illustration of a woman in a dress standing as if she were in shock

The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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Teaching Approaches

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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 Hour” contains two untimely deaths and a resurrection. Brently is thought dead in a train accident only to arrive home alive, at which point Louise dies of shock at his appearance. Life, death, and Louise’s hopes for the future change dramatically within the brief confines of an hour. 

  • For discussion: Outside of the title, how is the passage of time acknowledged in the story? What literary elements does Chopin use to develop this theme?
  • For discussion: What seems to be Louise’s attitude toward death? How does her attitude compare to the attitudes of Josephine and Richards? 
  • For discussion: What is the cause of Louise’s death? Is there a single discernible cause, or are there more?
  • For discussion: What is the relationship between mortality and time in the story? What does the story suggest about the relationship between these two ideas?

Tricky Issues to Address while Teaching

Understanding the Story Requires Inference: Many aspects of characterization and conflict in “The Story of an Hour” are revealed only through close reading the text and drawing meaning from its details.

  • What to do: Read the story together as a class, perhaps in addition to sending it home with students for homework. Model making inferences based upon details in the text.
  • What to do: Over the course of your discussion in class, ask students to support their commentary with details from the text.

The Story Offers an Unexpected Reaction to Death: Some students may be surprised by the sense of newfound freedom Louise feels in the wake of her husband’s reported death.

  • What to do: Explain to students that grief is a complex experience that often involves many different emotions, some painful and some pleasant.
  • What to do: Provide students with background information regarding a woman’s legal status at the point in history at which Chopin was writing, particularly laws of coverture that rendered married women subordinate to their husbands.

Alternative Approaches to Teaching "The Story of an Hour"

While the main ideas, character development, and discussion questions above are typically the focal points of units involving this text, the following suggestions represent alternative readings that may enrich your students’ experience and understanding of the story.

Focus on symbolism in the story. The story uses a number of symbols to convey its themes: the heart, the railroad, and the weather. What might these symbols stand for? How do these symbols develop themes in the text?

Focus on freedom as a theme in the text. Ask students to consider how ideas of freedom and confinement are developed in the text. How does Louise define her own freedom? How does she achieve freedom? How does she lose it?

Focus on diction and economy of language. The story’s brevity deepens the importance of its particular diction. Which specific words—about characters and setting in particular—does the narrator choose to include? How does Chopin’s diction develop themes in the text?

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