Story of an Hour – A Big Story in a Small Space
Kate Chopin's "Story of an Hour", tells the story of a woman trapped in a repressive marriage, who wants desperately to escape. She is given that chance, quite by accident, and the story tells of the hour in which this freedom is given her. The story is very short (only two pages), so is interesting to look at as a minimalist piece of literature, and the surprise ending offers an opportunity to look at Chopin's use of foreshadowing.
The story is very short, but every word has import in the story and each line has great depth of meaning. It is possible to infer a great deal about the woman's life, even though we are given very little on the surface. A telegraph and a railroad are mentioned in the first paragraph, so there is some idea of the time the story takes place. We are also given her married name and the full name of her husband. The fact that she is referred to only as "Mrs. Mallard", while her husband's full name is given, coupled with what we learn on the second page, gives some indication of the repression she's had to suffer through and the indignity society placed on woman in those times. We also learn in the first paragraph that she lives in a man's world, for, though it is her sister that tells her the news, it is her husband's friend who rushes over with the story. Even after his death, she is confined to the structures she adopted with married life, including the close friend's of her husband.
It can also be assumed that Brently Mallard was fairly well off, because they live in a home with an upstairs, comfortable furnishings, and he has occasion and reason to travel. Also, they can afford a doctor's diagnosis that she has a "heart condition".
The most important idea that is conveyed in the story is summed up in two sentences, near the end of the story, "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 of illumination". What we are shown is a private hell. This woman is trapped and stifled by conventions. Though she is loved, and occasionally loves, her basic human rights are being denied her in the marriage that society condoned. She was being denied any opportunity for self-expression or freedom of choice. Her only opportunity for escape was death, though she hadn't even contemplated the death of her husband until that day. Such things as the word "free" repeated three times and her whispered "Free! Body and soul free!" clearly illustrate the immense relief and joy she feels at the awful news and drive home the fact of the inadvertent tyranny under which she lived.
Another interesting point in the story is Chopin's use of foreshadowing. The first sentence in the story is the most obvious use of the technique in the entire short story. Something bad is going to happen to this lady. At some point in the story, she is probably going to die of a heart attack. There are other indications as the story goes along that something awful will happen, but than we are lead to believe that perhaps everything will be all right. Mrs. Mallard is surprisingly relieved at her husbands death, and a paragraph or two later, we fully understand why. Some could argue that Chopin tricks us at the end with a surprise ending. While there is some shock there, I think the first sentence acts as an excellent foreshadow of what is to come. It is the promise of the story, and Chopin delivers, though not in the way we're expecting. It's subtle because it's so obvious and the drama of her past life helps us forget the promise of her heart condition, but Chopin uses the promise as an excellent foreshadow of what happens at the end of the hour.
Kate Chopin doesn't take up much space or too much of our time to tell this story. It is simply the story of the last hour of Louise Mallard's life. However, in the few lines she gives us about that hour, we are given a full picture of the woman's life up until that point. Though much has to be inferred, it is all there in the few words Chopin chooses to share with us.
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