Characters in “Story of an Hour” and “Hills Like White Elephants”

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Freedom: a noble ideal many strive for, but yet so undefined. We all want to be free, but we don’t know what it really means. In “Story of an Hour” and “Hills Like White Elephants” freedom plays a powerful motivator to the main characters. They all strive for a different kind of free, and it’s either a blissful experience or something that’s awful. Comparing these stories shows the different meanings freedom could have for different people. They both show different sides of freedom: the blissful ecstatic state that we all associate with it and the dark side of freedom, the one that has a cost.

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These great stories take an in-depth look and ask if freedom can be shared between two people, and if so, at what cost?

Let’s start with Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour”. In it, freedom is brought to a character in a dreadful way; the death of her husband. In the middle of a crisis, she found freedom. A freedom that was so powerful and total that it kills her. Like many before her, she died because of freedom. This was the freedom that many sought. She knew it. She enjoyed it. This freedom made years of marriage disappear in a moment of blissful abandon. For her, all that existed was that one moment when she had escaped her oppression and became a free person. An oppression that loved her like no one else, and that had spent countless joyful hours with her, but oppression nonetheless. She didn’t see his death happen, she saw her rebirth. In the midst of a terrible occurrence for her and countless other families she saw the best moment of her adult life. Her freedom was almost villainous. His death freed her. In a moment where grief should have been a presence, joy reigned. This is what made her freedom so monstrous and evil, the cost it had.

Analyzing some specific moments in which, Louise, the main character has a breakthrough shows the extent of her joy. She realizes that her husband’s death means that she can be truly free. She will have her whole life ahead of her, with no one to command her. She whispers “Free! Body and soul free!” through the death of her husband, she found her freedom. The terrible duality of freedom is in play during her epiphany. It all starts when she first realizes it at a subconscious level. When she sits down and looks at herself in the mirror, she sees that attractive and still young, and then the thought hits her. She’s young, good looking and single. She owns a house by inheritance. She has no one to answer to. Life has been opened to her, and all that it took was for her husband to die. A terrible tragedy equals a new beginning. The worst thing that ever happens to her is what enabled the best thing in her life. At first, she didn’t want to recognize it. She tried to hold back her first whisper of the word free. She knew it was terrible, but she could not restrain herself any longer. This is the cost of freedom; death. It’s terrible, and she knows it, but she also knows she is now free.

In the beginning of page three of ‘Hills Like White Elephants’, an interesting debate happened between Jig and the American. They’re debating whether they can ‘have everything’ after talking about the way things were before. I find this an interesting debate between the characters and what their views on freedom are. He sees it as having the procedure done. After the procedure is done, he believes that they can have everything, that they can travel and “be fine afterwards. Just like we were before.” The procedure eliminates the one thing that worries them, having children. Settling down to him is the end of his freedom, and he’s trying to eliminate the reason he would have to settle down. This is terrible he cost of his freedom, the death of an innocent child. The only way for him to achieve his freedom is for someone else to die. He does not want the restraints of family, he wants to go out and live while he can.

Jig is another case. To her, freedom is choice. The freedom to have the child if she wants to, which opposes his freedom. To not have to do what he tells her to do. The child is the emblem for her freedom. If she has it, she did it only because she chose to. The story revolves around that concept, he commands, she rebels. All throughout the story, he is telling her what’s going to happen. “I know you wouldn’t mind it… We’ll be fine… Come back in the shade… You mustn’t feel that way.” He spends the majority of the story either telling her what to do, what they will do or what she will like. That’s why this child is so important. Having it means she exercised her free will. By taking it away, she loses it: “once they take it away, you never get it back.” She wants to have something to symbolize her own will and identity. The cost of her freedom is less macabre than that of the other protagonists of these two tales. All she wants is to be able to have this child. Her freedom does not involve death or tragedy, but life. A life that symbolizes her rebellion to the institution of relationships.

How freedom differs for these characters is interesting. The American’s idea of freedom is to not have anyone to answer to. He wants to be a free agent, living life with no real responsibilities or restraints. Louise’s ideal for freedom is the same thing. She wants a life to herself, where she is the only authority in her life. They have similar ideals, despite gender differences. Jig is another case. Her freedom is choice. She wants to be able to guide her own life. Both fights for freedom seem to revolve around the same question: can freedoms coexist?

In “Story of an Hour”, Louise’s freedom is a break away from wifely duties and the routine associated with them. This freedom comes at the cost of her husband’s life and the end of her marriage. After his death, she realizes that she can now truly be free. That “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.” Her state as a widow allowed her an unparalleled freedom, but only because the freedom of her husband, along with the rest of him, was completely gone. Her freedom could only exist in the absence of his, like cold can only exist without heat. As a married woman, she had someone besides her, influencing the direction her life took. She had some input, but marriage is a unit, not two separate entities living independently of one another. This is why the minute her husband dies, she’s freed. Her freedom won over his, and she walked out of that room like the goddess of victory she was. She had won the battle, her life was hers and she was free. When he returns, her freedom is taken away from her, ultimately symbolized by her death at his return. The two freedoms could not coexist, and his life meant she could no longer be free.

The battle of freedoms in “Hills like White Elephants” is also a battle with a life at play. Jig and the American are arguing with the life of their unborn child hanging in the middle. That child is the symbol of Jig’s freedom, and the American does not want to have it. His freedom is a life free of children; a life where he calls the shots and she listens. Where travel is an option and no one could hold him down. He wants to be able to drop her at a moment’s notice. This is why he does not want the child. She wants something different. To her, a child symbolizes the ultimate victory. Her freedom to choose her own fate embodied in a person. Having it means she won. Her freedom trumps his. The same is true for the opposite side. Their freedoms are in direct opposition to each other. His will to be a free spirit vs. her will to have a child. Although the winner is never shown, we can see the tension that this causes between them. The impositions of one will over the other, much like in “Story of an Hour,” causes a big conflict between characters.

Freedom is a very loose term. What may be liberating for some could be highly harmful and offensive for others. This is one of the founding principles of our country: giving up certain things for the greater good. But on a personal level, it’s more complex than that. We can achieve freedom when alone, but humans are compelled to have company. This company means another person to listen to, another will alongside your own. As seen in “Story of an Hour” and “Hills like White Elephants”, these freedoms and wills often clash. The result is either a shared but diminished freedom or a complete individual freedom, but at the expense of the other person. In the end, there can only be one winner, and the results are often deadly.

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Characters In “Story of an Hour” and “Hills Like White Elephants”. (2021, Feb 26). Retrieved from