The Story of an Hour Analysis

  • Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" is considered a classic of feminist literature. The main character's surprising reaction to her husband's death reflects the often complicated feelings women in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries had about marriage. Louise Mallard's desire to be free of her husband belies the essentially repressive nature of marriage at that time.
  • Chopin uses setting as a foil for Louise's emotions. Her husband Brently's supposed train wreck takes place in spring, while birds are singing and flowers are in bloom. This abundance of fresh life symbolizes Louise's newfound freedom, which withers suddenly when Brently is revealed to be alive.
  • For Louise, death represents freedom. Her husband's alleged death releases her from the trappings of marriage and domesticity, momentarily affording her a freedom she didn't know she wanted. When Brently returns unscathed, Louise dies on the spot. Death is, in effect, her only escape.

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Nature imagery underlines the plot and meaning. Although authors typically associate death with autumn and winter, Brentley’s supposed death occurs in the spring. The trees are “all aquiver” with new life. Rain has fallen, purifying the air, and now the clouds are parting to show “patches of blue sky.” This scene mirrors Louise’s situation. The death of Brentley marks the end of the winter of her discontent; her soul can awake from its torpor. She can realize the full potential of her life, so she, like the trees, feels aquiver with life. The clouds again represent her married life, which cast shadows on her happiness, but now the horizon of her life is clearing. As she contemplates her future, she imagines “spring days and summer days” only, not autumn or winter days, because she links herself to the seasons of rebirth and ripening.

In contrast to the world of nature is the cloistered, confining house, symbol of domesticity. In her own room she looks through an open window, another symbol of her freedom. The window does not intervene between her and nature and allows her the scope of infinite vision. She herself locks and unlocks the door to her room, admitting or excluding whomever she wants. She has what Virginia Woolf stressed as so important, a room of her own. However, it is only a temporary, and finally an inadequate, refuge. She leaves it, as she must, to rejoin her sister and Richards; in unlocking her door she paradoxically consigns herself to the prison of her house. Nowhere else in the house is there even a glimpse of nature, and, in contrast to the open window, the front door is locked; only Brentley has the key. He can come and go as he pleases, but she remains trapped within.

Related to this contrast of nature and house is the imagery of up and down. Louise’s room is upstairs, and from there she looks at the tops of trees and hears the songs of birds on the roof. Her freedom is thus literally elevating. Her leaving this refuge and going down the stairs foreshadows her loss of freedom. She descends from the heaven of solitude to the hell of marriage again, where she encounters her husband. Now death is her only salvation. Instead of soaring freely like the birds, she can escape only by sinking still lower, into the grave.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

The Woman Question
"The Story of an Hour" was published in 1894, an era in which many social and cultural questions occupied...

(The entire section is 224 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

The action of "The Story of an Hour" is simple: Mrs. Mallard, who suffers from "a heart trouble," is informed about her husband's demise in a...

(The entire section is 520 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1890s: The suffragist movement unites in the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Wyoming becomes the first state to...

(The entire section is 171 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Research marriage law in the 1890s and compare this to contemporary marriage laws. How has the institution of marriage changed in the last...

(The entire section is 98 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

"The Story of an Hour," was adapted in 1985 into a 56-minute long video, Kate Chopin: The Joy That Kills, available through Films for...

(The entire section is 43 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

The Awakening, Kate Chopin's 1899 novel, tells of Edna Pointellier, a traditional wife and mother who becomes "awakened" to sexual and...

(The entire section is 100 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Sources
Bender, Bert, "Kate Chopin's Lyrical Short Stories," Studies in Short Fiction, Vol XI, no. 3, Summer, 1974, pp....

(The entire section is 102 words.)

Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Beer, Janet. Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Studies in Short Fiction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.

Beer, Janet, and Elizabeth Nolan, eds. Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening”: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Bonner, Thomas, Jr. The Kate Chopin Companion. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.

Boren, Lynda S., and Sara de Saussure Davis, eds. Kate Chopin Reconsidered: Beyond the Bayou. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.

Koloski, Bernard. Kate Chopin: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1996.

Petry, Alice Hall, ed. Critical Essays on Kate Chopin. New York: G. K. Hall, 1996.

Skaggs, Peggy. Kate Chopin. Boston: Twayne, 1985.

Stein, Allen F. Women and Autonomy in Kate Chopin’s Short Fiction. New York: Peter Lang, 2005.

Taylor, Helen. Gender, Race, and Religion in the Writings of Grace King, Ruth McEnery Stuart, and Kate Chopin. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.

Toth, Emily. Kate Chopin. New York: William Morrow, 1990.

Toth, Emily. Unveiling Kate Chopin. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999.