Understanding Characterization Through Inference: In developing Louise’s character, Chopin provides telling details about Louise’s health, body, actions, and thoughts, as well as other characters’ attitudes toward her. Details about Louise’s husband and marriage are scant. This lack of explicitly stated information about Louise can make it difficult for readers to draw concrete conclusions about her character and beliefs.
- For discussion: What details does the story give about Louise’s physical health and appearance? What do these details imply about her character?
- For discussion: What actions does Louise take over the course of the story? What do these actions suggest about her life, relationships, and character? How can you tell?
- For discussion: What seems to be Louise’s attitude toward her husband and her marriage? What information does the story give readers directly, and when do readers need to draw conclusions for themselves?
- For discussion: What does the story gain through its oblique characterization of Louise? Why might Chopin have chosen to compose the story in this manner?
Irony as a Literary Device: “The Story of an Hour” uses two forms of irony: situational and dramatic. Situational irony arises when the story’s premise is proven false. At the start of the story, Brently Mallard is reported to be dead; at the end, he is revealed to be alive. The primary dramatic irony occurs at the story’s end. When the doctors pronounce Louise dead from the “joy that kills,” readers grasp that the doctors have misinterpreted Louise’s shock. Equipped with insight into Louise’s mind, readers know that she had been eager at the prospect of unmarried life; by that light, Brent’s reappearance is a misfortune, not a joy.
- For discussion: When and where do readers have access to important information that characters don’t have? How does this knowledge develop themes in the text?
- For discussion: What seems to be the story’s tone, or the narrator’s attitude toward events in the story? How does the tone affect your reading of the story?
Revelation as a Motif in the Story: Revelation is a key motif in “The Story of an Hour,” which invites discussion about the impact of discovered knowledge. The primary concern at the start of the story is that Louise will die of shock when she hears of her husband’s death. As she grieves alone, Louise discovers that she instead feels relieved and liberated. At the story’s end, Louise is overwhelmed to see that her husband is still alive. In this story, the revelation of information can mean the difference between life and death.
- For discussion: For Louise, which revelations come from external sources? Which come from within herself? Which revelations prove accurate? Which prove less so? What might account for the difference?
- For discussion: What power does revelation have in “The Story of an Hour”? What impact can it produce?
The Ambiguous Role of the Natural World: As Louise grieves in her room, she looks out her window and sees a beautiful springtime scene. The significance of the natural world in this moment is left ambiguous. The natural world may stand entirely apart from Louise, indifferent to her personal tumult. Alternately, the natural world’s beauty may be rendered ironically, intended to ring discordantly against Louise’s grief. By yet another reading, the springtime scene may be the result of the pathetic fallacy, as Louise colors the scene with her as-yet-unrecognized feelings of joy and renewal.
- For discussion: Describe the scene Louise sees outside her window. What does she see, hear, and smell?
- For discussion: What mood is conveyed by the description of the world outside Louise’s window? Does the mood match Louise’s emotional state? Why or why not?
- For discussion: Might Louise’s emotions affect the depiction of the world outside? If so, how? Might the world outside affect her emotions? If so, how?
Time and Mortality as Themes: The brief narrative of “The Story of an...
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