The Story of an Hour

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"The Story of an Hour"
Kate-Chopin-The-Story-An-Hour-1.jpg
Author Kate Chopin
Original title "The Dream of an Hour"
Translator None
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Short story
Published in United States
Publication type Magazine
Publisher Vogue[1]
Publication date 1894

"The Story of an Hour" is a short story written by Kate Chopin on April 19, 1894, and originally published in Vogue on December 6, 1894 as "The Dream of an Hour". It was first reprinted in St. Louis Life on January 5, 1895 as "The Story of an Hour."

The title of the short story refers to the time elapsed between the moments at which the protagonist, Louise Mallard, hears that her husband is dead and discovers that he is alive after all. The Story of an Hour was considered controversial during the 1890s because it deals with a female protagonist who feels liberated by the news of her husband's death. In Unveiling Kate Chopin, Emily Toth argues that Chopin "had to have her heroine die" in order to make the story publishable.[2]

Summary[edit]

The short story describes the series of emotions Louise Mallard endures after hearing of the death of her husband, who was believed to have died in a railroad disaster. Mrs. Mallard suffers from heart problems; therefore, her sister attempts to inform her of the horrific news in a gentle way. Mrs. Mallard locks herself in her room to immediately mourn the loss of her husband. However, she begins to feel an unexpected sense of exhilaration. "Free! Body and soul free!" is what she believes is a benefit of his death, until she discovers her husband standing in the doorway of their house, alive. The shock of seeing her living husband proves too much for her heart and kills her.

Critical responses[edit]

Bert Bender offers a biographical reading of the text and argues that writing of the 1890s was influenced by Darwin's theory of sexual selection. Her understanding of the meaning of love and courtship, in particular, was altered and became more pessimistic. This attitude finds its expression in The Story of an Hour when Mrs. Mallard questions the meaning of love and ultimately rejects it as meaningless.[3]

Lawrence I. Berkove notes that there has been "virtual critical agreement" that the story is about female liberation from a repressive marriage. However, he contests this reading and argues that there is a "deeper level of irony in the story". The story, according to Berkove, depicts Mrs. Mallard as an "immature egotist" and a "victim of her own extreme self-assertion". He also challenges the notion that Chopin intended for the views of the story's main character to coincide with those of the author.[4] Xuding Wang has criticized Berkove's interpretation.[5]

In her article, "Emotions in 'The Story of An Hour,'" [6] Selina Jamil argues that Chopin portrays Mrs. Mallard’s perception of her husband’s supposed death as fostered by emotions, rather than by rationality. Jamil claims that up until that point, Mrs. Mallard’s life had been devoid of emotion to such an extent that she has even wondered if it is worth living. The repression of emotion may represent Mrs. Mallard’s repressive husband, who had, up until that point, “smothered” and “silenced” her will. Therefore, her newfound freedom is brought on by an influx of emotion (representing the death of the figure of the repressive husband) that adds meaning and value to her life. For, though Mrs. Mallard initially feels fear when she hears of her husband’s death, the strength of the emotion is so powerful that Mrs. Mallard actually feels joy (because she is feeling). Since this "joy that kills" ultimately leads to Mrs. Mallard's death, one possible interpretation is that the repression of Mrs. Mallard's feelings is what killed her in the end.

In the same article, Jamil shows the repression that Mrs. Mallard faces as a wife. She realizes after her husband's apparent death that she is "free, free, free." This shows how her life would change and that she is now a new person and removed from the repressed life she faced before. No evidence is given in the story about how she is repressed, but her reaction to his death and her newfound confidence and freedom are enough. This repression of herself that she dealt with has now been removed, enabling her to be free.

In a 2013 article, Jeremy Foote argues that "Hour" can be read as a commentary and warning about technology – specifically the railroad and the telegraph. The railroad, he claims, may be the cause of the distance between the Mallards (and many other couples of the time), as it allowed for work and home to be very distant from each other, and eliminated opportunities for spouses to spend time together.[7]

The way the telegraph is used in the story can be viewed as a warning about a world in which information (and people) are moving too quickly. Instead of having enough time to think about and process the death of her husband, it is thrust upon Mrs. Mallard, in its entirety, followed within minutes by the shock of seeing him alive. As the title suggests, this is a story about the importance of time – it may not have been the events that happened so much as the speed at which they happened which is so devastating to Mrs. Mallard.

Film adaptation[edit]

In 1984, director Tina Rathbone released a film adaptation of the story titled The Joy That Kills.

Chekhov's "At Christmas Time"[edit]

A story by Anton Chekhov titled At Christmas Time which was published in 1900 has a similar plot where Mrs. Litvinova having heard suspicions of her husband's death at sea realizes gleefully that widowhood would finally make her free of him. Chekhov continues the story past where Chopin leaves hers off, but the stories are similar in how they expose unhappy marriages by showing the wife feeling free after her husband's death.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jamil, Selina S. “Emotions in ‘The Story of an Hour’” Explicator (2009): 215–220. EBSCOhost.
  2. ^ Toth, Emily (1999). Unveiling Kate Chopin. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, p. 10, ISBN 978-1-57806-101-3.
  3. ^ Bender, Bert (1991). "The Teeth of Desire: The Awakening and the Descent of Man." American Literature 63 (3): 459–473.
  4. ^ Berkove, Lawrence L. (2000) "Fatal Self-Assertion in Kate Chopin's 'The Story of an Hour.'" American Literary Realism 32 (2): 152–158.
  5. ^ Xuding Wang, "Feminine Self-Assertion in 'The Story of an Hour'," English Department, Tamkang University, Taiwan [1]
  6. ^ Jamil, Selina S. “Emotions in ‘The Story of an Hour’” Explicator (2009): 215–220. EBSCOhost.
  7. ^ Foote, J. (2013). "Speed That Kills: The Role of Technology in Kate Chopin's THE STORY OF AN HOUR". The Explicator 71 (2): 85–89. doi:10.1080/00144940.2013.779222.  edit