Social, Cultural Setting
“The Story of an Hour” was published in 1894, an era in which many social and cultural questions occupied Americans’ minds. One of these, referred to as the “Woman Question,” involved which roles were acceptable for women to assume in society. Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1892) had further incited this controversy. Darwin’s theory of evolution was used by both sides of the issue; some argued the theory supported female self-assertion and independence, others felt the theory proved that motherhood should be the primary role of a woman in society. Although women were not granted the right to vote until 1920, the struggle for their enfranchisement began in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention in New York state. The passage of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting enfranchisement to black men, was passed in 1869. Several prominent feminists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, refused to support the amendment because it denied women the vote. Other suffragists argued that the enfranchisement of women would soon follow black enfranchisement. In 1890, these two factions united in the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). That year, Wyoming became the first state to grant women the vote. While the suffrage movement sought reform, mainstream Victorian culture regarded the self-sacrificing wife, dependent on her husband and devoted to her children, as the ideal of femininity.
Temporal, Spatial Setting
The setting of “The Story of an Hour” is unspecified. It takes place in the Mallard’s house, but Kate Chopin does not offer many clues as to where or when the action takes place. This generic setting is consistent with the story’s thematic focus on the general, commonly accepted views of the appropriate roles for women in society. Given Chopin’s other works and the concerns she expresses about women’s role in marriage in this story and in other writings, the reader can assume that the story takes place during Chopin’s lifetime, the late nineteenth century. However, Chopin was known for being a local colorist, a writer who focuses on a particular people in a particular locale. In Chopin’s case, her stories are usually set among the Cajun and Creole societies in Louisiana. For this reason, “The Story of an Hour” is usually assumed to take place in Louisiana.
Short Stories for Students, Volume 2, Kate Chopin, Edited by Kathleen Wilson, Published by Gale Research, New York, 1997.