top-rated free essay

The Story of an Hour

By dawngeorge Nov 04, 2009 1164 Words
Dawn George

The Story of an Hour

In “The Story of an Hour” Kate Chopin challenges close readers to re-examine the connotations associated with death and life. For most readers, death represents an ending: a time of sadness and sorrow, while life is a joyous new beginning. However, in this story, the author portrays death as life and life as death: demonstrating the incongruity between what readers may expect and what actually occurs. Presenting Brently Mallard’s death as the commencement of Louise Mallard’s life and his unexpected return to life as her death, underscores Chopin skillful use of this ironic twist to shift the readers’ expectations and gain their willing suspension of disbelief.

Immediately she confronts the readers’ expectations of how a young woman should react to the horrific news of her husband’s premature death. The expectation of society is that she would collapse with grief and bewilderment as the whole foundation of her life torn asunder. Fully expecting this reaction, her family took “great care” in breaking the news as “gently as possible” (157). However, the protagonist “did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance” nor did she deny the truth of it (157). Mrs. Mallard did meet the expectations of those around her when she “wept, with sudden wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms” but when that moment of grief passed she removed herself from their comfort and “went away to her room alone” challenging the expectation that this young woman would need her loving family to guide her through this crisis (157).

As Mrs. Mallard sits alone in her room, her thoughts do not follow the course a reader may expect when they find life rather than contemplating death. When reading a scene filled with grief, readers may expect to find shades of grey, and language overflowing with the imagery of winter: barren landscapes with nary a whisper of a living creature, bare trees, and grey skies filled with snow or rain. However, as the young hero sits in a comfortable armchair gazing through an open window, she notices “the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life,” she smells the “delicious breath of rain,” and hears the “distant song [of] countless sparrows” (157). Challenging the readers’ assumptions, by using the imagery of spring the author shifts the focus from death to life, from an ending to a beginning, and prepares the audience for Mrs. Mallard’s epiphany that commences her new life. While observing these signs of life, the widow feels “something coming to her and she wait[s] for it, fearfully,” this “[thing] reaching out [to] her through the sounds, the scents, and the color that [fills] the air” is her recognition of her new being (157). As she begins “to recognize this thing that was approaching” and strives “to beat it back with her will” she is wrestling with her own expectations of what is socially or morally acceptable (157). The widow consciously tries to repress what is not suitable, but she is “powerless” to do so (157). “When she abandon[s] herself a little whisper [of] [a] word escape[s]…. free, free, [I am] free (157-58). She experiences a terrifying joy of discovery as she gives herself over to this emerging need, just as “patches of blue sky [break] through the clouds” (157). By abandoning herself to her burgeoning desire, new life flows through her as “her pulses beat fast and the coursing blood [warms] and [relaxes] every inch of her body” (158). She is “drinking in the very elixir of life” and reveling in the power and excitement of, for the first time in her life, “[living] for herself” with no “powerful will bending hers” (158). She recognizes this desire, so long repressed, “as the strongest impulse of her life,” and she discovers nothing else matters save “this possession of self-assertion” (158). This epiphany gives birth to her new life: comprehending her desire to be “body and soul free” and embracing the opportunity fortune or fate has given her (158). In another ironic twist, Chopin’s hero does not see the emptiness in the coming years without her husband, as one would expect of a new widow and although she would mourn him, “she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely” and “spread her arms out to them in welcome” (158). This new and sudden realization of her unknown yearning for personal liberty opens her future into one of her own making. “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” (158). Overwhelmed at the change in her perception of life, the hero “breathe[s] a quick prayer that life might be long” and then realizes with shock that “only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long” (158). As Chopin’s character rises to rejoin her family, she is now Louise: an individual with a name of her own, no longer only “Mrs. Mallard,” or merely her husband’s wife, she is a new creation. As Louise descends the stairs, she carries herself “unwittingly like a goddess of Victory” with a light of “triumph” in her eyes, only to have that victory wrenched from her before she gains the first floor when her husband appears alive and well (158). The author’s final and most compelling twist of irony comes with Brently Mallard’s reappearance: his life demanded her death. Most in society might think Louise should be overjoyed at his unexpected return, however, once again Chopin surprises the reader. Upon seeing her husband, all the fears and feelings the hero had recently set aside overcame her and her heart gave away from the terror of them. The doctors give voice to the opinion that the shock of her husband’s reappearance stopped Louise’s heart with a “joy that kills,” but attentive readers will know the truth: once a character comprehends and embraces an epiphany, life changes intrinsically and there is no returning and so, Louise’s horror at encountering the object of her previously unquestioned self- suppression causes her heart to stop (158). Chopin’s use of irony in “The Story of an Hour” continually shifts the readers’ focus from the expected to the unexpected. By reversing the privilege of binary opposition of death and life, she forces the readers to “wake up” and pay attention to where she is leading them. Her skillful use of irony sets the expectations of the readers on their ear and requires the readers to view the world of Louise Mallard from a new and different perspective.

Work Cited
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” 1894. The Story and Its Writer. Comp. Ann Charters. Boston: Beford/St. Martin, 2003. 157-58

Cite This Document

Related Documents

  • The Story of an Hour

    ...Literary Elements in The Story of an Hour In Kate Chopin’s short story, “The Story of an Hour” she uses different kinds of literary elements to clearly define her story and to show all of the meanings behind what happens in the story. There are many different kinds of literary elements used in this short story but I believe the most imp...

    Read More
  • Story of an Hour

    ...Kelly Tran Professor Newcomb English 2201 Section 016 October 8, 2014 One Dramatic and Tragic Hour of a Woman “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin In this short story—literally because the story happened within an hour, Kate Chopin manages to let her readers contemplate on the roles of women, more particularly in a marital status. Ch...

    Read More
  • The Story of an Hour

    ...Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin is an impressive literary piece which touches a reader's feelings as well as mind. Although the story is really short, it is very rich and complete, and every word in it carries deep sense and a lot of meaning. The events take place in the 19 century in the house of M...

    Read More
  • the Story of an Hour

    ...Jose Lopez Dr. Kent Harrelson English 1102 April 8, 2013 Analysis of Mrs. Mallard's personality in “The Story of an Hour” Marriage is a relationship based on love which requires care, cultivation and defense every day. However, there are times in which the relationship between a wife and her Spouse is merely a slave and master-and. Life...

    Read More
  • Story of an Hour Thes

    ...isHebron University Sawayfa 1 English Department Mohammed Sawayfa Dr. Salah Shrouf Literature 2 May 12, 2012 “Free! Body and Soul Free!”: Who shall prevent Mrs. Mallard not to live freely and artlessly? Symbolism...

    Read More
  • The story of an Hour

    ...The Story of an Hour One of Kate Chopin's most famous stories is "the Story of an Hour." In this story Chopin was brave enough to challenge the society in which she lived because in the first half of the 19th century, women were not allowed the freedoms men enjoyed in the judgments of the law, the church or the gover...

    Read More
  • The Story of an Hour

    ...English 9 – Honors Name: ___________________________________ Mr. Schneider PART ONE “The Story of an Hour” Reading Interpretation Questions Directions: Refer to the text of “The Story of an Hour” when responding to the following questions. Write in complete sentences, and check your work to ensure you have fully answe...

    Read More
  • The Story of an Hour

    ...Reading Reflection: “The Story of an Hour” ENG125: Introduction to Literature Instructor: Olabisi Adenekan April 28, 2012 Reading Reflection: “The Story of an Hour” “The Story of an Hour...

    Read More

Discover the Best Free Essays on StudyMode

Conquer writer's block once and for all.

High Quality Essays

Our library contains thousands of carefully selected free research papers and essays.

Popular Topics

No matter the topic you're researching, chances are we have it covered.