What is the setting of "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin?
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This story was published in 1894, and we can find a number of clues to indicate that the story is set sometime in the latter half of the 19th century. First, it seems that a popular mode of travel is rail, as Brently Mallard is believed to have been killed in a "railroad disaster," something not possible or likely until the railroads were built and became a common way to travel in the United States; this boom occurred from the 1830s through the 1860s. Furthermore, Richards, Brently's friend, confirms Brently's death by telegram, and telegrams likewise became really popular around mid-century. Even the names of characters -- Josephine, Richards, Brently, and perhaps Louise -- could also provide a less concrete clue about when the story takes place.
Why is the timing of the setting important? Because it helps us to contextualize Louise Mallard's unexpected reaction to the news of her husband's death. During the Victorian Era, married women really had no legal identities; under "coverture laws," the woman's legal identity was "covered" by her husband's. Further, according to gender mores of the time, a married woman would be expected to bend her will to her husband's. This helps us to understand how Louise could have felt so stifled and confined in a marriage to a man who clearly loved her. Understanding the setting as being in the America that existed in the late 19th century provides us with some crucial history that informs Louise's response to the news of Brently's death and our reaction to hers.
The setting of this story is actually very limited, which could be used by Chopin to reflect the feeling of Mrs. Mallard being trapped in her life and almost caged in. The entire story occurs in the Mallard household, with the majority of the "action" occuring in Mrs. Mallard's room as she processes the news that she has just heard and begins to come to terms with the new state of affairs of being a widow and having lost her husband. When things happen outside, they are only referred to, but the entire focus of the story is on the Mallard house and what Mrs. Mallard can see through her window in her room as far as setting goes.
However, what is interesting to note is the way that as Mrs. Mallard begins to contemplate a happy future without her husband, her imagination takes her out of this setting as she imagines the things that she will be able to do:
Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own.
Ironically, though, the return of her husband to the house, safe and sound after all, rapidly reduces the setting once more to the family household and curtails these dreams of freedom, which is what kills Mrs. Mallard.
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