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The Story of an Hour
By Kate Chopin (1851-1904)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work, Publication
Setting
Characters, Plot Summary
Theme
Symbolism
Figures of Speech
What's in a Name?
Foreshadowing
Mrs. Mallard's Heart Ailment
Complete Text on This Page
Author Information
Questions and Essay Topics
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings... 2006
Revised in 2010
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Type of Work

"The Story of an Hour" is a short story centering on a young married woman of the late nineteenth century as she reacts to a report that her husband has died in a train accident. 

Publication

Vogue magazine first published "The Story of an Hour" in its issue of December 6, 1894, under the title "The Dream of an Hour." On January 5, 1895, Sue V. Moore, a journalist friend of Chopin, reprinted the story in St. Louis Life, a newspaper of which Moore was editor. Over the years, it was republished again and again in literature anthologies under the title "The Story of an Hour."

Setting

The action takes place in a single hour in an American home in the last decade of the nineteenth Century. 

Observance of the Unities

The story observes the classical unities of time, place, and action. These unities dictate that the events in a short story should take place (1) in a single day and (2) in a single location as part of (3) a single story line with no subplots. French classical writers, interpreting guidelines established by Aristotle for stage dramas, formulated the unities. Over the centuries, many writers began to ignore them, but many playwrights and authors of short stories continued to use them. 

Characters

Mrs. Louise Mallard: Young, attractive woman who mourns the reported death of her husband but exults in the freedom she will enjoy in the years to come. 
Brently Mallard: Mrs. Mallard's husband.
Josephine: Mrs. Mallard's sister.
Richards: Friend of Brently Mallard.
Doctors: Physicians who arrive too late to save Mrs. Mallard. 

Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings... 2006
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.Brently Mallard has died in a train accident, according to a report received at a newspaper office. Mr. Richards, a friend of Mallard, was in the newspaper office when the report came in. He tells Mallard’s sister-in-law, Josephine, of Mallard’s death, and accompanies Josephine to the Mallard home. Because Mallard’s wife, Louise—a young, attractive woman—suffers from a heart condition, Josephine announces news of the tragedy as gently as possible. 

Mrs. Mallard breaks down, crying fitfully, then goes upstairs to a room to be alone. There she sits down and gazes out a window, sobbing. It is spring. Birds sing, and the trees burst with new life. It had been raining, but now patches of blue sky appear. 


Suddenly, an extraordinary thought occurs to Mrs. Mallard, interrupting her grieving: She is free. She is now an independent woman—at liberty to do as she pleases. Because Mrs. Mallard seems to feel guilty at this thought, she tries to fight it back at first. Then she succumbs to it, allowing it to sweep over her. She whispers, “Free, free, free!” 


To be sure, she will cry at the funeral. However, in the years to come, she will know nothing but joy and happiness, for there will be “no powerful will bending her” to do its bidding. Of course, she had loved her husband. Well, sometimes. On other occasions, she had not loved him at all. But what does it matter now, she thinks, whether or how much she had loved her husband? The important thing is that she is free. 


Worried about her sister, Josephine pounds on Mrs. Mallard’s door, begging entry. But Louise, saying she is all right, tells her to go away. Mrs. Mallard then resumes her revelry about the wondrous future before her—all the days that will belong to her alone. Only yesterday she wished that life would be short; now she wishes that life will be long. 


At length, she answers the door and goes downstairs with Josephine. At the bottom of the stairs, Mr. Richards stands waiting while someone is opening the front door. It is Brently Mallard. There had been a mix-up. He was not in the accident, or even near it, when it occurred. Josephine shrieks. Richards quickly moves in front of Brently to prevent Mrs. Mallard from seeing him. But it is too late. 


Physicians later determine that Mrs. Mallard’s death resulted from “joy that kills.” Her weak heart could not withstand the happy shock of seeing her husband alive and whole.

 

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Theme

Oppression

Society in late nineteenth century expected women to keep house, cook, bear and rear childrenbut little more. Despite efforts of women’s-rights activists such as Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony, women still had not received the right to vote in national elections by the century’s end. Moreover, employers generally discriminated against women by hiring them for menial jobs only and paying them less than men for the same work. The Story of an Hour hints that Mrs. Mallard’s husbandperhaps a typical husband of his daydominated his wife.

Repression

Louise Mallard appears to have been a weak-willed woman, one who probably repressed her desire to control her destiny. Consequently, during her marriage, she suffered constant stress that may well have caused or contributed to her "heart trouble," referred to in the first sentence of the story. 
 

Symbolism

Examples of symbols in the story are the following:

    Springtime (Paragraph 5): The new, exciting life that Mrs. Mallard thinks is awaiting her.
    Patches of Blue Sky (Paragraph 6): Emergence of her new life.
Figures of Speech
    Examples of figures of speech are the following:
    Revealed in half-concealing (Paragraph 2): Paradox
    Storm of grief (Paragraph 3): Metaphor
    Physical exhaustion that haunted her body (Paragraph 4): Metaphor/Personification
    Breath of rain (Paragraph 5): Metaphor
    Song which someone was singing (Paragraph 5): Alliteration
    Clouds that had met (Paragraph 6): Metaphor/Personification
    The sounds, the scents (Paragraph 9): Alliteration
    Thing that was approaching to possess her (Paragraph 10): Metaphor/Personification
    Monstrous joy (Paragraph 12): Oxymoron
    She carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory (Paragraph 20): Simile
    Joy that kills (Paragraph 23): Paradox. The phrase is also ironic, since the doctors mistakenly believe that Mrs. Mallard was happy to see her husband alive.
What's in a Name?

Not until Paragraph 16 does the reader learn the protagonist’s first name, Louise. Why the author delayed revealing her given name is open to speculation. I believe the author did so to suggest that the young woman lacked individuality and identity until her husband’s reported death liberated her. Before that time, she was merely Mrs. Brently Mallard, an appendage grafted onto her husband’s identity. While undergoing her personal renaissance alone in her room, she regains her own identity. It is at this time that her sister, Josephine, calls out, “Louise, open the door!” However, there is irony in Mrs. Mallard’s first name: Louise is the feminine form of the masculine Louis. So even when Mrs. Mallard takes back her identity, it is in part a male identity. (Michael J. Cummings, Cummings Study Guides)

Foreshadowing

The opening sentence of the story foreshadows the ending—or at least hints that Mrs. Mallard’s heart condition will affect the outcome of the story. Morever, this sentence also makes the ending believable. Without an early reference to her heart ailment, the ending would seem implausible and contrived.

Mrs. Mallard's Heart Condition

As the story unfolds, the reader discovers that Mrs. Mallard’s heart ailment may have resultedin part, at leastfrom the stress caused by her reaction to her inferior status in a male-dominated culture and to a less-than-ideal marriage. For example, in paragraph 8, Chopin says the young woman’s face “bespoke repression”; in paragraph 14, the author tells us that a “powerful will” was “bending" Mrs. Mallard. Finally, in paragraph 15, Chopin notes: “Often she had not” loved her husband. 

Author

Kate Chopin (1851-1904) is best known for her short stories (more than 100) and a novel, The Awakening. One of her recurring themesthe problems facing women in a society that repressed themmade her literary works highly popular in the late twentieth century. They remain popular today. 

Study Questions and Essay Topics

  1. The story says Mrs. Mallard “had loved him [her husband]—sometimes. Often she did not.” If she was “often” not in love with him, why did she marry him?
  2. What was life like for Mrs. Mallard in the home of Brently Mallard?
  3. In the report of the train accident, Brently Mallard's name was at the top of the list of fatalities (Paragraph 2). Does this information mean that Mallard was an important citizen in his community? Does it also suggest that perhaps Louise married him, in part, because of his standing in the community? 
  4. Do you believe Brently Mallard mistreated his wife? In answering this question, keep in mind the following: (1) In Paragraph 13, Louise Mallard recalls that Brently was kind and that "he had never looked save with love upon her." (2) However, Paragraph 8 had previously informed the reader that Mrs. Mallard's face "bespoke repression," and Paragraph 14 says Brently had a "powerful will bending her." 
  5. How much of Mrs. Mallard's apparent unhappiness in her marriage was her own fault?
  6. After Mrs. Mallard receives news that her husband died in a train accident, she goes to “her room.” Do these two words mean that she slept separately from her husband? Does the fact that no children are named in the story indeed indicate that she and her husband slept apart?
  7. Write an essay about what society expected of the typical nineteenth-century American woman. 
  8. Research the life of Kate Chopin (1851-1904). Then decide whether the death of her husband in 1882 influenced her when she wrote “The Story of an Hour,” published in 1894 in Vogue magazine.
  9. Did author Chopin herself face problems similar to those of Mrs. Mallard?
  10. Write an essay comparing and contrasting Mrs. Mallard and Nora Helmer in A Doll's House, by Henrik Ibsen. 
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Complete Text
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The Story of an Hour
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By Kate Chopin
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,,,,,,,Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband's death.
,,,,,,,It was her sister Josephine who told her, in broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in half concealing. Her husband's friend Richards was there, too, near her. It was he who had been in the newspaper office when intelligence of the railroad disaster was received, with Brently Mallard's name leading the list of "killed." He had only taken the time to assure himself of its truth by a second telegram, and had hastened to forestall any less careful, less tender friend in bearing the sad message.
,,,,,,,She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister's arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her.
,,,,,,,There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.
,,,,,,,She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which some one was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.
,,,,,,,There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled one above the other in the west facing her window.
,,,,,,,She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams.
,,,,,,,She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength. But now there was a dull stare in her eyes, whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on one of those patches of blue sky. It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought.
,,,,,,,There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air.
,,,,,,,Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will—as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been.
,,,,,,,When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: "free, free, free!" The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.
,,,,,,,She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and exalted perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial.
,,,,,,,She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome.
,,,,,,,There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.
,,,,,,,And yet she had loved him—sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!
,,,,,,,"Free! Body and soul free!" she kept whispering.
,,,,,,,Josephine was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the keyhole, imploring for admission. "Louise, open the door! I beg, open the door—you will make yourself ill. What are you doing Louise? For heaven's sake open the door."
,,,,,,,"Go away. I am not making myself ill." No; she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window.
,,,,,,,Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.
,,,,,,,She arose at length and opened the door to her sister's importunities. There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She clasped her sister's waist, and together they descended the stairs. Richards stood waiting for them at the bottom.
,,,,,,,Some one was opening the front door with a latchkey. It was Brently Mallard who entered, a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella. He had been far from the scene of accident, and did not even know there had been one. He stood amazed at Josephine's piercing cry; at Richards' quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife.
,,,,,,,But Richards was too late.
,,,,,,,When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease—of joy that kills.