Critical Review of "The Story of an Hour"
“The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin (born Katherine O’Flaherty 1850 - 1904) was first published by the magazine ‘Vogue’ in December of 1894, under the title "The Dream of an Hour." This short story exemplifies Mrs. Chopin’s ability to weave the aspects of suspense, shock and surprise into a story, so as to hold the reader’s attention, as she addresses the frustrations women often felt as members of Patriarchal Societies. This highly acclaimed story addresses one of the central concerns of feminism, predating the actual manifestation of same by many years, of women’s inability to develop and maintain a personal identity - distinct from that of her husband - in the male dominated societies of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
In “The Story of an Hour” the very first line grabs and holds your attention predisposing a sympathetic attitude by the reader for the main character in the story (Mrs. Louise Mallard), as a result of her health problems - a heart ailment. This same attitude is expressed by two other characters in the story, her sister (Josephine), and a family friend (Mr. Richards) which encourages and supports the adoption of this attitude by the reader. This same line foreshadows the surprise ending, the main character’s death. This is a lot for just one line to do but Mrs. Chopin’s extraordinary skill and style makes this feat possible and almost invisible to the casual reader.
After setting the initial stage, Kate (Mrs. Chopin), has Louise’s sister (Josephine) and a family friend (Richards) devising a way to break the news to her in a way that protects her from her heart condition. In fact, Richards informs Josephine of the news (after verifying same through a second telegram), and hastens to rely this information to the ‘new widow’ so as to protect Louise from other “less careful, less tender friend(s)”. Furthermore, Richards informs Josephine so that she - not he - could break the news to Louise “in broken sentences and veiled hints” that required Louise to process the information herself and realize that her husband has been killed - thus, hopefully, softening the blow and sparing her from any possible ill effects of her illness.
Now that the stage has been set, the story turns to the main character – Louise Mallard. The first inconsistency, that itself foreshadows upcoming events, is that Louise does not respond to the news of her husband’s death as other people would normally do – with “paralyzed inability to accept its significance” (Shock). Instead “she wept at once with sudden, wild abandonment” (emotional response). Then she retired to the sanctity of her room instead of leaning on the condolences of her family and friends in her time of grief “as she would have no one follow her”. This is effectively the reverse of a normal response and is alluded to in the first line of the third paragraph as “She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same”. Having retired to her room alone - locking the door – she sinks into “a comfortable, roomy armchair” “facing an open window” from which she could see and hear events taking place outside. Thanks to Mrs. Chopin’s literary skill, Louise does not simply set in the chair but plops down and sinks into the chair “pressed down by physical exhaustion” that “haunted her body and seemed to reach into her very soul”.
This fourth paragraph is filled to the brim with symbolisms.
The comfortable, roomy chair represents her life before her husband’s death – her home, her marriage and her life as a normal married woman as dictated by the society she lives in.
The view outside the window represents the freedom for which she secretly yearns - the freedom to be herself as opposed to being imbedded in her husband’s identity and the loss of her own personal individuality.
The window itself represents...