In Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour," what are some examples of conflict and theme?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" encompasses many events in the space of sixty minutes.  The lives of several people will be interminably changed. The story is told through a third person narrator expressing most of the action through the thoughts of Louise Mallard, the protagonist.

Mrs. Mallard has a heart condition that prohibits her from strenuous activities. Everyone around her watches over her to make sure that she does what she needs to do to protect her health. 

During this hour, Mrs. Mallard/Louise learns that her husband has been killed in an accident.  Initially, she is grief stricken; however, once she goes  into her room, an overwhelming feeling wells up in her.

When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: "free, free, free!"

The most important thing for her now becomes her freedom.  She was sad about her husband's death.  On the other hand, now she could live unrestrained and  free to do as she pleased.  She was joyous. 

Of course, as she walks down the stairs with her sister, her husband comes in, and she falls to the floor dead from "the joy that kills." Only the reader knows the truth behind Louise's death. 

Louise faces several conflicts in the brief time of the story:

Man versus himself--Louise feels sad that her husband is dead.  She loved him most of the time. On the other hand, now she could live for herself alone.

Man versus situation--Her husband dies, and Louise must be told gently because of her heart condition.

Man versus society--Although not really stressed in the story,  Louise had to be concerned about how she should behave as a "grieving" widow.  Her joy must be kept inside until she is able to experience the freedow that she so desires.

The theme of time is illustrated beginning with the title of the story. Chopin wastes no time in relaying the events of the story.  Life can change for someone in the blink of an eye.  Louise spends less than an hour going over her future and the loss of her husband and her new found "freedom." Finding herself free was easy to get used to for Louise; suddenly, everything changes and it is too much for Louise's heart. 

Death and mortality raise their ugly heads throughout the story. From the unexpected (but falsely reported) death of Brently Mallard to the demise of Louise, death finds his victory. Mr. Mallard robs death and a trade is made: Mr. Mallard for Louise. In this story, death is an inevitable outcome.

What is great about "The Story of an Hour" is that Kate Chopin proved that a lot of important things could happen in just a few words and a little time.

Read the study guide:
The Story of an Hour

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