broke and all the pent up emotions, of regrets and words said and left unspoken came in like torrents of water. This expression of mental and emotional anguish is expected of a grieving widow who realized that she will never see her beloved one last time.
After the tears and the emotional breakdown in the presence of Josephine and Richards, she asked to be left alone, signaling that mourning for the death of her husband has just commenced and she will continue in the privacy of the master’s bedroom. Into a comfortable and roomy armchair, “…she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul” (Chopin, par. 4). Her body language was indicative of a person who gave her all to convey to her husband’s spirit that she loved him and that she missed him so much, the exhaustion forced her to keep still for she had no more strength to give. Occasionally a sob would disturb the peace and the pain that she felt reminded her of her ordeal. This was followed by a dull stare and the suspension of intelligent thought (Chopin, par. 8). But there is more; she tried to conceal it but it has to come out.
The tears, the need to be left alone, the silence and the dull stare were the expected behavior of a grieving widow. But as the pain of the loss began to subside, and her mind clear, she began to see something. Then she began to felt something amazing happened to her – she tried to fight back the pleasant emotion – feeling guilty perhaps because it was inappropriate. But she could not contain her joy (Chopin, par. 10). “Her bosom rose and fell tumultuously” for it was a prelude to laughter and great happiness (Chopin, par. 10). She wanted to suppress it because her recent actions were in conflict with what she felt a moment earlier. She was supposed to be mourning the death of her husband but instead, she was about to break into delirious laughter.
She could see the future and she can compare it with her past. She can see the time when she could do whatever she likes and no one to tell her whether it was right or wrong. Then she gave in to the suggestion that was formed in her thoughts a little earlier, this allowed her to whisper under her breath the words, “…free, free, free!” (Chopin, par. 10). Her demeanor began to change from a woman who despaired and feared the future, to a liberated lady who felt her heart beat faster. The blood that pulsed through her warmed and relaxed her body (Chopin, par. 10). Her sister thought she would unravel and go down the steep descent towards depression and so she implored Mrs. Mallard to open the door. She repeatedly assured Josephine that everything was fine and that she could take care of herself. When she opened the door to heed the pleadings of her sister, she was not the same woman who came in a while ago grieving and weak. This was a woman reborn. It was perhaps the extreme emotions she felt within one hour of deep sadness and exhilarating joy that did not prepare her to see her husband alive and well.
The story began with the train wreck that presumably took the life of Mr. Mallard and then it shifted the spotlight on the reactions of the grieving widow. Her initial reactions was what one can expect from a loving wife who realized that she will never again greet, kiss, and embrace her husband because he has departed this life, never to return again. She wept bitterly and requested to seek refuge in the master’s bedroom where she could continue her mourning but after a while her actions began to betray what she truly felt inside. It was true that she was sad but it is also true that she longed for freedom from the iron-grip hold of her husband. She loved her husband but she also wanted to experience life once again. It was not clear what really killed her – if it was being overjoyed upon seeing her husband once again or if it was the crushing realization that she will have to endure a meaningless existence.