illustration of a woman in a dress standing as if she were in shock

The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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Style and Technique

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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.

Literary Style

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Last Updated July 19, 2024.

The plot of "The Story of an Hour" is straightforward: Mrs. Mallard, who has "a heart trouble," learns of her husband's death in a train accident. Initially, she is overwhelmed with sorrow, but soon she begins to feel liberated. As she exits her room and descends the staircase, her husband unexpectedly walks through the front door. Shocked by his sudden appearance, Louise Mallard's heart fails, and she dies.

Point of View

The narrative is delivered from a detached, third-person limited perspective. The reader aligns with Louise, the sole character whose thoughts are accessible. At the story's outset, Louise is unable to reflect on her own experiences. As she becomes aware of her circumstances and emotions, the reader gains insight into her thoughts, revealing her character. When she descends the stairs, the reader is abruptly cut off from her internal musings. Chopin adeptly manipulates the narrative viewpoint to emphasize the story's theme.

Setting

The setting of "The Story of an Hour" is vague. It occurs within the Mallard's home, but Chopin provides few details about the time or place of the action. This nondescript setting aligns with the story's thematic focus on widely accepted societal views regarding women's roles. Considering Chopin's other works and her exploration of women's roles in marriage, it is plausible to assume the story is set during Chopin's lifetime, the late 19th century. However, as a local colorist, Chopin often depicted specific communities, particularly the Cajun and Creole societies in Louisiana. Therefore, it is generally assumed that "The Story of an Hour" is set in Louisiana.

Irony

Chopin employs irony, a technique that exposes the gap between appearance and reality, to conclude her story. In "The Story of an Hour," there is a discrepancy between what the characters perceive as true and what the reader understands. What caused Mrs. Mallard's death? While Brently Mallard, Richards, Josephine, and the doctors might think her weak heart succumbed to sudden joy, readers are led to believe that sudden grief killed her. At the story's end, the opening line, "Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble," becomes ironic—referring not to a medical condition but to her spiritual state. The final line, she died "from the joy that kills," is also steeped in irony.

Symbolism

The story unfolds in the springtime, with Louise's "awakening" symbolized by the renewal of nature. Through her bedroom window, Louise observes nature, much like herself, "all acquiver with the new spring life." The internal transformations happening within Louise are mirrored by what she sees—when she is overwhelmed with grief, rain pours, and when she embraces her freedom, the skies brighten. The events outside the window reflect what is happening to Louise internally.

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