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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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Analysis and personal opinion on Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour"

Summary:

Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" explores themes of freedom, identity, and the confines of marriage. The protagonist, Louise Mallard, experiences a fleeting sense of liberation upon hearing of her husband's death, highlighting the restrictive nature of her marriage. The story's ironic twist, with her husband's unexpected return and her subsequent death, underscores the fragile and transient nature of her newfound freedom.

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What is your analysis of Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour"?

"The Story of an Hour" is a story about imprisonment for a woman in a marriage, the joy that one hour of freedom provides her, and how devastating a loss of freedom can be.  Chopin allows her readers to infer these themes with imagery, symbolism, and a surprising plot twist at the end. 

As the story opens, the reader believes that the news of her husband's death might very well kill Mrs. Mallard, since she suffers from some sort of heart problem. Her sister, Josephine, and her husband's close friend, Richards, take care to break the news to her gently. But when she retreats to her room, we come to understand that marriage has been a form of imprisonment for Mrs. Mallard.  Her room represents this prison.  And through her interior thoughts, we know that her husband was a "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" (para. 12).

As Mrs. Mallard gazes out the window, it slowly becomes clear to her that she can be free of imprisonment now that her husband is dead.  The window is a symbol of this new-found freedom.  She sees "the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life" (para. 5), a symbol and image of the new life she looks forward to.  She hears someone singing in the distance, much as her own heart must be singing.  She hears sparrows "twittering in the eaves" (para. 5), another image and symbol of freedom, since what is more free than a bird? She notices "patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled one above the other...." (para 6). As she can see in the sky, the clouds in her life are now clearing away, with blue skies to come, a symbol of freedom and happiness. 

But just as Mrs. Mallard is on the verge of what she believes will be a joyous and free life, she learns that her husband is not dead. It is her joy that is dead. And while she had managed to live her life in imprisonment, not having any other choice, once she has glimpsed her freedom, it is a painful loss she endures, so painful that it kills her. 

Chopin's brief and deft sketch of one mere hour in a woman's life conveys her themes about marriage, freedom, and imprisonment quite well. 

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How does Kate Chopin reveal character in "The Story of an Hour"?

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, fixed and gray, and dead.....

And yet she had loved him--sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What could love...count for in face of this possession of self-assertion....

Mrs. Mallard, who fell in love with Bently Mallard has lost some love for him because of her suppression under the feme covert laws  of her time in which a married woman's property belonged to her husband to whom she then became subjugated. So, now that she supposes herself free, Louise Mallard regains her property. Is this so dark a character to cherish her independence? Chopin seems to think not. For, to be free--"Body and soul free!" is what all thinking humans desire. To be free is empowering: "she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory" as she holds her sister's waist and begins the descent down the stairs from her bedroom. 

For only a brief interlude, Mrs. Mallard has known true freedom; she has tasted of the "delicious breath" of its rain and has delighted in the emotional experience of delight. It is not that she is selfish or loves not her husband, but that she loves freedom more.

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How does Kate Chopin reveal character in "The Story of an Hour"?

When Kate Chopin wrote “The Story of an Hour” in 1894, the role of women in society was cruelly restrained, predicated upon false assumptions regarding relative attributes and notions of gender inferiority.  Many people lived with the firm conviction that the woman’s place was to be a supportive wife to a husband and mother to their children.  Professional aspirations were discouraged, and societal structures enforced these edicts.  It was the rare woman who was free to pursue her passions in life unhindered by those societal constraints.  It was in this context that Chopin produced her works of literature.

In her short – in fact, very short – story about a woman, Louise Mallard, initially morose over the sudden and tragic passing of her husband who just as suddenly revels in her new-found freedom from marital tyranny, Chopin exposes the dark underside of marriage: the female spouse may very well prefer to have remained single and independent. Such is the case with Louise. Upon learning of her husband Brently’s reported death, Louise retreats to her bedroom, alone, and dissolves into tears of shock and sadness.  Chopin describes the scene as follows:

“She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister's arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her.

"There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.”

As she sits in front of her open window, however, the blueness of the sky and singing of the birds have a revelatory effect upon her:

“There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air.  Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will—as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been. When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: ‘free, free, free!’”

Louise comes to grasp the implications of Brentley’s death: she is now free to live her life any way she sees fit: "’Free! Body and soul free!’ she kept whispering.” Brentley’s death has liberated her from her sense of repression. 

Chopin’s characterizations, however, expose Louise in a rather negative light.  Besides an apparently serious heart condition (“Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband's death.”), Louise emerges as an exceedingly narcissistic character, devoid of true feelings for a husband even she admits was kind and loving (“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, fixed and gray and dead.”), but she is possessed of thoughts of only herself and the independence she will savor now that her loving husband is dead.  One could suppose she had been “forced” into the marriage, perhaps by her and Brentley’s respective families, or that she had only thought she had loved Brentley only to later discover she didn’t.  That happens.  What we do know, however, is that her elation is so complete that her husband’s sudden appearance is such a shock that it is this news – not the news of Brentley’s death –that causes her frail heart to fail.

In contrast to Louise, Brentley’s friend Richards is depicted as an eminently decent individual who wisely takes the time to confirm the sad news and whose concern for Louise and her medical condition compels him to enlist the aid of Louise’s sister, Josephine, in breaking the news of Brentley’s apparent death to Louise. As Chopin describes his role in the story:

“Her husband's friend Richards . . .He had only taken the time to assure himself of its truth by a second telegram, and had hastened to forestall any less careful, less tender friend in bearing the sad message.”

Similarly, Josephine is portrayed as the loving, thoughtful sister, hastening to be at Louise’s side in this presumably dark hour.  It is Louise who is presented in a less than flattering light, historical, social and cultural contexts notwithstanding.

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

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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What elements of Kate Chopin's life make their way into her story "The Story of an Hour"?

There are some clear similarities between Kate Chopin's life and Louise Mallard in Chopin's short story, "The Story of an Hour."

One similarity is that Chopin's father died in a train accident. In the story, Louise Mallard's husband is reported killed in a train accident. Both families are wealthy. Kate Chopin marries a businessman, and it is clear that Louise Mallard's husband was a businessman as well, traveling by train to work, travel-stained (as only someone well-dressed could be perceived after spending time on the train), and carrying an umbrella—not the behavior of a common worker.

It was Brently Mallard who entered, a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella.

Finally, it is Chopin's behavior as an independent woman, upon the death of her husband, that is very similar to Louise Mallard's new-found sense of independence at her husband's "death."

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What is your personal opinion on "The Story of an Hour"?

Author Kate Chopin gives both Louise Mallard and the reader a short but wild ride of emotional ups and downs in "The Story of an Hour." The title is appropriate. We learn a great deal about both Louise and her husband during the compact short story. I find it gratifying that Louise is able to experience at least a short time of independence from her husband during the time she believes him dead. She is able to dream of a new life and a new world that has opened up for her. She is able to see the outside world in a new light, albeit only for a few minutes. The shocking news of her husband's survival is met with the only possible result: How could Louise go back to her old life after experiencing those few moments of freedom? Her own death is a perfect ending to the story and a much more satisfying alternative to a return to the misery of her previous life.

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What is your personal opinion on "The Story of an Hour"?

If the assignment is to develop your own perception of it, you might have to engage in some personal reflection of it.  Having said this, I like the idea of the story and the exploration of two experiences that Louise undergoes.  The first of her husband dying and the second of what she envisions life being without him.  I think that the experience of what a woman is supposed to feel and then what she might actually feel is something brought out quite nicely in the short story.  In my mind, the tone in both sections is extremely powerful and the ending is also something that proves to be rich in meaning.  Louise's death might be a statement on how far social orders need to go in order to fully validate and authenticate the experience of being a woman.  In this light, Chopin's story is a meaningful one.

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What is your personal opinion on "The Story of an Hour"?

"The Story of an Hour" is one of my favorite short stories.  The language that Chopin uses in the story has a lyric quality that is most notable when read aloud.  When the narrator describes the spring days, the reader can feel the sense of freedom that Mrs. Mallard feels.  Further, Chopin plays with words in the story such as in the following lines: 

"She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long.  It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long."

The ironic twist in these lines causes the reader to sympathize with Mrs. Mallard's situation.

Finally, I appreciate Chopin's overall message about the constraints that are often a part of marriage and relationships.  That ". . .men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature" is still a dynamic that we can relate to today.  Often, because we are close to others in relationships, we take for granted their desire and need for independence.

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