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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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Comprehensive analysis and summary of "The Story of an Hour."

Summary:

"The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin explores the complex emotions of Louise Mallard, who experiences a profound sense of freedom upon learning of her husband's death. Initially shocked, Louise soon revels in her newfound independence. However, her joy is short-lived as her husband unexpectedly returns, leading to her sudden death from the shock of his survival.

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What events in "The Story of an Hour" lead to the plot?

We are told that Mrs. Mallard has a bad heart. Her relatives come over to bring her the crushing news of her husband's death in a railroad accident. She does not want to be with other people at this time, and retires to her room, seemingly to grieve in private.

Yet, once she is alone, she feels a sense of relief at her husbands death. She did not hate her husband, but felt constricted in her role as his wife. She feels free for the first time, and is reveling in her new-found freedom.

Her brief reverie ends when her husband walks through the door. He had not been at the accident sight at all. It was just a terrible mistake. Mrs. Mallard drops dead at this moment, apparently from the shock.

Ironically, her death is attributed at the "joy" she felt on seeing her husband alive, yet it was most likely from seeing her freedom end.

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What are the significant details in The Story of an Hour?

In this compact narrative, Kate Chopin skillfully and meaningfully makes use of many pregnant details. For instance, it is interesting how the initial reference to Mrs. Mallard changes to "she" after the woman is informed of the death of Mr. Bentley Mallard.  Thus, the focus of characterization switches to the feminine aspect in contrast to the Victorian setting of femme covert in which a woman/wife called "Mrs. Mallard" is subservient to her husband.  And, as "she" looks out her window, realizing that Spring approaches, a season that parallels her own burgeoning feelings of independence, the emergence of "Louise," the individual occurs in contrast to the former "Mrs. Mallard" as her sister Josephine calls to her outside the bedroom door.

Also, while "she" is in the bedroom emerging as an independent individual, there are such adjectives used as "acquiver," "delicious" "twittering," "approaching"; these details suggest the spiritual awakening, the "monstrous joy," of the main character as she realizes her new-found freedom.   However, as the detail of "monstrous" suggests, the dream of freedom is short-lived for Louise as her "feverish triumph" turns to a fatal defeat with the return of Brentley Drummle and "she" changes to "his wife" in the third-to-the-last line. Certainly, Kate Chopin's "A Story of an Hour" utilizes details most significantly.

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What are the resolution and conclusion points in "The Story of an Hour"?

I think it is pretty clear that the resolution, or denouement, of "The Story of an Hour" comes in the final sentence:

When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease--of the joy that kills. 

It is a surprise ending with an ironic twist: Louise descends the stairs as a new woman, basking in the knowledge that she will be free of her domineering husband; but when she sees that he is not dead, but instead very much alive and standing in front of her, Louise dies from the shock of the realization that her new dreams will not be fulfilled. No one else in the room, however, realizes the joy that she had experienced during the past hour from the knowledge that she would now be free to live life in the manner she wishes, without the incumberment of a man to direct her every move. The doctors instead assume that she has died from the happiness of seeing her husband alive--"the joy that kills"--the exact opposite of what Louise was actually feeling. The doctors have mistaken her new heart, one that is now filled with joy and hope for a new future, for a diseased one that was not strong enough to take the shock of seeing her husband alive.

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What is the setting of "The Story of an Hour" and how does it impact the narrative?

"The Story of an Hour" is set in the late nineteenth century, during a time contemporaneous with its original publication year of 1894. Be aware of how much culture and society have transformed since this time period: women were only given the right to vote in 1920, and this is to say nothing of the impact of second- and third-wave feminism later in the century.

This was an era where women were defined primarily through their husbands and their children. This same understanding is reflected in Chopin's setting, whose scope is confined entirely to the household. This context, by which Louise and her sister are at home while her husband is away, reflects nineteenth-century associations between space and gender, wherein the household is perceived as a traditionally feminine space, while political and professional life were associated with masculine activity. This is all the more important where Chopin is concerned, given that the very point of the story is to criticize these constraints.

For Louise, her husband's death represents a moment of liberation, where she is finally, for the first time, granted the freedom to define her own existence, rather than be defined within the context of her husband. These themes and criticisms are thus directly tied into the story's setting, which reflect the very same gendered assumptions and power imbalances that are the target of Chopin's ire.

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What is the ending of "The Story of an Hour"?

"The Story of an Hour" has an ironic ending on two levels. First, it is an example of situational irony, in which the plot does not turn out the way a reader—or the characters in the story—expect.

Throughout most of this very short story, both Mrs. Mallard and the reader believe that her husband has been killed in a train accident. Her sister and friend deliver the news to her and remain to help her mourn. There is no reason to expect that anything is different from what they have been told.

The twist comes when Mrs. Mallard sees her husband walking through the front door. We find out that he was nowhere near the train accident that supposedly killed him. He has no idea there even was a train accident.

Adding to the irony, Mrs. Mallard is so shocked and overwhelmed when she sees her husband that, with her weak heart, she has a heart attack and dies. The doctors agree that she died of joy—"the joy that kills."

This is an example of dramatic irony, which occurs when readers know what characters in a story do not. In this case, readers were privy to Mrs. Mallard's thoughts as she sat alone in a room, supposedly grieving. We know that once the shock wore off, Mrs. Mallard was overjoyed to be free of her marriage. In the end, then, she dies of unhappiness, not happiness, from seeing her husband alive.

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What happens at the end of "The Story of an Hour"?

In "The Story of an Hour," Mrs. Mallard receives news that her husband has died in a tragic "railroad disaster." She immediately accepts the knowledge and weeps immediately "with sudden, wild abandonment." And then a shift occurs.

Mrs. Mallard retreats to her room in solitude to process the significance of the news. She reflects that "she had loved him—sometimes. Often she had not." And she sees this change in her situation as a move toward freedom.

Indeed, she repeats this phrase to herself several times: "Free, free, free!"

Finally, she has a chance to live for herself. She will be able to make her own decisions and not be forced to submit to her husband's whims and desires.

Then, a surprising twist occurs. She emerges from her bedroom, and her husband suddenly appears at the door, "a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella. He had been far from the scene of the accident, and did not even know that there had been one."

Mrs. Mallard's heart, already looking toward her new future with great excitement and anticipation, cannot take this shift back to her old life. The shock and disappointment that her husband is very much alive stops her heart and kills her.

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What happens at the end of "The Story of an Hour"?

At the end of "The Story of an Hour," Louise suddenly realizes that what she thought was her new-found freedom was just a mirage. Upon hearing of the news of her husband's death, Louise was ecstatic; for the first time in her adult life she felt as free as a bird. All of a sudden, new vistas of opportunity appeared before her eyes, giving her a glimpse into a bright future of personal freedom and self-fulfillment.

But all that is cruelly snatched away from Louise when she discovers that her husband didn't die after all and that she is destined to remain trapped in a stultifying, loveless marriage for the foreseeable future. Her weak heart cannot handle the stress of seeing her husband walk through the door and so she drops down dead on the spot.

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What happens at the end of "The Story of an Hour"?

Throughout "The Story of an Hour," Louise Mallard believes that her husband Brently has been killed that day in a railroad accident. In the hour after receiving this information, Louise cries and thinks about her husband, believing him to be a kindly but, at the same time, oppressive force in her life.

Louise reflects on the hold that people in relationships have on each other, and it occurs to her that it seems a "crime" when men or women "believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature." Louise begins to process the fact that Brently's death means that she will be able to think and make decisions for herself, and she allows herself to feel some joy at her impending freedom.

What happens at the end of the story is that Louise's husband Brently walks in the front door; he had not been the victim of a railroad accident. Though her husband's friend Richards tries to screen Brently from Louise's view, she sees him, and she literally drops dead. The doctors who come attribute her death to "joy that kills," meaning that they believe that she is overjoyed to see Brently return and her heart gives out. However, the feminist reading that Kate Chopin may have intended suggests that Louise dies of a broken heart because her freedom is abruptly snatched away before she can begin living her own life.

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Describe the sequence of events in "The Story of an Hour."

The sequence of events in Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" is as follows:

Mrs. Mallard's sister, Josephine, breaks the news to her that her husband, Brently, has been killed in a railroad disaster.

Mrs. Mallard breaks down and weeps upon hearing this, then goes to her room to be alone. She sinks into an armchair and sits there, looking out of the window and periodically sobbing.

Involuntarily, she finds herself whispering the word "free" over and over again. She then starts to think of the years to come, in which she will be able to live for herself. She reflects that she had loved her husband sometimes, though by no means all the time, but she is nonetheless invigorated by the prospect of complete freedom and autonomy.

Outside her room, Mrs. Mallard's sister, Josephine, implores her to open the door, saying that Mrs. Mallard is making herself ill.

Mrs. Mallard thinks of all the wonderful days ahead of her, in which she can do as she likes. She opens the door and goes downstairs with her sister, unconsciously looking triumphant.

Brently Mallard, who was not involved in the accident and did not even know it had occurred, opens the front door and enters the house.

Upon seeing her husband, Mrs. Mallard collapses and dies.

The doctors who examine Mrs. Mallard's body say that she died of heart disease, brought on by the sudden joy of seeing her husband alive.

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Identify five important phrases from "The Story of an Hour".

Phrases that seem especially important to the story include the following:

free, free, free!

These are the words the occur to Louise as the first wave of her grief passes and she looks out the window at a beautiful spring day. These are the first quiverings of her own "spring" of new life.

the face that had never looked save with love upon her.

This phrase makes clear that her sense of freedom does not come because her husband oppressed her in any unusual or cruel way. Louise knew she was loved. This is important because it shows that the institution of patriarchal marriage is the problem, not one particular man.

There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself

The above quote is crucial to summing up what the sense of being free means to Louise: she can do what she wants without having to consult another human being. Nobody else will tell her what to do or how to be.

What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!

This passage is important as a direct attack on the cult of romantic love that bound so many women in Chopin's time. Chopin is stating unequivocally through Louise that self assertion—being one's own person—is more essential than romantic love.

When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease—of joy that kills.

This final sentence of the story is important it because sums up the irony of the misperceptions people hold about Louise's death: she dies of unhappiness that her husband returned, not from joy. People are so caught in conventional thinking that they can't conceive of the transformation Louise underwent in a mere hour.

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Identify five important phrases from "The Story of an Hour".

To add to the very significant phrases from Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" that have already been posted, here are others:

She would have no one follow her.

This phrase about no one following her is the very first indication of the independence of Mrs. Mallard as she has wept with "sudden, wild abandonment" and then turned to climb the stairs.

The delicious breath of rain was in the air.

Louise Mallard senses things more now that she is free from the repression of her husband.  She looks to the West, the future, and delights freely the sounds of nature.

When she abandoned herself a little....

Mrs. Ballard is beginning to emerge as a person herself.

A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.

Louise Ballard experiences her "awakening" as she realizes that she is free to be her own person, no longer repressed by her Victorian husband.

There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory.

Louise Mallard feels that she has won back her identity; she is free and independent of all that made her the wife of Brently Mallard.  The suggestion of war with these two phrases is also interesting as when Mr. Mallard does appear, Louise Mallard is fatally killed.

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Identify five important phrases from "The Story of an Hour".

The first line that pops into my head right now is the very ending line, the one where the doctor proclaims that Louise Mallard had died "of joy that kills."  That line is loaded with meaning and irony.  First of all, there is the fact that the doctor, and everyone else, just assumed that Louise had been so happy to see her husband that she had died of a heart attack from the joy of it.  As we know from earlier in the story, that is not true; in fact, she was dismayed and dealing with her new-found freedom being torn away from her.  Secondly, it is interesting how her sister had been so careful to tell her the news of her husband's death, because she was worried that it would shock her.  It didn't as much as the opposite, news of her husband.  That was the shock that did in her heart.

Another sentence that is important:

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.

That line relays Chopin's, and Louise's, view of marriage, that it was someone forcing their will upon another person.  That explains Louise's reaction to her husband's death.  Another important phrase is when Louise declares, "Free!  Body and soul free!"  This reveals her joy at being released from marriage.  I also like the description of her face as having "repression and even a certain strength."  That tells us a lot about her, that she feels repressed, and is a strong woman.  One last line is the ever-important intro. to her heart problem, "Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart problem" that is at the very beginning of the story.

I hope that those help a bit; good luck!

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Identify five important phrases from "The Story of an Hour".

Phrases which are important to the story and help move it forward are many in this short story, so I will select just a few and comment upon each.

1) Firstly, the opening sentence is key in setting up the central irony of the story, as it refers to the "heart trouble" that Mrs. Mallard has. This becomes crucial at the end of the story.

2) What is most interesting about the story is the way that when Mrs. Mallard locks herself away in her room and looks out of the window, what she sees is representative not of death but of new life:

She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The deliciouis breath of rain was in the air.

This is the first indication that Mrs. Mallard views the death of her husband not as a tragedy, but as something that bestows the gift of life to her. 

3) What then becomes important is her own realisation of her state as a widow, as she says to herself, "Free, free, free!" The accompanying physical feeling of release reinforces this speech.

4) The reference then to her own feelings of freedom and how marriage is described as having a "powerful will bending hers" captures the theme of marriage as something negative in the short story.

5) Finally, and most tragically, the short story ends with the shock of her husband's reappearance, and the dramatic irony that she died apparently of "joy that kills" because of her heart disease, whereas the reader knows it was not joy at all. 

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Identify five important phrases from "The Story of an Hour".

These are some phrases that advance the central theme of the story, that of the oppressive position women were forced to accept in nineteenth-century marriages.

"She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression..."

The author does not spend a lot of time describing Mrs. Mallard's physical appearance. It is significant that "repression" is one of the few words she chooses to describe her.

"She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will..."

The realization of her situation and her longing for freedom are taboo during her time, and Mrs. Mallard does her utmost to prevent herself from acknowledging these inclinations in herself, knowing they can lead only to destruction.

"She would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers..."

Women are subjugated by the will of their husbands. What they want is not important; it is what the man wants that takes precedence during these times. With the removal of her husband, Mrs. Mallard will be able to experience a freedom which has long been denied her.

"What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!"

Self-realization is more important even than love by Mrs. Mallard; it is all-consuming.

"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."

Mrs. Mallard's married life was so odious to her that she did not feel it was worth living. This was true even though her husband was a kind man; the impulse towards self-realization inside herself was that strong.

"...she had died of heart disease - of joy that kills."

This statement has multiple meanings. "Heart disease" refers to Mrs. Mallard's physical ailment as well as to her longing. The "joy that kills" is the sense of identity and freedom she craves; in the society and times she lives in, it is a forbidden thing that can only result in ruin.

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Identify five important phrases from "The Story of an Hour".

This story, although extremely short says a great deal about life (particularly life for women)  in the time period in which Kate Chopin wrote it.    Five of the most significant phrases are as follows:

“She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance.”

“She said it over and over under her breath: ‘ free, free, free!’”

“But  she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely.  And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome.”

“And yet she had loved him – sometimes.  Often she had not.  What did it matter!”

“’Go away.  I am not making myself ill.’  No; she was drinking in the very elixir of life through the open window.”  

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What are the key elements of plot structure in "The Story of an Hour"?

In “The Story of an Hour,” Kate Chopin skillfully demonstrates all the elements of a story in a compact space.

The first line is the exposition. In this single line, we are introduced to Mrs. Mallard, informed she has a heart condition, and told she is about to receive news of her husband's death.

The rising action of the story occurs over the next few paragraphs as Louise finds out her husband is dead, has an emotional initial reaction to the news, and then retreats to her room to spend some time alone and process her feelings. She looks at the scene outside her window and takes notice of the minute details she had long since stopped paying attention to. She is overcome with a feeling that she cannot immediately identify.

The climax of the story starts in the tenth paragraph. At this point, Louise realizes the mysterious feeling that had taken her over is joy. She is relieved that her husband is dead, and she looks forward to having the time and freedom to chase her own dreams.

The falling action takes place as Louise, overjoyed and optimistic, leaves her room and heads down the stairs with her sister, Josephine. As they descend, Louise’s husband, who is not dead after all, walks through the front door.

The resolution occurs in the final line of the story, in which we learn that Louise had a heart attack upon seeing her husband alive. Her doctor ironically says she died from being overjoyed at the sight of her husband, but in reality, she was not overjoyed but rather disappointed and heartbroken by the realization that her husband was not dead, and she was no longer free.

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What do the settings in "The Story of an Hour" reflect?

In "The Story of an Hour," the setting reflects the Victorian Age in which the feme covert laws were in effect. These laws that greatly restricted women and their ownership of property profoundly affected women, and these affects are  exemplified in the character of Louise Mallard. 

  • A restricted life

The repression under which Mrs. Mallard dwells is evinced in several ways. The doctor perceives her as a woman "with a heart trouble," and she must be treated with delicacy. So, when she must be told that her husband is on the list of those thought dead from the railroad disaster, Mr. Mallard's friend Richard hurries to the Mallard home in order to carefully break the news of the tragedy to his wife. And, when she is told, Mrs. Mallard does not stand stunned, but, instead, cries with "wild abandonment,"as though there were more than loss involved in her life. Then, she insists upon going up the stairs alone. 

  • Her own room and a sense of freedom

When Mrs. Mallard enters her bedroom, she sinks into a "comfortable, roomy armchair" that faces an open window. Exhausted by the emotion of the fatal news, she looks outside over the tops of trees that are "aquiver with the new spring life." In the air is "the delicious breath or rain," and she hears a song being sung on the street. The sky has "patches" of blue that have collected in the west facing her window.
Clearly, Mrs. Mallard has entered a fresh, new, hopeful setting as she sits in her home looking to the western horizon, enjoying her feelings and contemplating the change in her life. Finally, the words spill from her, "free, free, free!" Her pulses beat quickly and she is warmed by the coursing blood in her veins. Under the law, her property, surrendered in marriage, now returns to her and she "drink[s] in the elixir of life through the open window."

  • The staircase down

Louise Mallard rises and answers the pleas of her anxious sister.

There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory.

She puts her arm around her sister Josephine and they descend the stairs together. Unexpectedly, however, the front door opens and Brently Mallard enters with no knowledge of the train wreck; for, he had been far from the scene.
Mrs. Mallard is so shocked to realize that life will return her to the role of repressed wife that she dies" of heart disease--of joy that kills." 

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Who are the characters in "The Story of an Hour"?

The central character that you will undoubtedly want to focus on and, indeed, the only character that we gain any real insight to, is that of Mrs. Mallard, who, in the two and a half pages of this excellent short story is the main focus of the tale. The very first sentence informs us that she is "afflicted with a heart trouble," which suggests that she is a fragile person, weak and not robust in her physical frame. However, the way that she greets the news of her husband's death immediately distinguished her from other women, as the author says:

She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralysed inability to accept its significance. 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.

Clearly, she is a woman who is able to experience emotions and feel them deeply, and is not inhibited in expressing them. She is able to react suddenly and deeply and does not repress what she is feeling.

Physically, we are told that she is "young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength." This indicates that she feels "repressed" in her marriage, but the "certain strength" indicates deep strength in her character that allows her to face this repression. The sense of repression is strengthened as we see the joy with which she greets her new state as a widow:

There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; 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.

It is this "freedom" that she experiences, ever so fleetingly, therefore, that is the cause of her death at the end of the story, as to have savoured such a freedom only to have it rudely snatched back from you was the big shock to her heart that ended her life.

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Who are the characters in "The Story of an Hour"?

The events in Kate Chopin's “The Story of an Hour” literally do take place in about an hour and run from Mrs. Mallard learning of her husband's supposed death to Mrs. Mallard's own death at the end. Let's look at the sequence.

Since Mrs. Mallard has a weak heart, her sister, Josephine, and a family friend are very careful when they tell her that her husband has been killed in a railroad accident. Mrs. Mallard weeps in her sister's arms and then goes upstairs to her room to be alone for a while. As she looks out the window, she notices the spring day.

Then something begins to dawn on Mrs. Mallard, something that she does not recognize at first. Then she realizes it; she is free. She no longer has to answer to her husband. She can live for herself. She can do what she likes with her life. She feels a “monstrous joy” even as she knows that she will weep again for her husband, whom she has, sometimes, loved.

Josephine, worried about her sister, asks to be let in, but Mrs. Mallard assures her that she is not ill. In fact, Mrs. Mallard is enjoying the thought of how she will spend her days. Eventually, though, she opens the door to her sister, and the two go downstairs.

Then Brently Mallard himself walks through the front door, very much alive. The family friend tries to prevent Mrs. Mallard from seeing him, but to no avail. Mrs. Mallard collapses dead on the floor.

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What is the initial incident in "The Story of an Hour"?

The initial, or inciting, incident in a story is the plot point that initiates the protagonist's entrance into the story's main action. It often disturbs his or her life in such a way that the conflict begins to emerge and take shape. We learn the initial, or inciting, incident of this particular story within the two sentences:

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. It was her sister Josephine who told her, in broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in half concealing.

In other words, Louise Mallard's husband, Brently, is believed to have been killed in a tragic railroad accident, and—due to her apparent weakness of the heart—her friends are very careful to break the news to her in as gentle a manner as possible. It is only after she learns that news that the major conflict of the story begins to become clear, and this is the conflict between Louise Mallard and society. The rules and standards that govern late nineteenth-century society mandate Louise's subjugation to her husband; she has few rights within their marriage, and she did not feel "free" during her husband's life. Only now that she believes him to be dead does she finally feel "free." He was "loving," she knows—not a bad husband at all—but it seems that the institution of marriage is what restricted her, and her husband was really only a representative of society in his expectations of her.

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What is the initial incident in "The Story of an Hour"?

The inciting event is that which begins the problem in a story. In "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin it is the "sad message" brought by Mr. Mallard's friend Richard that Bently Mallard has been killed in a railroad disaster that forms the inciting event. 

When Mrs. Mallard hears this tragic news, she cries immediately and stands "paralyzed." But, although very distraught, she wants no one to follow her to her room. Ironically, it is there, in the privacy of her bedroom, that Mrs. Mallard releases her emotion. This emotion is not mourning, however; instead, Mrs. Mallard feels as though a weight has been lifted from her. Now, she looks out the window and sees the tops of trees, the blue sky, and she hears the sounds of Spring. The words "free! free! free!" escape her lips. Now, the "sad message" does not appear to affect Mrs. Mallard as one would expect. But, things change as the story progresses.

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What is surprising or shocking in "The Story of an Hour"?

What's particularly surprising is the way that Louise reacts to what she thinks is the death of her husband. We don't get the impression that Louise's husband is a bad man, yet when news arrives that he's died in a tragic accident Louise feels liberated all of a sudden. This is the kind of reaction we'd expect from a woman who'd been subjected to domestic abuse, but there's no indication that Louise has been treated like this. In any case, for the first time since she got married, Louise now has the opportunity to take charge of her life and do so many things that she was never able to do before.

A further surprise in the story comes towards the end when Louise collapses with shock and dies after her husband, who wasn't really dead after all, comes walking through the door. One certainly would've expected Louise to be disappointed and to have found it incredibly hard to hide that disappointment. But keeling over and dying from shock is definitely not what one would've expected. That Louise should react this way is an indication that she realizes all too well that her hopes and dreams for the future have been comprehensively destroyed.

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Can you outline "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin?

The plot of Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" is much simpler than the theme or meaning, but both rely heavily on the use of dramatic irony--a contrast between what we expect to happen and what actually happens.

Louise Mallard is "afflicted with a heart trouble," so when a family friend and her sister learn that Louise's husband has died in a train accident, 

great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband's death.

When she first hears the news, she lets out one scream, but then she goes upstairs alone to her room. The bulk of the story is what Louise thinks about when she is alone with her thoughts (more later); her musings are finally interrupted by her sister, who is worried about Louise being alone. Louise lets her sister help her walk back down the stairs; as they reach the bottom, the door opens and Brently Mallard, her husband, walks into the front door. Louise has a weak heart, remember, and she promptly dies of a heart attack. That's really the entire plot of this story which takes place in the space of an hour.

The real action of the story all takes place in Louise's mind as she contemplates life without her husband. Though she "had loved him--sometimes" and would miss some things about him, her overwhelming feeling is freedom. 

There would be no one to live for during those coming years; 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. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.

She sees that her future, which just yesterday she had thought would drag on forever, will now be free forever. She can make her own decisions, choose the things she does and does not want to do, and will never have to be subject to the whims or the will of her husband. Well meaning or not, her husband controlled her life, and she is now free.

The first irony of the story is that what should have been grief is first relief and then exultation. The second and greater irony is that her heart was perfectly capable of handling the tragic news of her husband's death, but it failed her when she sees that her dreams of freedom from the last hour will not come true. That is the "joy that kills," not the joy of learning that her husband is alive, not dead. 

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What is the significance of the title "The Story of an Hour"?

First, consider what occurs in this very short short story, whose entire action takes place in about an hour.  The changes that take place in Mrs.  Mallard's life and outlook will guide you to a workable essay topic.

For example, at the beginning of the story, we are introduced to a woman who is happily married (well, at least she has a kind and gentle husband) and learns off her husband's tragic death in a train wreck, which sends her into immediate (and quite) normal grief.  The only interesting aspect of Mrs. Mallard's initial response is that she wept with "wild abandon," perhaps an unusual response for a woman of her era.

Next, after she goes upstairs, she undergoes an epiphany about her life without her husband.  After feeling slightly guilty about allowing certain thoughts to come into her mind, she embraces her new-found freedom by screaming (quietly) "free, free, free!"  In other words, her husband's unexpected death has opened her life and freed her from the repression of marriage.

When she finally responds to her sister's entreaties, Mrs. Mallard goes downstairs only to discover that her husband is alive because he wasn't on the crashed train in the first place.  Her reaction to this news, of course, is to fall dead.

An interesting essay topic is to discuss the growth and ultimate disappointment of Mrs. Mallard in such a short time.  You might argue, for example, that Mrs. Mallard went through a developmental experience that would normally take months or years in less than an hour.  In other words, she lived a virtual life in sixty minutes.

Another interesting topic lies with how she died.  We know that she had a heart condition that her relatives and friends thought could kill her.  When she learns of her husband's death, however, her heart survives, and she goes on to experience thoughts of her life without a husband.  When she discovers that Brently Mallard is indeed alive, she sees her hopes for a self-assertive life gone, and she has a heart attack.  It would make an interesting essay to argue that the heart attack wasn't random but was Mrs. Mallard's way of committing suicide in the face of such disappointing news.  In other words, why did she survive the initial bad news but died with the other (bad) news?

And what makes these topics particularly interesting is that they are discussing a series of events that take only an hour of a person's life.

Hope that helps.

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How does the plot relate to the title, "The Story of an Hour"?

The author, Kate Chopin is making a statement about life and how it can be drastically altered in as little as an hour.  The main character, figuratively speaking, lives a new life in the space of one hour.

At the beginning of the story, Mrs. Mallard is given the news that her husband is dead.  He was among the victims of a railroad disaster.  Louise Mallard is in shock, she retreats to her room, where she remains.  While in her room, she thinks about the new life she will have free from the domination of her controlling husband. 

She begins to feel a sense of freedom that she never thought she would experience. 

"There would be no one to live for during those coming years: she would live for herself.  There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence." (Chopin)   

She fantasized about the beauty of the days ahead of her, hoping that her new life would be a very long one.

Suddenly, there is a commotion at her door, Louise emerges from her room, and sees her husband, who had arrived home.  He had not been in the railroad crash, no where in the area in fact.

Louise Mallard's longing daydream of a life all her own was over, in fact, in that instant, she dies, having lived the life of freedom only in her mind, for the short space of an hour.     

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How does the plot relate to the title, "The Story of an Hour"?

The action of the story is condensed into about an hour.  All the activity, news of the death, feigned sorrow, rejoicing at new found freedom, feigning the proper 'attitude,' and all the wonderful irony of this day are crammed into a brief time frame.  The title which describes all that goes on in this story is as ironic as much of the action.  It would be hard to come up with a more mundane title than "The Story of an Hour." It would seem that not much is going to happen in this story, so we are hardly prepared for what occurs.

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Provide a critical analysis of "The Story of an Hour."

Unfortunately I had to radically alter your original question, which actually consisted of many different separate questions. Please remember that you are only allowed to ask one question when using enotes, not multiple questions. I have edited your question to ask a general question about this excellent short story. In responding to it, I will refer to the irony in this tale.

One of the notable characteristics of this story is its final line:

When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease--of joy that kills.

Here we see that the sickness affecting Mrs. Mallard that is referenced in the first sentence of the tale is returned to in the final sentence. And yet here, the meaning is completely different and richly ironic. Of course, it is the unexpected appearance of her husband that is responsible for Mrs. Mallard's death, yet, on one level, it was not the joy of seeing him again that resulted in her demise. On the contrary, what Mrs. Mallard experiences after hearing the news of her husband's death is a kind of awakening that makes her savour her "freedom" and release from the constricting institution of marriage:

There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; 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.

Thus, the true cause of her death is the savouring of this "freedom" that her future now promises her only to have that "freedom" cruelly and suddenly revoked. It is this shock that kills her, although everyone else believes, ironically, that she died because of her joy at seeing her husband alive.

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Provide a critical analysis of "The Story of an Hour."

Situational irony occurs when events turn out in an opposite way than is expected.

In "The Story of an Hour," Louise Mallard learns that her husband has died in a train accident. The first irony is that after a short period of grief, Louise becomes joyful, not something we would expect. She feels a great sense of liberation from the bonds of marriage, even though her husband was good to her. She is elated at the idea of having the freedom to do whatever she wants for the rest of her life, without having to attend to the desires of another.

But no sooner has Louise accepted and embraced her new circumstances than she finds out, ironically, that her husband is alive: the report of his death was a mistake. Rather than welcome his return, she is so horrified he is alive that she dies of a heart attack. In a third irony, her neighbors interpret her heart attack as from an excess of joy at seeing her husband alive.

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Provide a critical analysis of "The Story of an Hour."

It is the initial paragraph of this excellent short story that we can call the exposition, as it introduces us to the central character and the situation that initiates the conflict. Consider how this is achieved in an incredibly concise manner in the first opening paragraph:

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.

We are thus introduced to the central character, Mrs. Mallard, whose husband has just apparently died. We are also told, in a detail that is easily overlooked but has massive importance for the ending of the story, that she suffers from some kind of unspecified heart trouble. Clearly, the beginning of this story leads us to fear that this condition will result in the shock of the news of her husband's death being too much for Mrs. Mallard, and that she too will die. Of course, the first sentence of this story can be usefully compared with the last sentence, giving the story its grim irony:

When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease--of joy that kills.

Note how this detail that is provided for us in the opening sentence is referred to again in the final sentence, as the doctors conclude that it was the joy of seeing her husband again that killed Mrs. Mallard, when we as readers know it was actually the thought of returning to the state of marriage after she had tasted blissful freedom which killed her. Thus we can see the importance of the opening paragraph both as an exposition but also in terms of helping to set up the irony of this excellent short story.

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Comment on the author's use of style in "The Story of an Hour."

When we refer to the style of a given piece of literature, we are actually talking about an umbrella-term that could be used to refer to a large number of different components, including point of view, symbolism and description. To me, one of the most interesting aspects of this tremendously moving and poignant short story is the symbolism of the weather.

It is incredibly important to note what Mrs. Mallard observes as she looks out of her window in her room, having been told that her husband has died:

She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air.

The story is set in spring, and as you can see from the quote, nature is mirroring the resurrection that is going on within Mrs. Mallard herself due to the new-found freedom that she has been gifted with. The tantalising "patches of blue skies" that she focuses on therefore could be said to represent the future life that she begins to imagine for herself and the freedom that she will be able to enjoy. Thus what is happening outside the window mirrors the internal changes occurring within Mrs. Mallard.

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After reading the first two paragraphs of The Story of an Hour, what additional information would you like to know?

We are actually given a great deal of information within the first two paragraphs. We know that the protagonist -'Mrs Mallard'- is married and that she has 'heart trouble'. As this is a short story we are led to see there could be (and is) much ambiguity in this diagnosis. She is treated with 'great care' and is therefore loved by her sister. Her family are used to addressing emotive issues with reservation and solemnity -'veiled hints that revealed in half concealing'.

The Mallard family have loyal friends, as Richards' persistence in verifying Brently Mallard's 'death' illustrates.

Overall we have a clear picture of a typical middle class life which will be revealed through the story to be a veneer. It is not necessary for Chopin to tell us much more as we already have a clear view of exposition and conflict within the story.

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After reading the first two paragraphs of The Story of an Hour, what additional information would you like to know?

Ah, good questions, but very different questions. After the first two paragraphs, we know almost nothing about the main characters. We know the character's name (Mrs. Mallard), her husband's name (Brently), and the name of Mrs. Mallard's sister and a friend of her husband. We also know three other things: she has heart trouble, her sister and friend care for her, and it's been reported that her husband dies.

Put that way, that's a lot of information, and I personally don't want any more. Why? Because the reason an author would limit the information is to focus our attention as readers. That's what's important here.

However, if I had to add more information, I'd add context. Where are these people? When are they? How old are they? And so on.

Greg

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How are the themes of "The Story of an Hour" revealed?

Identity and self hood are two specific themes in Chopin's "Story of an Hour."  After a moment of grief, Mrs. Mallard feels free for the first time once she realizes her husband has died.  She mutters over and over to herself "free, free, free!" and hugs herself with excitement.  Looking out her window she imagines how her life will be now as she now will have the opportunity to live solely for herself and not for someone else.  

This moment of self enlightenment is short lived. The importance of this self revelation is revealed when the story ends and she realizes that it was a mistake and her husband is actually alive.  When he comes through the front door she is so overcome that she collapses. It is inferred that since she does not feel that she can live without the freedom that she had just imagined for herself.

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