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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin
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How do the tone and mood reflect the social and cultural mores of the time period in "The Story of an Hour"?

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The tone and mood in "The Story of an Hour " certainly seem to respond to the social and cultural mores of the late nineteenth century. During this time period, tradition dictated that women, especially women of a particular social class, ought to marry, and women often had little...

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The tone and mood in "The Story of an Hour" certainly seem to respond to the social and cultural mores of the late nineteenth century. During this time period, tradition dictated that women, especially women of a particular social class, ought to marry, and women often had little recourse if they did not want to wed. It seems that Louise Mallard was likely one of these women. The narrator tells us that the lines on her face "bespoke repression," indicating, perhaps, that marriage was oppressive for her. Further, her "monstrous joy" upon learning of her loving husband's death also seems to demonstrate that it was not the man himself but marriage, generally, that plagued her. She must admit to herself that she "had loved him—sometimes," and he had "never looked save with love upon her." But now, "a long procession of years to come ... would belong to her absolutely" because "There would be no one to live for her" anymore.

Married women had no legal identities, because they were covered by their husbands'; they could not own property or vote, but their husbands could. Thus, Chopin's tone in this story seems quite sympathetic both to Louise Mallard, for her lack of personal freedom, as well as to her husband. The story shows what happens when people are forced to marry (something many women would not have wanted to do because it amounted to giving up part of their identity): no one gets what they want or deserve. Louise wants her freedom, and Brently, we can assume, wants a wife who loves him more than "sometimes." Both seem like reasonable people who want reasonable things out of life.

The mood of the story, however, is quite tense. It is loaded with irony—when Louise is rejoicing in her new freedom and her sister is afraid that she'll make herself ill and, in the end, when Louise dies at the sight of her husband, who is very much alive. The doctors say she died of "joy that kills," but we know that she really died of disappointment that the freedom she'd only just glimpsed was snatched away. These tensions make us feel uneasy and help to create the mood. We might imagine that Chopin's contemporaries could read this story and come to some conclusion about the status of married women and how gender inequality negatively affects everyone, not just women.

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