The Story of an Hour Summary

The Story of an Hour” is a short story by Kate Chopin that details the emotional journey of Louise Mallard after she learns that her husband has died.

  • After learning that her husband, Brently, has died in a train crash, Louise is overcome with grief.
  • After retiring to her room alone, Louise’s grief transforms into joy, as she realizes that Brently’s death will free her from her repressive marriage.
  • An overjoyed Louise exits her room. Upon seeing her husband returning home, having been nowhere near the accident, she dies of a heart attack.

Summary

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Last Updated on July 15, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 688

Introduction

“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin was published in Vogue magazine in 1894. It details the reaction of Louise Mallard, who suffers from a heart condition, to the news of the supposed death of her husband, Brently, in a railroad accident. Though Louise is at first stricken with grief, she soon realizes that Brently’s death means that she is finally free from the expectations of a traditional marriage, and she is filled with a sudden hope for her future. However, in a twist of situational irony, Brently is revealed to be alive, and Louise dies from the shock of seeing him.

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1890 saw the women’s suffrage movement gaining traction, but traditional Victorian social mores still insisted that the ideal woman was a self-sacrificing wife and mother. Chopin’s story rejects convention and instead portrays Brently’s death as a moment of emancipation for Louise, suggesting that the Victorian model of marriage is a repressive institution that prevents women from achieving self-actualization. This was a controversial view at the time the story was written, and “The Story of an Hour” was rejected by several magazines, including The Century and Vogue. It was only after Chopin found success in other writing endeavors that Vogue agreed to publish the story. It has since become one of Chopin’s most well-known works, though it remained controversial long past its initial publication.

Summary

After Brently Mallard is reported to have died in a railway accident, the news must be delivered to his wife, Louise. Louise has a heart condition, and those around her worry that the news of Brently’s death will impact her delicate health. Brently’s friend Richards, who first received the news of Brently’s death via telegraph, and Louise’s sister Josephine attempt to break the news gently. Louise immediately begins weeping and throws herself into her sister’s arms.

After “the storm of grief” ends, Louise retires to her room and asks to be left alone. She sits in an armchair by an open window, exhausted. As she looks outside, she notices that the trees are flowering with new life and hears the echoes of someone singing in the distance.

Louise is described as young and fair, with a face that suggests she possesses a “certain strength.” However, as she sits and stares out the window, her mind is completely blank. She is waiting for something, but she isn’t sure what it is. Slowly, she realizes that her husband’s death has rendered her free. Louise attempts to reject this epiphany, briefly horrified by the idea of being happy about her husband’s death, but is gradually overcome by a “monstrous joy” at the prospect of finally being able to live for herself.

Louise admits that her husband loved her and was as good to her as could be expected, but her love for him was occasional rather than constant. Furthermore, Louise realizes that the “mystery” of love is nowhere near as satisfying as being in “possession of self-assertion,” and she laments the cruelty, whether intentional or not, of one person attempting to impose their will on another. She knows she will cry at Brently’s funeral but cannot help imagining, with sudden relish, a future free from the expectations of others.

Fearing for Louise’s health and safety, Josephine insistently requests that she open the door. However, Louise tells her to go away, delighting in the prospect of her newfound freedom. She now hopes that she will live a long life, whereas just yesterday she had thought such a prospect deeply distressing.

Eventually, Louise emerges from the room at her sister’s behest with a look of triumph in her eyes and descends the stairs with Josephine. However, as they descend, Brently Mallard arrives home alive and well, entirely unaware of his alleged demise and having been nowhere near the scene of the accident. Richards attempts to shield him from Louise’s view, but he is too late. Louise dies on the spot. Later, the doctors attribute her death to heart disease, describing the shock of seeing Brently alive as “the joy that kills.”

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