How does the setting in "The Story of an Hour" support the theme of the story?

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dshep500 | College Teacher | In Training Educator

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The setting in "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin supports the theme of the story by providing a simple statement of time and place that allows readers to imagine the events as occurring anywhere men lived with their wives. The story takes place in the late nineteenth century when women were raised to become wives/homemakers. The location of the action is described only as the home of Louise Mallard, a home that has a staircase "she descends triumphantly" and an entrance her not-deceased husband walks through.

Most literary scholars and general readers agree that Chopin's story is a feminist statement against the patriarchal dominance of the period. Louise Mallard is a frail woman with a bad heart. Her health is poor; the notification of her husband's death requires a very gentle delivery. The assumption seems to be that the news could come as a life-threatening shock.

Although there is little detail in the actual story, a general awareness of history helps us imagine the setting. Women were considered the property of their spouses. Relegated to silence on matters of politics and commerce, a woman's opinion was thought to be the same as that expressed by her husband. If a woman did not have a husband to speak for her, then she did not have anything to contribute. The setting of this story is several years from the ratification of women's suffrage (19th Amendment) in 1920.

The only other significant description of place included in the story pertains to the bedroom where she retreats to grieve in private. "There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul." It is in her solitary space where self reflection leads to insights and revelations that further support the theme. Louise Mallard realizes that she is free. As the eNotes analysis explains,

"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."

Thus, understanding the time and place of Chopin's story is key to understanding its main theme. Initially, her husband's death notification causes Mrs. Mallard tremendous sadness. However, after retreating to her solitary place to mourn and think, Mrs. Mallard experiences the unexpected joy of freedom. "She recognizes that she had loved her husband sometimes, but that now she would be 'Free! Body and soul free!'" (eNotes)

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