What symbolism do you find in the story? Examine the meaning of symbols in "The Story of An Hour."

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Chopin's use of weather is a symbol.  Chopin uses the symbolic value of weather to convey Louise Mallard's condition.  When she initially hears of her husband's death, the storm image is employed:  "When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. "  The idea of a storm having passed is reflective of how Chopin characterizes Louise upon contemplating the reality of her situation.  In understanding the full implications of the perceived death of her husband, the weather symbol is employed again:

She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which some one was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.

There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled one above the other in the west facing her window.

In this excerpt, the weather operates in a symbolic capacity.  It helps to convey a new start, one that Louise perceives is only possible because of her husband's death. Later in the story, Chopin uses the symbol of weather to convey Louise's state of mind, reflective of the freedom she hopes to experience:  "Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own." The storm has indeed passed, and in its place is a world of regeneration and rebirth, communicated by the weather. 

Another symbol is the staircase.  Initially, it represents an escalator to private mourning.  The staircase is the means by which Louise isolates herself from the rest of the world.  When she initially runs up the stairs, it is to achieve a sense of isolation from the world.  Yet, as she peers out the window, Louise recognizes what her life can be without Brently, and the result is that she becomes fundamentally changed.  It is through this growth that she reemerges, ready to interact with the world as a new woman.  From this, the staircase becomes a symbol of this interaction:

There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She clasped her sister's waist, and together they descended the stairs. Richards stood waiting for them at the bottom.

The staircase becomes a symbol of Louise's transformation.  On one hand, it was the means by which she privately mourned, where Louise did not allow anyone to follow her.  Towards the end of the story, the staircase becomes a portal of triumph where Louise as a "goddess of victory."  The symbol of the staircase is one that operates as both a means of achieving traditional mourning and then it becomes a means by which her own victory is achieved. Chopin uses both symbols as a means to communicate Louise's state of mind and her own subjective experience, accentuating it until the ending in which she dies from "the joy that kills."

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The Story of an Hour

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