What do the settings reflect in "The Story of an Hour"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Story of an Hour," the setting reflects the Victorian Age in which the feme covert laws were in effect. These laws that greatly restricted women and their ownership of property profoundly affected women, and these affects are  exemplified in the character of Louise Mallard. 

  • A restricted life

The repression under which Mrs. Mallard dwells is evinced in several ways. The doctor perceives her as a woman "with a heart trouble," and she must be treated with delicacy. So, when she must be told that her husband is on the list of those thought dead from the railroad disaster, Mr. Mallard's friend Richard hurries to the Mallard home in order to carefully break the news of the tragedy to his wife. And, when she is told, Mrs. Mallard does not stand stunned, but, instead, cries with "wild abandonment,"as though there were more than loss involved in her life. Then, she insists upon going up the stairs alone. 

  • Her own room and a sense of freedom

When Mrs. Mallard enters her bedroom, she sinks into a "comfortable, roomy armchair" that faces an open window. Exhausted by the emotion of the fatal news, she looks outside over the tops of trees that are "aquiver with the new spring life." In the air is "the delicious breath or rain," and she hears a song being sung on the street. The sky has "patches" of blue that have collected in the west facing her window.
Clearly, Mrs. Mallard has entered a fresh, new, hopeful setting as she sits in her home looking to the western horizon, enjoying her feelings and contemplating the change in her life. Finally, the words spill from her, "free, free, free!" Her pulses beat quickly and she is warmed by the coursing blood in her veins. Under the law, her property, surrendered in marriage, now returns to her and she "drink[s] in the elixir of life through the open window."

  • The staircase down

Louise Mallard rises and answers the pleas of her anxious sister.

There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory.

She puts her arm around her sister Josephine and they descend the stairs together. Unexpectedly, however, the front door opens and Brently Mallard enters with no knowledge of the train wreck; for, he had been far from the scene.
Mrs. Mallard is so shocked to realize that life will return her to the role of repressed wife that she dies" of heart disease--of joy that kills." 

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The Story of an Hour

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