Style and Technique
Last Updated on July 15, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 402
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.
Last Updated on July 15, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 516
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 train accident. At first she is beset by grief, but then she begins to feel a sense of freedom. When she leaves her room and descends the stairs, her husband appears at the front door. Upon seeing her husband alive, Louise Mallard's heart gives out and she dies.
Point of View
The story is told from a detached, third-person limited point of view. The reader identifies with Louise, the only character whose thoughts are accessible. At the beginning of the story, Louise is incapable of reflecting on her own experience. As Louise becomes conscious of her situation and emotions, the reader gains access to her thinking which reveals her character. When she goes back downstairs, the reader is quickly cut off from her thoughts. Thus Chopin skillfully manipulates the narrative point of view to underscore the story's theme.
The setting of "The Story of an Hour" is unspecified. It takes place in the Mallard's house, but Chopin does not offer many clues as to where or when the action takes place. This generic setting is consistent with the story's thematic focus on the general, commonly accepted views of the appropriate roles for women in society. Given Chopin's other works and the concerns she expresses about women's role in marriage in this story and in other writings, the reader can assume that the story takes place during Chopin's lifetime, the late nineteenth century. However, Chopin was known for being a local colorist, a writer who focuses on a particular people in a particular locale. In Chopin's case, her stories are usually set among the Cajun and Creole societies in Louisiana. For this reason, "The Story of an Hour" is usually assumed to take place in Louisiana.
Chopin uses irony, a technique that reveals the distance between what appears to be true and what is actually true, to conclude her story. In ''The Story of an Hour," there is incongruity between what is understood to be true by the characters within the drama and what is understood by the reader. What killed Mrs. Mallard? While Brently Mallard, Richards, Josephine, and the doctors might believe her weak heart gave out upon such sudden happiness, readers are led to suspect that sudden grief killed her. At the story's conclusion, the story's first line, "Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble," becomes ironic—referring to Mrs. Mallard's spiritual condition and not to a medical condition. The story's concluding line, she died "from the joy that kills," is also ironic.
The story is set during spring, and Louise's "awakening" is symbolized by the rebirth of nature. Through her bedroom window, Louise sees nature, like herself, "all acquiver with the new spring life." The internal changes taking place within Louise are mirrored by what she views—when she is distraught with grief, rain falls, and when she realizes her freedom, the skies clear up. What occurs outside the window parallels what is occurring to Louise.