The Story of an Hour

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"The Story of an Hour"
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Genre(s)Short story
Published inUnited States
Publication typeMagazine
PublisherVogue[1]
Publication date1894

"The Story of an Hour" is a short story written by Kate Chopin on April 19, 1894. It was originally published in Vogue on December 6, 1894, as "The Dream of an Hour". It was later reprinted in St. Louis Life on January 5, 1895, as "The Story of an Hour". [2]

The title of the short story refers to the time elapsed between the moments at which the protagonist, Louise Mallard, hears that her husband, Brently Mallard, is dead, then discovers that he is alive after all. Featuring a female protagonist who feels liberation at the news of her husband's death, "The Story of an Hour" was controversial by American standards of the 1890s.[2] In Unveiling Kate Chopin, Emily Toth argues that Chopin "had to have her heroine die" in order to make the story publishable".[3] (The "heroine" dies when she sees her husband alive after he was thought to be dead.)

Summary[edit]

"The Story of an Hour" follows Louise Mallard as she deals with the news that her husband, Brently Mallard, has died. After being informed of her husband's tragic death in a railroad accident by Richards, a close friend of Brently, Louise reacts with immediate grief. Louise heads to her room and gradually comes to the realization that she is happy that her husband died. Though she bore no animosity towards her husband, the implications of his death include a new sense freedom for Mrs. Mallard. This realization of possibility the source of her joy. Later, she heads back downstairs, only to witness Brently coming home. Her joy turns to shock when at the sight of her husband and she dies as a result. "From the joy that kills."[4].

Irony[edit]

The irony of the death of Louise Mallard is something that plays a big role in the layout of the story. They say that she died "from the joy that kills." She killed herself, not knowing that would be the thing to kill her. She was finally realizing that she was happy without Brently in her life. When he arrives back home, she realizes that she is no longer happy again and that her life is just going to go back to the way it was before she thought he was dead. She ends up dying of heart complications, which in turn is the irony because we could read the story and see that she was going to die a lonely and almost depressed life. Then, she really ends up dying from her own joy killing her because she was excited to finally not have to deal with her husband anymore.[5]

Themes[edit]

"The Story of an Hour" really focuses on women's search to find their own identities within themselves. Chopin, herself, liked to call this the "possession of self-assertion." We can see by reading this story that she has brought her own life into the story. This story is like the background of Chopin. She had those rocky marriages. She was looking to find her own identity within herself. Louise is the Chopin during this story. She struggled to find herself many of times. This theme seems to really help Kate Chopin get an understanding of her own life during the times she was in. [6]

Critical responses[edit]

Bert Bender, an English professor at Arizona State University, offers a biographical reading of the text and argues that writing of the 1890s was influenced by Charles Darwin's theory of sexual selection. Chopin's 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.[7]

Lawrence I. Berkove, a professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, 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.[8] Xuding Wang has criticized Berkove's interpretation.[9]

In her article, "Emotions in 'The Story of An Hour'",[10] 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 has 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 her repressive husband) that adds meaning and value to her life. Although 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 can realize her newfound freedoms). 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"[11]. 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 with the death of her husband, enabling her to be free.

In a 2013 article, Jeremy Foote, a researcher at Purdue University, argues that "The Story of an 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). It allowed for work and home to be very distant from each other, and eliminated opportunities for spouses to spend time together. Foote argues that the reason that Louise Mallard wanted more autonomy was because she and her husband did not spend time together. The alone time that Louise had in the house made her less close to her husband, and made her want her independence.[12]

The way the telegraph is used in the story can be viewed as a warning about a world in which information (and civilization) is 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.

While most readers infer Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” tells about the awakening of feminine awareness and the struggle for freedom in a man’s world, Li Chongyue and Wang Lihua offer a new analysis. They conclude that Mrs. Mallard is an ungrateful and unfaithful wife. Chopin provides little background on both Mr. and Mrs. Mallard. However, there’s enough evidence to assume they live a comfortable life. For example, the two-story home, the “comfortable” and “roomy” armchairs, and how one armchair sat “facing the open window”.[13]

In the article, Chongyue and Lihua point out how Brently Mallard loved his wife, but she didn’t feel the same. Mr. Mallard was often away from home on business trips to provide for his wife. Meanwhile, Louise only loved him “sometimes” and “often she had not loved him”.[13] It’s fair for readers to infer that Louise only married him for security and stability.

When she hears of her husband’s death, Mrs. Mallard weeps in her sister’s arms. Her reaction can be seen as genuine and coming from a place of pain. However, a second look could suggest that these are tears of joy. She was “pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach her soul” simply because she was tired of her life and needed a change. After emerging from her room succeeding the news of her husband, “she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory.”[11] Her confidence can be seen as a result of triumph feeling as though she won her freedom back. Lastly, Mrs. Mallard died of “joy that kills” one could attribute that to the sudden change in emotion. However, it seems that her death was due to the fact that her newly found freedom and joy was stolen from her.

Instead of a loving, ill wife, Mrs. Mallard is actually seen as ungrateful and unfaithful to her husband. Chongyue and Lihua conclude that such a woman cannot live on this earth, therefore, causing her death.

Characters[edit]

Louise Mallard: The wife of Brently Mallard. She grieves the news of Brently's death, but is also overjoyed at her new freedom.

Brently Mallard: Husband to Louise and believed to be dead, he returns home not knowing he was believed to be dead.

Josephine: Sister to Louise, she helps console Louise about her husband's death.

Richards: Brently Mallard's friend, was the one to learn of Brently's death.[4]

Film adaptation[edit]

In 1984, director Tina Rathbone released a film adaptation of the story titled The Joy That Kills.[14] This film is based on Kate Chopin's story, "The Story of an Hour". The main character, Frances Conroy also suffers from a heart condition, just like Louise Mallard does. This production is mostly concerned with the psychological state.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jamil, Selina S. "Emotions in 'The Story of an Hour'" Explicator (2009): 215–220. EBSCOhost.
  2. ^ a b Nhung, Nguyen. "The Story of an Hour". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ Toth, Emily (1999). Unveiling Kate Chopin. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, p. 10, ISBN 978-1-57806-101-3.
  4. ^ a b Chopin, Kate (1894). The Story of an Hour  – via Wikisource.
  5. ^ https://mycourses.purdue.edu/webapps/portal/execute/tabs/tabaction?tab_tab_group_id=_17_1
  6. ^ https://www.katechopin.org/the-story-of-an-hour/#themes
  7. ^ Bender, Bert (1991). "The Teeth of Desire: The Awakening and the Descent of Man". American Literature 63 (3): 459–473.
  8. ^ Berkove, Lawrence L. (2000) "Fatal Self-Assertion in Kate Chopin's 'The Story of an Hour.'" American Literary Realism 32 (2): 152–158.
  9. ^ Xuding Wang, "Feminine Self-Assertion in 'The Story of an Hour'", English Department, Tamkang University, Taiwan
  10. ^ Jamil, Selina S. "Emotions in 'The Story of an Hour'" Explicator (2009): 215–220. EBSCOhost.
  11. ^ a b Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ a b Chongyue, Li; Lihua, Wang (2013-05-14). "A Caricature of an Ungrateful and Unfaithful Wife —A New Interpretation of The Story of an Hour". English Language and Literature Studies. 3 (2): 90. doi:10.5539/ells.v3n2p90. ISSN 1925-4768.
  14. ^ Corry, John (January 28, 1985). "TV Review; 'The Joy That Kills,' on WNET". New York Times. Retrieved November 13, 2017.

External links[edit]