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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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How various literary elements in "The Story of an Hour" contribute to its themes

Summary:

In "The Story of an Hour," literary elements such as irony, symbolism, and imagery contribute significantly to its themes. Irony is evident in the unexpected death of Louise Mallard, which contrasts her brief sense of freedom. Symbolism is used with the open window representing new opportunities. Imagery vividly conveys Louise's emotions, highlighting themes of freedom and the oppressive nature of marriage.

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How do literary elements enhance a main theme of "The Story of an Hour"?

One literary element we might consider is conflict. I would argue that the main conflict in this story is between Louise Mallard and society, rather than between Louise and Brently Mallard, as one might suppose. Even in her relief at becoming a widow, Louise knows that "she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands [of her husband] folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her." She even considers that she "had loved him—sometimes." There was, evidently, no individual or personal conflict between husband and wife; there was only the fact that, as the woman, Louise was expected to let him "live for her," to allow his "powerful will" to bend hers as a result of their marriage. Now, however, she will be allowed to possess the "self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!" She is free now, free to do as she wants for herself, making her feel as though she is "drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window."

The lines in her young face "bespoke repression"—the repression that characterized her life as a married woman, that characterized the life of any married woman at the time. Here, then, we can see that the conflict is not between Louise and her husband but, rather, between Louise and society: society's laws erased her identity as a married woman; society's gender norms dictated her behavior as a married woman. Her husband wasn't a bad man; he was simply a man who was a husband and performed his socially prescribed role as one. This is what Louise conflicted with, not the man himself. An analysis of this conflict leads us to the story's main theme: any marriage in which the husband and wife are not equal under the law will pit one partner against the other and result in pain for both.

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In "The Story of an Hour," how does the character contribute to the overall theme?

Louise Mallard, the protagonist of “The Story of an Hour,” experiences a gamut of emotions in the course of the day that the story covers. Author Kate Chopin is primarily concerned with communicating the repressive quality of marriage as an institution that oppresses women. Louise understands that by most measures, she has a happy marriage, but she also believes that no matter how kind and loving her husband, Brentley, is, he will inevitably dominate her.

In the way that Chopin has the story unfold, the reader becomes familiar with Louise but only learns about Brentley through his wife’s point of view. While his supposed death and figurative resurrection are the pivotal events in the plot, his actual personality is largely irrelevant. The story is primarily a psychological drama that unveils Louise’s changing emotional states. She appears to be an introspective and caring person who has difficulty processing her vacillating attitude toward her husband and her marriage.

-And yet she had loved him—sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter!

When Louise thinks that Brentley has died, the author shows her elation over feeling "free, free, free!" Yet there is a sharp contrast to the sense of loss she experiences, which is not just for her husband, or even her marriage, but also for some significant aspect of herself. Louise is fearful that she is abandoning herself because she has been so conditioned to think of herself primarily as a wife that she does not have a distinct sense of her individual self. In that brief hour until her husband reemerges, that unique personhood is what she was starting to recover.

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Which passages in "The Story of an Hour" relate to a theme or main character?

  • Theme of Repression

Thematic of "The Story of a Hour" are the repressive conditions of Victorian women. Significantly, the one hour's time in which the narrative occurs covers marked changes in the life of Mrs. Louise Mallard who lives under the oppressive feme covert laws. 

Among the upper classes of Victorian society, under feme covert law, women of property surrendered this property to their husbands after they were married. This legal subjugation enabled men to have dominance over their wives since without their husbands, they would become impoverished on their own as there were no lucrative jobs for women during this time. Therefore, many women who were unhappy in their marriages felt imprisoned. Such is the case with Mrs. Mallard, who "was afflicted with a heart trouble," the suffering of a repressed wife.

When she hears the news that her husband has been involved in a catastrophic train wreck, Mrs. Mallard weeps "at once, with sudden, wild abandonment," an emotional reaction in sharp contrast to most wives, who would have difficulty grasping the idea of the loss of their loved one. Instead, Mrs. Mallard reacts as one released from captivity or some other some other oppressive condition because now her wealth can be returned to her, as well as her freedom. Notably, she "would have no one follow her" as she wishes to experience this new independence on her own as she climbs the stairs to her bedroom, where she collapses from emotional exhaustion into her armchair.

At last from a face that "bespoke repression" something comes into her expression. There is an apparent struggle as she tries to control the emotions arising within her; however, Mrs. Mallard finally "abandons herself" to it, and nervously under her breath, she whispers, "free, free, free!" It is, then, "a monstrous joy" that Louise Mallard (note that the author switches to her first name to point to the growing independence of the character) now experiences as she realizes that she can fully enjoy life without repression, in a new 

...self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!

This tremendous feeling of freedom is existential in Louise Mallard--a desire intrinsic and essential to all human beings, while repression is its antithesis. Thus, when Louise finally leaves her room, as she stands at the top of the stairs preparing to descend, she feels like "a goddess of Victory" and "breathe[s] a quick prayer that life might be long." It is then that Brently Mallard enters through the front door, and, having been far removed from the scene of the train wreck, he knows nothing of the disaster. Hearing his wife's sister's scream and his friend's quick movement to shield him from the sight, Brently stands in amazement as his dead wife falls before him, taken by a "joy that kills." Ironically, in her death Louise Mallard remains free from the oppression of her husband.

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How does the setting in "The Story of an Hour" support the theme?

The Story of an Hour takes place in the season of spring, which is significant enough to support the theme of the story.

Spring is about rebirth. It is the season in which everything that was killed, frozen, or taken by the long, cold winter suddenly get a second chance to come anew. Louise Mallard felt this sensation of renewal in the air after hearing about the death of her husband. She felt that she could be free from the societal oppression bestowed upon the women of her generation, such as the expectations of women to be married and basically owned by their husbands.

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.

As she saw the "blue patches of sky" in front of her, she felt in tandem with nature. She, too, would enjoy her rebirth as an independent, happy woman. Louise felt that, like the season, she could start anew.

Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of
days that would be her own.

It is all ironic, however. Louise will soon find out that her husband is actually alive and well. Her dreams of freedom and renewal will come crashing down in such a way that it literally kills her. They deemed her death "joy that kills," which is also ironic. She died of shock and perhaps disappointment, which, added to her bad heart, was even worse for her.

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How does the setting in "The Story of an Hour" support the theme?

The setting in "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin supports the theme of the story by providing a simple statement of time and place that allows readers to imagine the events as occurring anywhere men lived with their wives. The story takes place in the late nineteenth century when women were raised to become wives/homemakers. The location of the action is described only as the home of Louise Mallard, a home that has a staircase "she descends triumphantly" and an entrance her not-deceased husband walks through.

Most literary scholars and general readers agree that Chopin's story is a feminist statement against the patriarchal dominance of the period. Louise Mallard is a frail woman with a bad heart. Her health is poor; the notification of her husband's death requires a very gentle delivery. The assumption seems to be that the news could come as a life-threatening shock.

Although there is little detail in the actual story, a general awareness of history helps us imagine the setting. Women were considered the property of their spouses. Relegated to silence on matters of politics and commerce, a woman's opinion was thought to be the same as that expressed by her husband. If a woman did not have a husband to speak for her, then she did not have anything to contribute. The setting of this story is several years from the ratification of women's suffrage (19th Amendment) in 1920.

The only other significant description of place included in the story pertains to the bedroom where she retreats to grieve in private. "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." It is in her solitary space where self reflection leads to insights and revelations that further support the theme. Louise Mallard realizes that she is free. As the eNotes analysis explains,

"Once Mrs. Mallard accepts the feeling, even though she knows that her husband had really loved her, she is ecstatic that she will never have to bend her will to his again."

Thus, understanding the time and place of Chopin's story is key to understanding its main theme. Initially, her husband's death notification causes Mrs. Mallard tremendous sadness. However, after retreating to her solitary place to mourn and think, Mrs. Mallard experiences the unexpected joy of freedom. "She recognizes that she had loved her husband sometimes, but that now she would be 'Free! Body and soul free!'" (eNotes)

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How is the theme of repression developed in "The Story of an Hour"?

Repression is a powerful theme in Chopin's "The Story of an Hour."  We come to understand this as we see Mrs. Mallard's thoughts when she believes her husband to be dead, and if we have any understanding of the time in which the story was written and takes place, this further reinforces this theme in the story.

When Mrs. Mallard recovers from the initial shock of the news of her husband's supposed death, she gradually begins to experience joy in the freedom that she believes is now to be hers.  There is no indication in the story that Mr. Mallard was an ogre, by any means, and she acknowledges that she sometimes loved her husband.  But what does come across is how repressed Mrs. Mallard has been in the marriage. The first mention of this occurs in the description of her, as "young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression" (para. 8). The central passage in which this becomes quite clear occurs after she has opened her arms wide to welcome her new 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 (para. 12). 

If Mrs. Mallard could not live for herself, if her husband was imposing his will upon her, she was clearly repressed.  We know she is young and attractive, capable of joy and even wild abandon, and we see that Mr Mallard has repressed much of what is within her, even if his intentions were not "cruel." 

We also know that in 1894, when this story was published, wives were mostly mere appendages of their husbands, having few if any rights  and expected to be dutiful wives. They were meant to reflect their husbands' values and ideas, not to think for themselves or, at the very least, not to act on or express any contradictory ideas. In many ways, they were treated and regarded as children by their spouses and by society in general. Repression of women in that day was the norm, not the exception.

Poor Mrs. Mallard is an icon of the repression of those times. Chopin, for whom the repression of women was a central concern, has painted a vivid and dramatic portrait of the costs of repression for women.  

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What is the thematic importance of the season in "The Story of an Hour"?

The central theme in "Story of an Hour" is the sense of freedom and identity that comes to a nineteenth century woman, known as Mrs. Mallard, when she learns that her husband has died. It is "new spring" when Mrs. Mallard receives the news, and after experiencing a "storm of grief," she sits reflecting, facing an open window. Mrs. Mallard had not had an unhappy marriage, and Mr. Mallard had been kind enough, but under the social conventions of the time, she had had to take a place of subservience beneath her husband, his "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." As Mrs. Mallard sits by the window, she considers that, now, she will be able to live only for herself, as she watches "patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds," reflecting her dawning realization of freedom. Her repressed spirit, symbolized by "a dull stare in her eyes," fixes "away off yonder on one of those patches of blue sky," and her soul grasps at this new hope as represented in the gentle coming of spring.

Mrs. Mallard feels something wonderful coming to her, "creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that fill(s) the air;" she drinks "the elixir of life through that open window. As she feverishly embraces her newfound freedom, "her fancy...run(s) riot," and she looks with anticipation at the days ahead, "spring days and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own." Mrs. Mallard is looking forward to life now, after the winter of a marriage that allowed her little sense of self, and feels in her heart that it will be wonderful, like spring and summer, full of hope and promise.

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How does the denouement contribute to the overall theme of "The Story of an Hour"?

The denouement of The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin occurs when Mrs. Mallard reacts to the sight of her husband after she had been told that he was dead from an accident.

According to the story,

Someone was opening the front door with a latchkey. It was Brently Mallard who entered, 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 there had been one. He stood amazed at Josephine's piercing cry; at Richards' quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife.  

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

This is a significant matter considering that, earlier on, Mrs. Mallard was literally breathing for the first time “the elixir of life” that came with the news. We learn that Mrs. Mallard felt that she was finally free from what we can assume was a tedious and unwanted marriage. The joy that befell her was greater than anything, and made her already-weakened heart palpitate with the emotion one feels when a burden is lifted.

One must not forget that the position of women in society at the time this story was published was not the most optimal. Women were merely a social fixture whose only purpose was to breed, nurture, and care for a home. Marriage was basically the only choice for women to be in society. However, we also know that many marriages were arranged and many women were emotionally and sexually dissatisfied.

Hence, when Mrs. Mallard’s shock to see her husband was strong enough to kill her, one can imagine that Mr. Mallard’s presence in her life was unbearable. Seeing him again would mean to give up that sensation of freedom that she so cherished. To add to the irony, her cause of death was said to be from a “joy that kills”. The reader knows that her death came actually from the shocking disappointment of seeing her husband again.  Therefore the way this affects the overall theme of the story is that Mrs. Mallard’s desperate for freedom became a silent cry for help that maybe even manifested itself in her weakened heart.  When she saw that she had to give up the sensation of liberation she felt for the first time in years, her weakened heart gave up, and she became free in eternity.

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How does the denouement contribute to the overall theme of "The Story of an Hour"?

The denouement or resolution of Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" occurs at the very end of the story with surprising force.

Mrs. Louise Mallard, who has heart trouble, has been told that she is free from the restrictions of her marriage by the untimely death of her husband. Without having realized it before, she soon understands that her will has not been her own, but has been controlled by her husband, who had generally been kind and whom she had sometimes loved.

However, now Mrs. Mallard's new sense of freedom gives her a renewed interest in her life. Whereas the day before she had worried that life would be long, now she prays that life will be long because she realizes that she has been set "free." "Body and soul, free."

When, at the story's conclusion, Louise Mallard finally leaves her room and goes down the stairs with her sister-in-law, a key in the door announces the arrival of...her allegedly dead husband, Brently. He was not killed in a railway accident as reported. In that moment, rather than being overjoyed at his "resurrection," Louise loses the promise of freedom widowhood would have brought her.

The denouement is the doctors' diagnosis:

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

The irony is, of course, that she did not die from the joy of seeing her husband  alive, as they believe, but of disappointment at the loss of her dreams for a life all her own. The story reflects the importance of the title—that within an hour Louise's life changes enormously: she gains a life and loses it. The story also perpetuates the sense of society (then) that a woman's happiness depended upon having a husband. Independence was not something women needed:  why would they with a husband to make the important decisions?

Overall, the theme throughout the story is Louise's discovery of the value of independence for a woman. The denouement reflects society's inability to understand this concept: the doctor's blame her death not on disappointment, but on ill-health, something only the reader would be able to pick up on.

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What does the title contribute to "The Story of an Hour"?

[Because there is only one question permitted at a time, and since the first question has already been answered, your question has been edited to the latter one.]

In such a compact short story as that of Kate Chopin, every element contributes to the meaning; therefore, the title signifies much.  In fact, it is a metaphor for the sequence of events of Chopin's narrative.  For, what occurs to Louise Mallard in one hour's time is a story of itself.  In the exposition, for instance, Mrs. Mallard receives the supposedly tragic news that her husband has been a victim of a train wreck.  However, within a few minutes the reader perceives that it is Mrs. Mallard who has been victimized much more than the "late" Bentley Mallard.  As she "would have no one follow," Mrs. Mallard closes the door to her bedroom and collapses into her armchair which faces an open window.  Looking at the burgeoning Spring outside, Louise Mallard, an individual who has been repressed, is now "free!" and her independent spirit emerges like the new buds on the trees.  With the realization that she is no longer the property of her Victorian husband, Louise contemplates all that she will be able to do.  With feelings of being "a goddess of Victory," Louise emerges from her room within an hour and stands at the top of her stairs ready to descend as a liberated woman.  However, when her husband miraculously appears, Louise Mallard's heart stops with the shock, and it is Louise who falls down the stairs, killed from having the joy of freedom--"the joy that kills"--repressed yet again.  The life of Louise Mallard, not Mrs. Mallard, has been "the story of an hour"; for only sixty minutes Louise Mallard has been freed of "a heart trouble" as described in the story's beginning and at the conclusion.  Indeed, the title contributes great significance to Kate Chopin's momentous story.

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In "The Story of an Hour," what clues to the theme does Kate Chopin provide?

It depends on what you think the theme of the piece is.  If you think it is about the roles of women in marriage, and how this particular woman was not happy in those roles, there are several clues.  The first is when Chopin describes Louise's appearance:  "She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength."  Chopin mentions that her face reflected "repression"; so, the woman felt repressed in her role as a wife.  Then, as Louise looks out the window after hearing of the tragedy of her husband's death, she sees "the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. ...and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves."  One would expect a stormy sky, lightning and thunder, but Chopin uses the setting to foreshadow the freedom that Louise feels at her husband's death.

As she continues to think about her husband, Chopin writes that "There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it?"  This foreshadows the feeling of elation that she will feel at her husband's death; a fearful emotion because of how inappropriate it is, yet how wonderful freedom feels to her.  From here on out, the theme is obvious as Louise basks in feeling "Free!  Body and soul free!"

If you find a different theme to be more prominent, different clues will apply.  But I hope this can get you started!

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How does the limited setting of "The Story of an Hour" contribute to its themes?

The short story "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin tells of a young woman, Louise Mallard, who has just learned that her husband has died. When she hears this she weeps at first, but then she goes upstairs to her room and settles into an armchair to deal with the news. Outside she observes a lovely spring day with quivering treetops, the breath of rain, and the sounds of birds and people. She realizes that she is not grieved at her husband's death but rather happy that she is now free to make her own choices and do what she wants. She can make her own decisions without the oppressive will of her husband weighing her down.

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.

Limiting the setting of the story to Louise's bedroom, the staircase, and the front entry helps the reader feel the confinement that Louise has been oppressed by during her marriage. She is pent in and trapped. She only sees the spring day from a distance, as a bright hope for the future. The setting enables the reader to more fully sympathize with Louise and realize why she feels the joy of the possibility of freedom rather than grief when she hears of her husband's death.

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How does the limited setting of "The Story of an Hour" contribute to its themes?

Chopin brilliantly uses the confined setting of the short story to underscore the themes of domestic oppression and confinement that Louise Mallard experiences on a daily basis as a female living in the late nineteenth century. The setting is confined to Louise Mallard's room, a single staircase, and the front entry of the house. This limited, minimal setting reflects the restrictions placed on Louise Mallard's life. As a female, Louise Mallard lacks agency, independence, and the ability to move freely outside of her home like Richards and her husband, Brently Mallard. Louise Mallard is confined to the house, which is a small, oppressive environment.

Despite the limited setting, Louise briefly experiences freedom for the first time when she is alone in her room. Tragically, Louise dies of a heart attack after discovering that Brently is still alive. Louise never makes it out of her restricted, limited environment and dies in her home. Louise’s tragic fate underscores the themes of domestic oppression and confinement, which stifled her growth as an individual and robbed her of her independence.

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How does the limited setting of "The Story of an Hour" contribute to its themes?

The lack of spatial movement in this story functions on many different levels, but one is to reinforce the idea of how little time elapses between Mrs. Mallard hearing of her husband's death, grieving, rejoicing, and then finding out that he is still alive. Between the news of his death and his "rebirth" she literally has had no time to leave a confined space.

This limitation also reinforces the idea that all the sense of freedom she feels occurs in her mind. She gets the opportunity to contemplate the joy of being liberated to do what she wants without having to defer to her husband, but she never actually has the chance to fulfill any of her dreams. This is a story about a change of consciousness, not a change of circumstance. The fact that she never leaves the confines of her married home emphasizes this.

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How does the limited setting of "The Story of an Hour" contribute to its themes?

This is a perceptive question because it recognizes the importance that setting can have not only in establishing the time period and place of the plotline, but also in telling the reader something about the characters or themes within the story.

Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" is an excellent example of how characterization is shown through the limited setting. Mrs. Mallard's learning of her husband's death, her staring with excitement out of the window and into the possibilities of what a new life could offer her, and, finally, her dying when she discovers that he is indeed alive, all within the confines of that house, demonstrate the limitations that have been placed on Mrs. Mallard's character for her whole life. The story itself is a reflection on the seeming imprisonment that women can find in marriage, and the setting contributes greatly to that sentiment as it is felt by the tragic figure of Mrs. Mallard.

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