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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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History of the Text

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Publication History:“The Story of an Hour” was first published as “The Dream of an Hour” in Vogue magazine on December 6, 1894; Chopin had completed writing it on April 19 of the same year. Often anthologized, and described as one of Chopin’s best short stories, critics heralded “The Story of an Hour” as “one of feminism’s sacred texts” when her work gained popularity during the 1970s. The story was adapted into a 1984 film, The Joy that Kills, broadcast by PBS; it was also adapted into a 2009 graphic short story by cartoonist Gabrielle Bell titled “One Afternoon.” 

  • Kate Chopin, Early Feminist: Born in 1850 in St. Louis, Missouri, Kate Chopin was brought up in the French-American cultural tradition that had developed along the Mississippi River. When she was five years old, Chopin’s father was killed in a railroad accident, and at thirty-two, her husband died of malaria. Though she and her husband had lived and raised their family in New Orleans, Chopin returned to St. Louis after his death and embarked on her writing career. Chopin wrote nearly one hundred short stories and two novels. Her writing usually features intelligent women who chafe against society’s conservative expectations. 
  • Editorial Variations: Chopin’s story was initially entitled “The Dream of an Hour,” and it was re-published under that same title in St. Louis Life on January 5, 1895, with minor grammatical changes. Most notably, the addition of the word “her” was added into the following line: “There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself.” It is unclear whether these edits were made by Chopin herself or by the magazine’s editors. As recently as 1962, critics continued to refer to the story as “The Dream of an Hour,” but it appeared in the 1969 Complete Works of Kate Chopin as “The Story of an Hour.”

Realism and Naturalism in “The Story of an Hour”: Realism and naturalism were literary genres that developed in the latter half of the 19th century. Naturalism considers human behavior in the context of an amoral, impartial universe and often utilizes a detached, objective narrative lens. Realism, on the other hand, elevates minutiae from the lives of common people to literary consideration. Realist works convey everyday life in an accurate, detailed, and unadorned way.

  • The story’s detached narrative voice, as well as the lovely day outside Louise’s window that arguably stands independent of the tumultuous events of the story, can be seen as elements of naturalism. 
  • The story can be read as realist in that it portrays an unnoteworthy woman who confronts the common experience of loss. Furthermore, the story’s domestic setting is typical of the realist mode.

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