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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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What is the mood in the short story "The Story of an Hour"?

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The mood of "The Story of an Hour" is created in part by the opening line. The narrator reports that Mrs. Mallard has "heart trouble," and so her friends are very careful when they tell her of her husband's death. This is a specific detail, and its position alerts us that it will be important later, creating a mood of tension and foreboding as we wait to learn why Louise's heart trouble is relevant.

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I would argue that in "The Story of an Hour," there are two distinct moods. The first part of the story is somber and depressing. Mrs. Mallard learns of her husband's sudden death and is naturally shocked and saddened. This mood can be seen in the following quote:

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.

Without knowing what is to come next, the above sentences create an image of a heartbroken widow gone off to be alone in an attempt to process the news and come to terms with her new circumstances.

What comes next, however, is the beginning of the second mood we find in this story. While Brently was not a bad husband, Mrs. Mallard finds that she relishes the thought of her newfound freedom and her ability to live life on her own terms without having to answer to anybody. This joyful, anticipatory mood can be seen in the following quote:

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.

While she has not been unhappy in her marriage, the idea of having the rest of her life to live on her own, as she pleased, is intoxicating to Mrs. Mallard. The mood in this part of the story reflects her feeling of freedom and her amazement at the wealth of possibilities that lie ahead for her as an unmarried woman.

Of course, the end of the story quite reverses Mrs. Mallard's fortunes, and the reader is left feeling somber once again.

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The mood of "The Story of an Hour" is one of foreboding and menace. The story begins with a rather specific piece of information: the narrator, in the opening line, declares that because

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.

To begin the story with such a piece of information seems to foreshadow its later importance, and, indeed, Mrs. Mallard's heart does eventually give out in the story. This detail helps to establish the story's mood, as the reader waits to learn why this information about Mrs. Mallard's weakened heart is relevant.

Once the reader realizes that Louise Mallard is actually relieved and even happy that her husband has died, our feeling of concern for her future likely grows. This is an atypical response to such news, and once she realizes that it is "joy" she is feeling, she does "not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy" she feels. We know that she has heart trouble, and we know that she is feeling something which would be considered unacceptable by anyone in her community, and these details compound to increase our sense of foreboding and concern about Louise's future; it seems to hold a menace of which she is currently unaware.

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The mood in "The Story of an Hour" is essentially pessimistic. Kate Chopin's favorite author was the great French short story writer Guy de Maupassant. His influence can be seen in many of her works. She was fluent in French and translated a number of his stories into English. The mood of "The Story of an Hour" can be highlighted by comparing it with Maupassant's most famous short story, "The Necklace."

Mathilde Loisel is unhappy at the beginning of "The Necklace." Then she experiences a brief period of radiant joy when she is admired and sought after at the minister's ball.

She danced with rapture, with passion, intoxicated by pleasure, forgetting all in the triumph of her beauty, in the glory of her success, in a sort of cloud of happiness comprised of all this homage, admiration, these awakened desires and of that sense of triumph which is so sweet to woman's heart.

But her joy turns into far greater unhappiness when she loses the borrowed necklace.

Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" (an hour of freedom and happiness based on a false illusion) follows a similar pattern. Louise Mallard is grief-stricken when told that her husband was killed in a railroad disaster. But then when she is alone she begins to realize that her loss had unforeseen benefits. Now she is free of the slavery of marriage, of the degradation of being used for her husband's sexual pleasure without regard for her own feelings and wishes. She experiences a mood of joy and liberation, like a bird that has escaped from its cage.

She arose at length and opened the door to her sister's importunities. There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She clasped her sister's waist, and together they descended the stairs.

But then comes a shock comparable to the shock of horror felt by Mme. Loisel when she realizes that she has lost the diamond necklace. Just as Matilde faces a life of drudgery and penury in Maupassaant's "The Necklace," so Louise Mallard faces a life of dependency and marital slavery when her husband Brently comes home like a ghost returned from the dead.

So the predominant mood is one of boredom and spiritual deadness, brightened for an hour by an illusion of freedom and joy, and then exposed as an impossible dream for any woman in that time and place.

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

Matilde Loisel lives for many years and grows coarse and ugly. Louise Mallard dies instantly--not of joy but of extreme dismay. Which of the two women has the better fate?

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