The Story of an Hour” was published in 1894, one year after the first U.S. state granted women the right to vote. Though it would be almost another thirty years before the country passed the 19th amendment, which won women the federal right to vote, the tides of social change had started to turn. Early strains of feminist thought—though it was not yet called this—had started to take hold of certain corners of public discourse. This was in part the result of the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, where women’s rights advocates gathered to discuss gender equality. “The Story of an Hour” is realistic fiction that illustrates how a woman might feel when she suddenly finds herself no longer financially or socially dependent on a man.
Lannamann, Taylor. “The Story of an Hour.” LitCharts. LitCharts LLC, 1 Feb 2017.
|Chopin was an ardent feminist. The main character of the story, Mrs. Louise Mallard, does not believe in the confines of marriage (despite having a husband who loved her). Mrs. Mallard “was afflicted with heart trouble” but “was young.” Chopin implies that Mr. Mallard truly loved Mrs. Mallard when she reveals that Mr. Mallard’s “face … had never looked save with love upon her.” (“Save” means “except,” meaning Mr. Mallard had never looked at his wife with any other expression than one of love.)|
The Story of an Hour
By Kate Chopin
· Setting: The domestic realm of the late 19th century.
· Antagonist: The sexist and inhibiting expectations of women in 19th century society (NOT her husband himself).
Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break 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.
5- 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 someone 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.
11- 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.
12- She did not stop to ask if it was or was 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 [except] 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 her 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 make 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.
19- 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.
20- 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.
Someone 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 the 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.
· Climax: Having accepted and rejoiced in her newfound freedom, Louise exits her bedroom only to find her husband coming through the front door, a sight that fatally shocks her heart with a “joy that kills.”
· Resolution: In an effort to protect Louise from the utter shock of seeing her living husband, Richards quickly tries to obscure Brently, but to no avail, and Louise lets out her final sound: a sharp scream that startles and mystifies her husband. When the doctors inspect Louise’s dead body, they decide that she died because her heart was too excited—too overjoyed—to see her husband.
1. Why do you think Mrs. Mallard married Brently? Do you think Mrs. Mallard loves her husband? Explain your answer.
2. Were the moments before Mrs. Mallard’s death happy? What do you think is significant about the last line? Explain your answer.
3. How is this text a critique of Victorian social norms? What, if any, reform does it suggest? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.
4. In the context of this text, what are the effects of discrimination against women? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer
5. Reread lines 13–36. What kind of pattern do you see in Mrs. Mallard’s emotions and how does this pattern lend organization to the story?
6. What does Mrs. Mallard mean when she says, “free, free, free”? What kind of idea or message do you think these words convey? Explain.
7. Reread lines 49–67, with close attention to Mrs. Mallard and her emotional state. What kind of order do you detect in this part of the story? Explain.
8. In the story’s closing line, are the doctors correct in saying that Mrs. Mallard died “of joy that kills”? And how does the closing line add to the message or idea you have found in Mrs. Mallard’s thoughts and feelings as the story developed? Explain your answer, citing evidence from the story
9. What is the significance of Mrs. Mallard’s name?