Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Because Louise Mallard suffers from a heart condition, her sister Josephine gently and carefully gives her the news of her husband’s death. Mr. Richards, a close friend of her husband, Brentley Mallard, and the first to learn of the tragic railroad accident that claimed Mallard’s life, has accompanied Josephine to help soften what they know will be a cruel blow.
Louise falls, sobbing, into her sister’s arms, then retreats upstairs to her room. Josephine, who begs Louise to let her in, would be shocked if she knew what thoughts were racing through her sister’s mind. Louise has loved her husband, who has in turn loved her and treated her kindly, but she is not crushed by his death, nor do her reflections make her sick.
Indeed, although she initially hesitates to admit to herself that she is not distressed, she begins to repeat one word: “free.” Her life is her own again; no longer will she have to yield to her husband’s wishes. Only yesterday she had regarded life as tedious and feared longevity. Now she yearns for long life.
Finally, she yields to her sister’s repeated pleas to unlock her bedroom door. Louise embraces her sister, and together they go downstairs to rejoin Richards. As they reach the bottom of the stairs, Brentley comes through the door, unaware of the accident that supposedly has claimed his life. Richards tries to move between him and his wife to shield her from the shock, but he is too late; she has...
(The entire section is 282 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In “The Story of an Hour,” the fact that Mrs. Mallard is “afflicted with a heart trouble” becomes an ironic reality, for Mrs. Mallard’s “heart trouble” in the beginning of the story is that she feels emotionally thwarted in her marriage. When her husband is believed to have been killed in a train accident, her friends notify her cautiously, assuming she will be devastated. The news, however, brings her tears of release rather than of grief. She is enlivened by her new situation and symbolically insists that all the doors of the house be opened. When Brently Mallard suddenly returns home, however, Mrs. Mallard’s death is both literal and symbolic—in one hour, her freedom has been won and lost. For Chopin, Mrs. Mallard represents the numerous women who silently bear the feelings of being trapped in unhappy marriages but whose escapes could be ephemeral at best.
(The entire section is 149 words.)
Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" is the story of an hour in the life of Mrs. Louise Mallard, a young woman whose wrinkles portray "repression" and "strength." As the story begins, the narrator reveals that Mrs. Mallard has "heart trouble." Her sister Josephine and her husband's friend Richards have come to her after hearing of a railroad disaster that has resulted in the death of Mr. Mallard. Both are concerned that the news will make Mrs. Mallard ill, and Josephine takes great care to tell her the news as cautiously as she is able.
Mrs. Mallard reacts to the news with "sudden, wild abandonment" and locks herself in her bedroom. In the solitude of her room Mrs. Mallard understands the fundamental change taking place in her life. She sits in a chair, no longer crying, looking out the window at the "new spring life." She "suspend[s] intelligent thought" and fearfully waits for a "subtle and elusive" idea to "possess her." She begins to comprehend that she is joyful that her husband is dead, but she attempts to suppress the thought.
Once Mrs. Mallard accepts the feeling, even though she knows that her husband had really loved her, she is ecstatic that she will never have to bend her will to his again. Now that her husband is dead, she will be free to assert herself in ways she never before dreamed while he was alive. She recognizes that she had loved her husband sometimes, but that now she would be "Free! Body and soul free!" She begins to look...
(The entire section is 368 words.)