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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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What is the significance of the following quote from "The Story of an Hour"?

"She could see the open square before her house the top of the trees that were all aquiver with new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which some one was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves."

Quick answer:

The significance of this quote from "The Story of an Hour" is that as Mrs. Mallard becomes aware of the vibrant rebirth of life outside her window on a spring day, she realizes that her husband's death has set her free. She mirrors the mood of exuberant joy and freedom that she witnesses outside.

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When this quotation from Kate Chopin's “The Story of an Hour” appears in the narrative, Mrs. Mallard has just learned that her husband has been killed in a railroad accident. Mrs. Mallard weeps in his sister's arms but then goes up to her room to spend some time alone. She sits down in front of the window and looks out. The quotation tells us what she sees.

Life continues. The leaves are coming out on the trees. The air smells good, like springtime rain. People are going about their business. A peddler is selling his goods. Someone is singing, and the notes reach Mrs. Mallard's ears. The birds are busy up in the eaves. Mr. Mallard may be dead, but life has not stopped. The world goes on, unaware of Mrs. Mallard's personal tragedy.

The scene before Mrs. Mallard gives her hope. She is still young, and now she realizes that the world presenting itself to her from her window can be hers for the taking. She is free now to do what she wishes with her life. She can go out into the world and live as she wants. While she has loved her husband, at least sometimes, she will no longer be subject to his will. She can live for herself alone. The world before her seems fresh and new and full of potential, just like the spring day.

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This passage describes a vibrant spring scene, full of life and action, occurring outside of Mrs. Mallard's window. At first, it has no significance. Mrs. Mallard is too stunned with grief to care what is going on in the wider world. She has sobbed violently and now sits exhausted in a chair, a "dull stare in her eyes" in a "suspension of intelligent thought."

However, as the shock of hearing of her husband's death begins to wear off, Mrs. Mallard becomes aware of the life around her. At this point, all that was earlier described going on outside her window become significant. She begins to notice "the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air."

She starts to notice what was described in the quote—the trees "aquiver," the "delicious breath of rain," the peddler, the birds "twittering." She realizes she too is being reborn and can be a part of the active, vibrant life. Now, she gives into the sensations all around her and murmurs that she is "free, free, free!" She is like the trees, the peddler, and the sparrows. Although she loved her husband and he loved her, his death frees her to participate in life more fully.

The description in the quote is an example of what is known as the pathetic fallacy, in which nature mirrors and expresses the mood of a character in a work of literature. The exuberant joy of the outer world is what Mrs. Mallard comes to experience.

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This quotation is significant because Mrs. Mallard has just learned of her husband's death in a train accident.  He was young and the accident was tragic.  (Of course, we later learn that the accident never happened at all, but Mrs. Mallard is unaware of this and believes that her husband is, in fact, gone.)  One would expect a typical wife's response to be grief, shock, and terrible sorrow and sadness.  However, this quotation shows that these are not Mrs. Mallard's feelings at all -- she is atypical in a very significant way.  Instead of dwelling on death and sadness, Mrs. Mallard seems to notice only signs of "new spring life": the scent of rain that has just ended is "delicious" and she hears the little birds "twittering" all around.  Further, she takes note of someone singing as well as a peddler calling out the names of the things he has for sale. 

Moreover, spring is often associated with new life as a result of trees and flowers blooming again and new animals being born after winter: Mrs. Mallard seems to come alive upon learning of her husband's death rather than being brought low because of it.  Her response, as seen in this quotation, is quite the opposite of what one would anticipate, and so much of the story has to do with why this is so.  We learn that, although Mr. Mallard was a loving husband, Mrs. Mallard felt trapped, repressed by her marriage, it seems, as a result of society's expectations for married women: she whispers the word "Free!" over and over, as though in disbelief that she has been set free of these expectations by her husband's passing.  She acknowledges that he loved her but that she had to "bend her will" to his in their relationship.  The new spring life that she notices outside -- the uncaged birds and so forth -- seems to suggest that she can now conceive of herself as "free" when she could not before.

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