Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
in 2010 ©
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.
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."
action takes place in a single hour in an American
home in the last decade
of the nineteenth Century.
of the Unities
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
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
Mrs. Mallard's husband.
of Brently Mallard.
who arrive too late to save Mrs. Mallard.
Michael J. Cummings...©
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
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
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.
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!”
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
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
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.
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.
in late nineteenth century expected women to keep
house, cook, bear and
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,
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 husband—perhaps a typical
husband of his day—dominated
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.
in the story are the following:
5): The new, exciting life that Mrs. Mallard thinks
is awaiting her.
of Blue Sky
(Paragraph 6): Emergence of her new life.
of speech are the following:
in a Name?
(Paragraph 2): Paradox
haunted her body (Paragraph 4): Metaphor/Personification
of rain (Paragraph
(Paragraph 5): Alliteration
that had met
(Paragraph 6): Metaphor/Personification
(Paragraph 9): Alliteration
that was approaching
to possess her (Paragraph 10): Metaphor/Personification
carried herself unwittingly
like a goddess of Victory (Paragraph 20): Simile
is also ironic, since the doctors mistakenly believe
that Mrs. Mallard
was happy to see her husband alive.
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,
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.
Mallard's Heart Condition
the story unfolds, the reader discovers that Mrs.
Mallard’s heart ailment
may have resulted—in
part, at least—from
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.
Chopin (1851-1904) is best known for her short
stories (more than 100)
and a novel, The Awakening. One of her
problems facing women in a society that repressed
her literary works highly popular in the late
twentieth century. They remain
Questions and Essay Topics
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
life like for Mrs.
Mallard in the home of Brently Mallard?
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
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."
of Mrs. Mallard's apparent
unhappiness in her marriage was her own fault?
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?
essay about what society
expected of the typical nineteenth-century
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
author Chopin herself face
problems similar to those of Mrs. Mallard?
essay comparing and
contrasting Mrs. Mallard and Nora
Helmer in A Doll's House, by Henrik
The Story of an
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
of her being!
Body and soul free!" she kept whispering.
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."
away. I am not making myself ill." No; she was
drinking in a very elixir
of life through that open window.
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.
arose at length and opened the door to her sister's
was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried
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.
one was opening the front door with a latchkey. It was
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
Richards was too late.
the doctors came they said she had died of heart
disease—of joy that kills.