Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Nature imagery underlines the plot and meaning. Although authors typically associate death with autumn and winter, Brentley’s supposed death occurs in the spring. The trees are “all aquiver” with new life. Rain has fallen, purifying the air, and now the clouds are parting to show “patches of blue sky.” This scene mirrors Louise’s situation. The death of Brentley marks the end of the winter of her discontent; her soul can awake from its torpor. She can realize the full potential of her life, so she, like the trees, feels aquiver with life. The clouds again represent her married life, which cast shadows on her happiness, but now the horizon of her life is clearing. As she contemplates her future, she imagines “spring days and summer days” only, not autumn or winter days, because she links herself to the seasons of rebirth and ripening.
In contrast to the world of nature is the cloistered, confining house, symbol of domesticity. In her own room she looks through an open window, another symbol of her freedom. The window does not intervene between her and nature and allows her the scope of infinite vision. She herself locks and unlocks the door to her room, admitting or excluding whomever she wants. She has what Virginia Woolf stressed as so important, a room of her own. However, it is only a temporary, and finally an inadequate, refuge. She leaves it, as she must, to rejoin her sister and Richards; in unlocking her door she paradoxically...
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The Woman Question
"The Story of an Hour" was published in 1894, an era in which many social and cultural questions occupied Americans' minds. One of these, referred to as the "Woman Question," involved which roles were acceptable for women to assume in society. Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species (1892) had further incited this controversy. Darwin's theory of evolution was used by both sides of the issue; some argued the theory supported female self-assertion and independence, others felt the theory proved that motherhood should be the primary role of a woman in society.
Although women were not granted the right to vote until 1920, the struggle for their enfranchisement began in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention in New York state. The passage of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting enfranchisement to black men, was passed in 1869. Several prominent feminists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, refused to support the amendment because it denied women the vote. Other suffragists argued that the enfranchisement of women would soon follow black enfranchisement. In 1890, these two factions united in the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). That year, Wyoming became the first state to grant women the vote. While the suffrage movement sought reform, mainstream Victorian culture regarded the self-sacnficing wife, dependent on her husband and devoted to her children, as the...
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The action of "The Story of an Hour" is simple: Mrs. Mallard, who suffers from "a heart trouble," is informed about her husband's demise in a train accident. At first she is beset by grief, but then she begins to feel a sense of freedom. When she leaves her room and descends the stairs, her husband appears at the front door. Upon seeing her husband alive, Louise Mallard's heart gives out and she dies.
Point of View
The story is told from a detached, third-person limited point of view. The reader identifies with Louise, the only character whose thoughts are accessible. At the beginning of the story, Louise is incapable of reflecting on her own experience. As Louise becomes conscious of her situation and emotions, the reader gains access to her thinking which reveals her character. When she goes back downstairs, the reader is quickly cut off from her thoughts. Thus Chopin skillfully manipulates the narrative point of view to underscore the story's theme.
The setting of "The Story of an Hour" is unspecified. It takes place in the Mallard's house, but Chopin does not offer many clues as to where or when the action takes place. This generic setting is consistent with the story's thematic focus on the general, commonly accepted views of the appropriate roles for women in society. Given Chopin's other works and the concerns she expresses about women's role in marriage in this story and in other writings, the reader...
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Compare and Contrast
1890s: The suffragist movement unites in the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Wyoming becomes the first state to grant women the vote.
Today: Although efforts to add an Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution failed in 1982, women continue to gain political and cultural independence. As of 1988, over 56 percent of women in the country hold jobs.
1890s: Though there are more women than men attending high school by 1890, higher education is largely closed to women. Employment opportunities for women include housekeeping, nursing, and elementary education.
Today: Opportunities in both education and employment are virtually equal for men and women, although many issues regarding equality remain.
1890s: Though a few women writers have achieved some degree of success, it is still considered improper for a woman to be a writer. Louisa May Alcott and Sarah Orne Jewett are two women writers who gain success and popularity.
Today: Many women writers of the late nineteenth century are being rediscovered, including Chopin, who gained popularity during the women's movement of the 1960s.
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Topics for Further Study
Research marriage law in the 1890s and compare this to contemporary marriage laws. How has the institution of marriage changed in the last one-hundred years?
Discuss Mrs. Mallard as a sympathetic character or as a cruel and selfish character. How might your own gender, age, class or ethnicity influence your response?
Do you think Chopin's critique of the institution of marriage, as expressed by Louise, is applicable today?
Research the suffrage movement of the late nineteenth century. How do Louise's reflections of her situation in society reflect the concerns of this movement? Which concerns are still issues today?
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"The Story of an Hour," was adapted in 1985 into a 56-minute long video, Kate Chopin: The Joy That Kills, available through Films for the Humanities & Sciences.
An audio cassette of ''The Story of an Hour,'' is available through Books in Motion (1992).
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What Do I Read Next?
The Awakening, Kate Chopin's 1899 novel, tells of Edna Pointellier, a traditional wife and mother who becomes "awakened" to sexual and spiritual independence after an extramarital affair.
"The Yellow Wallpaper" (1892) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is the story of a woman who lacks an outlet for her creativity and descends into madness.
To learn about the suffragette movement and the struggle for women's rights in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, see Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences (1992), by the pioneering feminist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Adrienne Rich's poetry, particularly her collection, Diving Into the Wreck (1973), explores feminism, female sexuality and women's roles in society.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Bender, Bert, "Kate Chopin's Lyrical Short Stories," Studies in Short Fiction, Vol XI, no. 3, Summer, 1974, pp. 257-66.
Ewell, Barbara C., Kate Chopin, Ungar Publishing Company, 1986.
Larsson, Donald F., "Kate Chopin," in Magill's Critical Survey of Short Fiction, edited by Frank N. Magill, Salem Press, 1981, pp. 1131-36.
Pattee, Fred Lewis, "The Triumph of the Short Story," in his A History of American Literature Since 1870, Cooper Square Publishers, 1968, pp. 355-84.
Seyersted, Per, Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography, Louisiana State University Press, 1969.
Twentieth-Century Literature Criticism, Vol. 14, Gale Research, 1984.
Contains a useful introduction and previously published criticism of Chopin's work, both positive and negative.
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Beer, Janet. Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Studies in Short Fiction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.
Beer, Janet, and Elizabeth Nolan, eds. Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening”: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Bonner, Thomas, Jr. The Kate Chopin Companion. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.
Boren, Lynda S., and Sara de Saussure Davis, eds. Kate Chopin Reconsidered: Beyond the Bayou. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.
Koloski, Bernard. Kate Chopin: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1996.
Petry, Alice Hall, ed. Critical Essays on Kate Chopin. New York: G. K. Hall, 1996.
Skaggs, Peggy. Kate Chopin. Boston: Twayne, 1985.
Stein, Allen F. Women and Autonomy in Kate Chopin’s Short Fiction. New York: Peter Lang, 2005.
Taylor, Helen. Gender, Race, and Religion in the Writings of Grace King, Ruth McEnery Stuart, and Kate Chopin. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.
Toth, Emily. Kate Chopin. New York: William Morrow, 1990.
Toth, Emily. Unveiling Kate Chopin. Jackson: University Press of...
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