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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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Who are the main characters in "The Story of an Hour" and what do they reveal about human nature?

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In "The Story of an Hour," main character Mrs. Mallard finds a surprising freedom and joy after being told about her husband's death. Her sister, Josephine, tries to comfort her and worries that she will become ill, and this provides an important contrast. The story's tone is filled with irony and drama.

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Let's review some of the primary elements of Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" to help you get started on your answers. The story revolves around Mrs. Louise Mallard. As a main character, she is supported by her sister, Josephine, and a family friend, Richards. Her husband, Brently Mallard, also plays an important role in the story.

At the beginning of the tale, Mrs. Mallard is told that her husband has been killed in a railroad accident. She weeps at once, but as the story progresses, her attitude changes. She begins to feel a sense of freedom for the first time since her marriage. She looks out the window and thinks about how she can now live for herself alone. She no longer has to bend to the will of her husband. Although she has loved him at times, a whole new world is opening up for her now, and she is thrilled by it.

Her sister, of course, has no idea what is going on, and she knocks on the bedroom door, fearing that Mrs. Mallard will make herself sick. This provides an ironic contrast, for Mrs. Mallard is not ill at all; in fact, she feels better than ever. Yet her sister would not understand that, and Mrs. Mallard does not tell her. She wants to keep her newfound freedom to herself for a while, for she is still very much aware of the social expectations of her position.

At the end of the story, however, Mrs. Mallard is in for an even greater shock, for her husband walks through the door. He has not been killed at all. The shock is too great for Mrs. Mallard's weak heart, and she falls to the floor, dead. The other characters think that she has died of joy, but readers know otherwise. It is disappointment that kills Mrs. Mallard.

We can learn quite a bit about human nature by reading this story. We can learn, for instance, that people often hide their true feelings, even from themselves, until something happens that forces them to look at their emotions. We can also learn about the desire for freedom and about the subtle yet real ways people can oppress each other without even being aware of it.

Now let's think for a minute about the story's tone. There is plenty of irony and drama in this tale. As we follow Mrs. Mallard's inner journey, we see how this grieving widow is actually, ironically, and dramatically filled with a sense of freedom and even joy. She feels more alive than ever now that her husband is dead. The irony and drama continue all the way to the end of the story, when Mrs. Mallard drops dead not from joy but from shock and perhaps horror at the return of her husband.

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