The Complex Nature of Mrs. Mallard: Sympathetic or Self-Involved? Essay

Words: 1235
Pages: 5
Subject: Literature


Kate Chopin’s short story, “The Story of an Hour,” delves into the complex character of Mrs. Mallard and her reaction to her husband’s untimely death. In this essay, we will explore the multifaceted nature of Mrs. Mallard’s character, considering whether she can be regarded as a sympathetic figure or as someone driven by self-involvement. This analysis will take into account her emotional journey throughout the narrative, the societal constraints of her time, and the impact of her husband’s unexpected demise.

Mrs. Mallard: A Sympathetic Character

Mrs. Mallard emerges as a sympathetic character for several compelling reasons. Firstly, she is portrayed as a woman ensnared in a stifling marriage, yearning for liberation (Chopin, 2018). As she receives the news of her husband’s death, her initial response is noteworthy. She weeps inconsolably in her sister’s arms, revealing the depth of her emotional connection with Mr. Mallard. This immediate and genuine outpouring of grief underscores her capacity for love and empathy.

Moreover, Mrs. Mallard’s introspection during her solitary moments in her room unveils the inner turmoil she experiences (Chopin, 2018). Her thoughts oscillate between sadness, relief, and guilt. This internal struggle humanizes her character, making her relatable to readers who have confronted the complex interplay of emotions during trying circumstances. Mrs. Mallard is not merely a one-dimensional figure; she embodies the profound emotional conflict that can arise in the face of unexpected events.

The societal context of the story further enhances our sympathy for Mrs. Mallard (Toth, 1995). Set in the late 19th century, a period marked by stringent gender roles and limited opportunities for women, the story sheds light on the suffocating constraints imposed upon women of that era. Mrs. Mallard’s yearning for freedom resonates as a poignant symbol of the broader struggles faced by women, underscoring the challenges of asserting their individuality within a patriarchal society.

Mrs. Mallard: Self-Involved or Justified?

Nevertheless, some readers may argue that Mrs. Mallard’s reaction to her husband’s death reveals elements of self-involvement. They may cite her fleeting moments of elation upon realizing her newfound independence as evidence of self-centeredness. However, it is crucial to contextualize her emotions within the circumstances of the story.

Mrs. Mallard’s initial sense of liberation stems from her recognition that she can finally live for herself, unburdened by the obligations and societal expectations associated with marriage (Chopin, 2018). In an era where women were often subordinated and expected to prioritize their husbands’ needs above their own, her transient sensation of freedom can be understood as a natural reaction to the abrupt removal of these constraints.

Furthermore, her brief moment of joy should not be misconstrued as evidence of her lack of love for her husband. Rather, it offers a glimpse of the possibilities that open up when one is released from a constrictive situation. It is a fleeting emotion, swiftly followed by feelings of guilt and apprehension regarding societal judgment. This nuanced emotional journey suggests that her response is not solely rooted in self-involvement but rather a complex reaction to her unique circumstances.


In conclusion, Mrs. Mallard emerges as a character of considerable complexity (Skaggs, 2004). While some readers may perceive her as self-involved due to her transient moments of elation, a deeper examination reveals her as a fundamentally sympathetic character (Chopin, 2018). Her longing for freedom, her genuine grief, and the societal restrictions of her time all contribute to our comprehension of her character. Mrs. Mallard’s reaction to her husband’s death transcends a simplistic judgment of sympathy or self-involvement; instead, it mirrors the intricate interplay between personal desires and societal expectations prevalent in the late 19th century. She serves as a lens through which we can explore the struggles endured by women of her era and the profound emotional responses that such challenges can evoke.


Chopin, K. (2018). The Story of an Hour. In N. Baym (Ed.), The Norton Anthology of American Literature (pp. 375-377). W.W. Norton & Company. (Original work published 1894)

Toth, E. (1995). Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour’: A Feminist Reading. The Midwest Quarterly, 37(1), 52-61.

Skaggs, P. (2004). The Female Artist in Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour’: Into the New World of Self. Women’s Studies, 33(2), 255-265.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Is Mrs. Mallard a sympathetic character or a self-involved one?

This question is at the heart of the analysis of Mrs. Mallard’s character. It invites readers to examine her emotional journey in the story and the societal context to determine whether she garners sympathy or is perceived as self-centered.

2. Why does Mrs. Mallard react the way she does to her husband’s death?

This question delves into the various emotional responses Mrs. Mallard exhibits upon hearing the news of her husband’s demise. It seeks to understand the underlying reasons behind her reactions.

3. How does the societal context of the late 19th century contribute to our understanding of Mrs. Mallard’s character?

The societal constraints of the late 19th century are crucial in interpreting Mrs. Mallard’s actions and emotions. This question explores how gender roles and societal expectations influence her character.

4. Can Mrs. Mallard’s initial moments of joy be justified given her husband’s death?

Readers often grapple with Mrs. Mallard’s fleeting sense of liberation upon her husband’s death. This question encourages an examination of whether her feelings can be justified within the context of the story.

5. Does Mrs. Mallard’s character serve as a representation of broader societal issues?

This question extends the analysis beyond the individual character of Mrs. Mallard and considers her as a symbol of the struggles faced by women in her era. It invites readers to explore the broader social commentary within the narrative.

6. How does Kate Chopin use literary techniques to portray Mrs. Mallard’s character?

An examination of Chopin’s writing style and literary devices employed in the story can provide insights into how the author shapes Mrs. Mallard’s character and evokes specific reader responses.

7. Are there alternative interpretations of Mrs. Mallard’s character?

Readers may have varying perspectives on Mrs. Mallard’s character, which can lead to diverse interpretations of her actions and emotions. This question encourages a consideration of alternative viewpoints.

8. What impact does Mrs. Mallard’s character have on the overall theme of the story?

Mrs. Mallard’s character is central to the narrative, and her reactions contribute to the story’s thematic exploration. Understanding her character can shed light on the story’s deeper meaning.

9. How does Mrs. Mallard’s character evolve throughout the story?

An analysis of Mrs. Mallard’s character development can provide insights into her transformation over the course of the narrative and how it relates to the story’s themes.

10. What is the significance of Mrs. Mallard’s final moments in the story?

Mrs. Mallard’s ultimate fate and the story’s conclusion offer opportunities for discussion regarding her character’s resolution and its implications.

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