Setting exists in every form of fiction, representing elements of time, place, and social context throughout the work. These elements can create particular moods, character qualities, or features of theme. Throughout Kate Chopin's short story "The Story of an Hour," differing amounts and types of the setting are revealed as the plot develops. This story deals with a young woman's emotional state as she discovers her own independence in her husband's death, then her "tragic" discovery that he is actually alive. The constituents of setting reveal certain characteristics about the main character, Louise Mallard, and are functionally important to the story structure. The entire action takes place in the springtime of a year in the 1890s, in the timeframe of about an hour, in a house belonging to the Mallards. All of these aspects of setting become extremely relevant and significant as the meaning of the story unfolds.
When Louise Mallard first hears that her husband was killed in a railroad accident, "she wept at once," and "went away to her room alone" (12). As she mourns, looking out of her window on the second floor of her home, a sudden change of heart begins to come over her. She notices "the delicious breath of rain," " a peddler . . . crying his wares," "notes of a distant song," "countless sparrows . . . twittering," and "patches of blue sky," "all aquiver with the new spring life" (13). As she stares at the sky, she begins to think about her newfound independence from her husband, uttering the words "free, free, free!" (13). What makes her develop such a sudden change in attitude? Could it be that she sees rebirth in the world through her wind...
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...giving it boundaries and distinctive characteristics about the situation. Setting preys upon reader stereotypes and preconceptions about the certain time frame or location in which the story takes place in order to bring out more meaning. In this work, Chopin develops the story based on the reader's knowledge and understanding of a woman's place in late nineteenth-century America. But the specific setting--the time of year and the structure of the Mallard house--also gives clues to help readers understand Louise and attempt to determine the cause of her death. Louise may die of heart disease, as the doctors say at the end of the story, but setting indicates that the disease was not "joy that kills" (14).
Chopin, Kate. "The Story of an Hour." The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. 4th ed. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston: St. Martins, 1997. 12-15.
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