Title: The Story of an Hour
Author: Kate Chopin
Main Character: Mrs. Louise Mallard – a young woman who felt herself trapped (but not completely unhappy or loveless) in marriage; she suffered from the physical ailment of “heart trouble” (Chopin).
Other Characters: Brently Mallard – Louise’s husband whom they mistakenly thought had died in a train accident; Josephine – Mrs. Mallard’s sister who tells her about the accident and comforts her who “wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment” (Chopin); Richards – a kind friend of Mr. Mallard who had heard of the train accident and, as quickly as possible, informed Mrs. Mallard himself so that no one less sensitive to her condition could shock her
Setting: the home of Mrs. Mallard
Narration: The story is told in third person point of view and is semi-omniscient in that it details only Mrs. Mallard’s personal thoughts and feelings.
Summary: The story first introduces Mrs. Mallard, her heart trouble, and her husband’s death by train accident. It then details her weeping over the loss and her choice to lock herself up in her own room after the tragedy. As she sobs alone in her room, a different feeling slowly comes over her; she cannot name it, but the readers are allowed to recognize it as joy at her newfound freedom. After her epiphany, she allows herself to be walked downstairs by her sister only to discover Mr. Brently Mallard come through the door, quite all right. She subsequently dies of the shock on seeing him alive and well.
Tone/voice: The story is told matter-of-factly and quite calmly – without the drama that would usually accompany events such as death.
Style: The calm, almost casual manner in which the story is told allows the readers to focus not on the language but on what is going on in the story. The vivid but disciplined description (“she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air.” (Chopin)) of Mrs. Mallard’s journey towards her epiphany allows readers to focus on what is going on inside her head and it sharpens the readers’ picture of the character herself.
Irony: The irony in this story is that while the characters in the story believe that Mrs. Mallard died because of “the joy that kills” (Chopin), readers know that it is not joy that kills her; it is, quite possibly, disappointment and despair that she must (again) lose the freedom she had so recently gained.
Theme: The story is written around a woman’s sense of self and identity in the context of marriage (or the ending of it).
Symbols: The use of “Mrs. Mallard” in the introduction – this could be a symbol of Louise Mallard’s future, that is, her future of, not being an independent person, free person, but of not being anything more than Brently’s wife; “heart trouble” – this term could be the symbol of not just Louise’s physical ailment but also of her real problem which is her unhappiness in her marriage.
Critiques: The story is a sharp look at what it could be like for most women in unhappy or forced marriages. It is a critique on women’s status and on social norms during the life and times of Kate Chopin (and even in our own), when women were not persons in their own right, but existed merely as daughters, sisters, and wives, “The Story of an Hour” succeeds in painting the picture of despair that some women might go through if and when they have no sense of self and are shackled to another being.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” 1998. Kate Chopin: A Re-Awakening. 23 July 2009 <http://www.pbs.org/katechopin/library/storyofanhour.html>.