Mrs. Mallard is a woman whose freedom is being suppressed by her marriage. The story begins with the narrator explaining how it was assumed that great care had to be taken when informing her of her husband’s death, as she suffers from “heart troubles”. These “heart troubles” are symbolic of Mrs. Mallard’s stifled freedom in her marriage. Upon being informed about her husband’s death, she rushes to her room to hide her sudden joy – ironically in her sister Josephine’s mind to mourn her loss. Reflecting upon her husband’s death, Mrs. Mallard experiences a new found sense of freedom: “She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air.”

The narrator uses irony to draw out the fact that Mrs. Mallard is, in fact, overjoyed at her new freedom. Her sister Josephine is under the impression that her “heart troubles” need to be taken into account when informing her of her husband’s death so that the shock of sudden grief won’t kill her, when in fact Mrs. Mallard’s “heart troubles” are actually cured upon hearing the news. Josephine believes Mrs. Mallard is crying in her room: “Josephine was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the keyhole, imploring for admission. “Louise, open the door! I beg you; open the door – you will make yourself ill.”

When Mrs. Mallard is alone in her room, she begins reflecting on the ramifications of her husband’s death, and experiences an overwhelming relief at the fact that she is now finally free: “When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: ‘Free, free, free!’ The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.” She is renewed, rejuvenated with unanticipated vitality.

Furthermore, this new sense of freedom is so overwhelming that she does not even “stop to ask if it were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and exalted perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial.” (81) Mrs. Mallard’s desire for freedom was suppressed by a marriage where the patriarchal male dominates; upon realizing about her freedom from that oppression, she relishes her sudden autonomy: “There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending her in that blind persistence with which men and women believed they had a right to impose a private will upon a fellow creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.”

Mrs. Mallard possesses an intrinsic desire for freedom, which was being snuffed out like a candle in the wind by her marriage. This intrinsic desire for freedom was an essential part of Mrs. Mallard; this is obvious when she says, “Free! Body and soul free!” at the idea of her marriage being over. Her soul – who she is as a person – is now free to seek true fulfillment.

As Mrs. Mallard reflects further on her potential self-actualization, she realizes she now has a new future to look forward to: “Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own.” (81) The fact that an innate desire for freedom is an essential part of her person is shown by the passage that immediately follows: “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.” It is obvious that if an innate desire of a human is suppressed, as is Mrs. Mallard’s desire for freedom, the desire for life will be suppressed as well. So, when Mrs. Mallard realizes that only yesterday – when her husband was still alive – she shuddered at the idea of life being long, she finds herself suddenly wanting to live. Her life had appeared to be a continuation of a marriage she did not want, one which kept her from obtaining the one thing she most desired, namely, freedom.

When Mrs. Mallard finally comes out of her room, “There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory.” As she descends the stairs, she sees her husband’s friend Richards standing there. Then her husband walks in the door unharmed, as he was not near the scene of the accident he supposedly died in, and Richards rushes to block his friend from seeing Mrs. Mallard’s face. The implication is that Mrs. Mallard reveals a look of horror on her visage when she sees that her despised husband is still alive. Richards does not want her husband to discover his wife’s true feelings about him. The overwhelming disappointment at her freedom being irrevocably snuffed out again at the sight of her living husband is too much, and her “heart troubles” return to kill her. The powerful irony at the end is exposed when the doctor proclaims that she died from a “joy that kills”, suggesting that the overwhelming joy at the sight of her husband being alive is what killed her, when in fact it was quite the other way around; her disappointment ultimately killed her.

(The story can be found here:http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/webtexts/hour/)

Work Cited

Gwynn, R.S. .  Literature: A Pocket Anthology.  New York, NY: Penguin Academics, 2012.

One of the classical arguments against the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good God is the fact that evil exists in the world.  You don’t have to look far to see it – just turn on the nightly news and you’ll see plenty of terrible things happening.  If God exists, why doesn’t He stop these bad things from happening?  Gottfried Leibniz advocated a rather radical solution to the problem of evil – he said there was no evil in the world.  All the “bad” things that we see are actually good things, although we may not immediately understand why.  This week’s piece will examine the specific reasons for his argument that this is the “Best Possible World.”

The Argument

When you were a child and misbehaved, your parents (probably) punished you for it.  At the time, it seemed like a terrible wrong, and you couldn’t see any positive aspect to it.  Now, however, you (again, probably) recognize that it was for the best.  Yes, getting grounded was unfortunate at the time, but it helped you mature and become a better adult for it.  Leibniz thinks that those things we call evil can be thought of in the same way.  When we were children, we couldn’t see the “big picture” and the good that would come out of our suffering at the time.  The same may be true for us as adult humans – we can’t see the good that will come from all the so-called evil that takes place in the world.  If your best friend gets murdered, at the time you’re of course going to see it as purely evil, with no redeeming qualities.  But, Leibniz believes, this is no different than the child being punished.  We only focus on the immediate, and are quick to judge the event as evil without seeing the big picture.  When “evil” actions are taken, we must believe that “the course of things (particularly punishment and atonement) corrects its evilness and repays the evil with interest in such a way that in the end there is more perfection in the whole sequence than if the evil had not occurred.”  Perhaps in the wake of your friend’s death, you’ll become an advocate for new legislation that ends up saving hundreds of lives, and your life finds direction and meaning.  The evil of his murder has now been repaid with interest, as Leibniz says, and the whole sequence of events is now “more perfect” than if you had just become a lobbyist and helped pass the bill.

You might object that this obviously isn’t how things end up.  Just look at the Holocaust – nothing good seems to have come out of that.  We still turn our back on genocides (like Rwanda), and millions of lives were taken all because of one maniacal dictator.  If this evil is going to be “repaid with interest,” God sure is taking his time on this particular loan (and many, many others).  Leibniz’ response to this criticism is to agree with the last point – God may be taking his time to sort it all out, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.  Even an event as horrific as the Holocaust may, ultimately, produce more good than evil, even if “we cannot always explain the admirable economy of this choice while we are travelers in this world,” and in such a way that the sequence of events would be less than perfect without the Holocaust in there.

The Rebuttal

Leibniz’ argument clearly has a number of issues.  First of all, it obviously require belief in an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God.  In addition, it still seems to raise a number of problems with Leibniz’ other beliefs.  Leibniz believed that “the happiness of minds is the principal aim of God.”  If God set up the rules of the universe, and if He wants to maximize happiness, why didn’t He just make it so that people are in constant bliss AND it’s the most perfect set-up imaginable?  Why force us to “invest”?  Perhaps you’re willing to believe that there is some reason God has which we couldn’t possibly understand, but that’s a pretty big leap of faith.

The Implication

Unlike most of the arguments I look at, if you accept this one as truthful, you’re actually going to feel a whole lot better about your life.  No matter what happens, you should be ecstatic knowing that it’s all contributing to the absolute perfection of the universe, and the maximum amount of pleasure imaginable.  You just need faith in God, and the inability to believe that He would allow evil in the world.