What are some details important in understanding Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour"?

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Stephen Holliday eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are a number of details in "The Story of an Hour" that are critical to understanding the story, but I will discuss some details that help with a full understanding of Chopin's story.

First, many students conclude, based on Mrs. Mallard's rejection of marriage, that she disliked her husband, Brently Mallard.  Mrs. Mallard's comments on her husband, however, indicate that he was a kind, gentle, loving husband:

She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her. . . .

Given Mrs. Mallard's dramatic joy when she realizes her husband is dead and that she will be free of marriage, it is easy to conclude that her marriage was a bad one and that marriage was hurtful only to women.  

Second, Mrs. Mallard's attitude toward the institution of marriage, not her particular marriage, is key to understanding the story:

. . . she would live for herself.  There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.

Here, we see that Mrs. Mallard believes that the institution of marriage is as damaging to men as it is to women--both partners deserve the freedom from the imposition of another's "private will," and this detail is very important because it extends Mrs. Mallard's view of marriage from her marriage to all marriages.

Another very important detail in the story involves Mrs. Mallard's growing sense of freedom.  Many readers do not focus on the fact that Mrs. Mallard, as she begins to think about how her husband's death may free her from marriage, fights against thoughts of freedom:

She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will. . . .

Clearly, even though freedom from marriage is incredibly appealing to Mrs. Mallard, she recognizes that the emotions growing within her are not appropriate, so she attempts (and fails) to fight against these feelings.  The joy in her impending freedom is, however, so strong that it overpowers her sense of propriety, and she finally lets freedom ring--"free, free, free!"


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The Story of an Hour

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