The action of “The Story of an Hour” is simple: Mrs. Mallard, who suffers from “a heart trouble,” is informed about her husband’s demise in a train accident. At first she is beset by grief, but then she begins to feel a sense of freedom. When she leaves her room and descends the stairs, her husband appears at the front door. Upon seeing her husband alive, Louise Mallard’s heart gives out and she dies.
The story is set during spring, and Louise’s “awakening” is symbolized by the rebirth of nature. Through her bedroom window, Louise sees nature, like herself, “all acquiver with the new spring life.” The internal changes taking place within Louise are mirrored by what she views— when she is distraught with grief, rain falls, and when she realizes her freedom, the skies clear up. What occurs outside the window parallels what is occurring to Louise.
Point of View
The story is told from a detached, third-person limited point of view. The reader identifies with Louise, the only character whose thoughts are accessible. At the beginning of the story, Louise is incapable of reflecting on her own experience. As Louise becomes conscious of her situation and emotions, the reader gains access to her thinking which reveals her character. When she goes back downstairs, the reader is quickly cut off from her thoughts. Thus Chopin skillfully manipulates the narrative point of view to underscore the story’s theme.
The setting of “The Story of an Hour” is unspecified. It takes place in the Mallard’s house, but 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.
Kate Chopin uses irony, a technique that reveals the distance between what appears to be true and what is actually true, to conclude her story. In “The Story of an Hour,” there is incongruity between what is understood to be true by the characters within the drama and what is understood by the reader. What killed Mrs. Mallard? While Brently Mallard, Richards, Josephine, and the doctors might believe her weak heart gave out upon such sudden happiness, readers are led to suspect that sudden grief killed her. At the story’s conclusion, the story’s first line, “Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble,” becomes ironic—referring to Mrs. Mallard’s spiritual condition and not to a medical condition. The story’s concluding line, she died “from the joy that kills,” is also ironic.
Short Stories for Students, Volume 2, Kate Chopin, Edited by Kathleen Wilson, Published by Gale Research, New York, 1997.