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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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Which lines in "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin represent exposition?

Quick answer:

It is approximately the first eight lines of "The Story of an Hour" which represent exposition. It is here that the reader learns of Mrs. Mallard's heart condition and the identity of the man who was first to hear about Brently's supposed accident.

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To answer this question, we first need to establish what narrative exposition is. It is a literary device used to provide background information about the characters we are introduced to and the events that have transpired prior to the start of the story. The exposition's job is to place the reader in the context of the story, which will help them make sense of the events which are to follow.

For example, we are told in the first sentence that Mrs. Mallard had a heart condition, which proves to be a major plot point in this story, because when she learns that her husband has in fact not died, as she had believed, the shock kills her.

In the second sentence, we learn that the news of the accident is broken to Mrs. Mallard by her sister, Josephine. The way she breaks the news is subtle and gentle, which gives the reader an indication of how severe Mrs. Mallard's heart condition may be. There is an apprehension in being the bearer of bad news.

In addition, we are told that Brently's friend, Richards, was the one who had been at the newspapers' offices when the story broke that that had been a terrible railroad accident. This enables the reader to understand the source of this terrible news.

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The exposition is the part of the story that provides the essential background information of the narrative and introduces the audience to the characters, settings, and events that are relevant to the plot. In Chopin's celebrated short story "The Story of an Hour," the exposition can be found in the first five sentences. In the first sentence, the audience is introduced to Mrs. Mallard, who is afflicted with a heart condition and is receiving the news of her husband's recent death. In the second sentence, the audience learns that Mrs. Mallard's sister, Josephine, is the person breaking her the difficult news. In the third and fourth sentences, Chopin introduces the audience to Richards, who was the first to learn of the "railroad disaster" and Brently Mallard's death. In the fifth sentence, the audience learns the historical context of the story by the reference of a telegram, which informs the audience that the story is taking place in the late nineteenth century.

Within the first five sentences, Chopin sets the stage of the story by describing the main characters, the situation involving Brently Mallard's recent death, and including details regarding the setting. The audience knows that Mrs. Mallard has a heart ailment and that her sister is breaking her the tragic news of Brently's death. As the story progresses, Chopin gives insight into Mrs. Mallard's reactions and thoughts concerning Brently's death before she discovers that he is still alive.

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You can often find exposition—background information about the characters, prior events, historical context, and so on—at the beginning of a story. This information is usually necessary to help the audience understand the characters and events that take place, especially in terms of their significance to the whole text. For example, in the first line of this story, we learn that "Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble." This is crucial information that we need to understand why her sister and her husband's friend treat her with the care they do, what they fear for her, and the irony of the doctors's final opinion on Mrs. Mallard's cause of death. Exposition also includes the following information about Richards, Mr. Mallard's friend:

It was he who had been in the newspaper office when intelligence of the railroad disaster was received, with Brently Mallard's name leading the list of "killed." He had only taken the time to assure himself of its truth by a second telegram, and had hastened to forestall any less careful, less tender friend in bearing the sad message.

In this bit of exposition, we learn about what is believed to have happened to Mr. Mallard, and we also see the level of care taken when dealing with Mrs. Mallard due to her apparent heart condition. It also reassures us that Mr. Mallard is indeed dead so that we are as shocked as his wife when he walks through the door in the end.

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Exposition introduces the characters, setting, and overall background to set up the story. Within the first line of “The Story of an Hour,” author Kate Chopin introduces both the protagonist and the conflict: Mrs. Mallard’s husband has just died, and those close to her must break the news “as gently as possible” since Mrs. Mallard is “afflicted with a heart trouble.” Other characters include her sister Josephine and Mr. Mallard’s friend Richards who first heard the news.

The setting of the story is on a spring day in the Mallards’ home. Action primarily takes place in Mrs. Mallard’s room as described in the fifth paragraph where she looks onto “the open square” outside her window, watching “the tops of trees that were all aquiver with new spring life,” smelling the “delicious breath of rain,” and listening to “a peddler […] crying his wares [….] notes of a distant song […] and countless sparrows […] twittering in the eaves.” The tranquility of the scene outside serves as a backdrop for Mrs. Mallard’s reawakening.

In terms of historical setting, the story was published in 1894 and was meant to take place in its turn-of-the-century, “male-dominated world” that Chopin (and many other female writers) found to be inherently “degrading to women” even if they were in happy marriages (May). The story’s themes were particularly scandalous at the time, so much so that The Century editor Richard Watson Gilder “refused to publish the story […] because he regarded it as immoral” (May).

Given the seemingly sickly protagonist, spring setting, and historical time period, Chopin’s story sets up the struggle of women to reconcile their love for their husbands with their desire for freedom.

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