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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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What recurring elements of fiction are present in "The Story of an Hour"?

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"The Story of an Hour," by Kate Chopin employs the following literary devices:

Situational Irony: a wife is supposed to die at the news of her husband's death, not at the re-appearance of him alive.  Mrs. Mallard feels alive and free now that her husband is dead.  After she hears the news, she repeats "free, free, free" to herself alone in her room.  Ironically, her family thinks she's ill and will do harm to herself.

Symbolism: Mrs. Mallard's heart is symbolic of her freedom.  When her husband dies, her heart flutters like a bird.  When he returns, it explodes and she dies.

Setting & Genre: "The Story of an Hour" is an early example of "sudden fiction," with its intense focus on only the climax of the story.  Time is compressed.  Flat characters are used exclusively.  In this way, Chopin wants us to feel the sudden emotional reaction to the news like Mrs. Mallard.

Point-of-View:  the story is told from a "detached, third- person limited" point-of-view in which we hear Mrs. Mallard's news the same time as her.  In this way, Chopin puts us in her position.

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In Kate Chopin's masterful short story, "The Story of an Hour," subtle foreshadowing and irony are certainly recurrent elements.  Environment as a reflection is also employed by Chopin in parts of the story.

Chopin's opening line, "Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble...." hints at a weakness of the heart that may cause her problems when she learns of the death of her husband.  The irony here is subtly hidden by Chopin's use of the article a.  For, as the reader later learns, the heart trouble is not physical, but rather spiritual:  Mrs. Mallard's spirit has been repressed for all the years of her marriage.

In the second paragraph, again foreshadowing and irony pair together as Chopin writes,

She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed 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 whe went away to her room alone.  She would have no one follow her.

The word abandonment is ironic since the reader may infer that Mrs. Mallard feels abandoned.  Later, of course, the reader realizes that Mrs. Mallard lets her emotions free after so many years of repression.  Also, she wishes to be alone so that she can digest the idea of her newly realized freedom, not that she wishes to mourn by herself.

It is while she is alone in her room that the environment acts as a reflection of Mrs. Mallard's inner moods.  That she can see the "tops of trees" suggests that Mrs. Mallard can now look to the future.  And, the internal changes taking place in her are mirrored by what she sees as she faces the open window in her room:

The delicious breath of rain was in the air....The notes of a distant song ....patches of blue sky showing here and the west

The idea of being free is "delicious" to her; the song and blue sky reflect her lightness of heart as she looks to the west, a symbol of the rest of her life.

The irony and foreshadowing of the original use of abandonment is confirmed as, after Mrs. Mallard begins "to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her," Chopin writes,

When she abandoned herslf a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips...."free, free, free!"....Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.

Here, too, the reader discerns that the "heart trouble" of Mrs. Mallard has not been physical at all.  Rather, it has been a result of her stultifying marriage.

Again, irony and foreshadowing recur as Mrs. Mallard breathes

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

The front door is opened with a latchkey by Brently Mallard, "travel-stained,...carrying his umbrella."  Mrs. Mallard, caught under his rule again, as symbolized by the umbrella, dies of repression, "heart disease--of joy that kills."  In these final words, the foreshadowing of earlier paragraphs and the irony and the reflective environment find their culmination.

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