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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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

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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...

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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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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. Louiseā€™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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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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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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