The Story of an Hour

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KATE CHOPIN: “The Story of an Hour”

(1894)


PLOT:

  • Louise and Brently Mallard

  • Josephine (sister), Richards (his friend, at newspaper) – both = good intentioned

  • her “heart trouble”  worry @ how to tell her @ her husband’s death

  • his death in “railroad disaster”

    • Richard:

      • at the newspaper office (Was that Rich & Brentley’s job?) when news broke

      • double-checked w/quick telegram

      • hurried to tell Louise lest a “less careful, less tender friend [bear] the sad message”

        • good friend (her heart)

        • is he moving in on her?!

  • instantaneous “storm of grief”

    • nature imagery

  • then she goes to her room, physically exhausted (“sank” into armchair)

    • heart?

    • the marriage?

    • the physical drain after emotional shock?

  • REBIRTH IMAGERY:

    • looking out her bedroom window

    • juxtaposition between life/rebirth & death --

    • death:

      • her condition

      • her husband

    • spring life:

      • rain in the air, peddler calling, distant song, sparrows twittering in the house’s eaves;

      • patches of blue sky peeking through cloud

    • cycles:

      • she dies in grief, she relives in freedom, she dies

      • he dies, he lives

  • she = “dead”

    • head thrown back on the headrest
    • sat motionless


    • “dull stare in her eyes”

    • “suspension of intelligent thought” (numb w/grief)

  • her DREAM (?):

    • s
      Elisa in “Chrysanthemums”?
      at staring at blue patches in the sky

    • like ELISA in “Chrysanthemums” sitting on the porch (untold fantasy)

  • physical description:

    • she = young & fair

    • lines bespoke REPRESSION and even a certain strength

  • TWIST #1:

    • w
      Arnold Friend in “WRUG?”
      e think that the “something” coming for her = DEATH

      • her condition

      • her physical exhaustion

      • her “dull stare” and “look of terror”

      • her numbness: “a suspension of intelligent thought”

      • her fearful yet powerless reaction to it & attempt to push it away

      • FREEDOM


  • Connie in “WRUG?”
    When she abandoned herself

    • absence

    • no thoughts, no consciousness

    • no way she was brought up, trained

  • rebirth:

    • eyes = keen & bright

    • pulse quickened

    • no vacant stare, look of terror

    • she was deadsuspension of intelligent thought” & is now alive (“elixir of life”)

  • monstrous joy

    • irrelevant

    • saw funeral  sadness, DUTY…but brevity of the “moment” of grief
    • “she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely” (freedom)


      • live for herself, no one else

  • TRUE LOVE:

    • she DID love him

    • would cry at the funeral

    • his hands = “kind, tender” (not cruel, bloodied)

    • his eyes always looked at her w/love

    • later: “And yet she had loved him – sometimes”

      • *w/o this love, we don’t feel for her, like her

  • her VISION:

    • beyond that bitter moment”

    • just a moment & it’s over

    • future = hers

    • a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely

  • marriage:

There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. 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.”

  • good intentions = still wrong

  • control, power, emotional abuse

  • real marriage = not all rainbows & butterflies

    • warts & all

    • And yet she had loved him – sometimes. Often she had not.”

  • loved him, some of the times, less often than loved him (subjectivity, personal, brutally honest)
  • ** “self-assertion” = “strongest impulse of her being” **


    • *more important than Love or Guilt or Shame

    • “days that would be her own

    • “drinking in the very elixir of life”

    • no one to live for” but herself

  • good intentions”:

    • Josephine at the door checking up on her sister

      • A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime

    • people saying she died of happiness, joy (love, rather than selfish joy)

    • lead to IRONY

  • truly alive:

    • “she was drinking the very ELIXIR of LIFE

  • her fancy”:

    • h
      Elisa in “Chrysanthemums”?
      er fantasies

    • sat staring at blue patches in the sky

    • like ELISA in “Chrysanthemums” sitting on the porch (untold fantasy)

    • PRAYER that life would be long

  • Marriage = (-):

    • prays for a long life

    • BUT just yesterday a long life would have been a curse

    • (quick changes of life)

  • (false) VICTORY:

    • “feverish triumph”

    • “goddess of Victory”

    • as she leaves the room to go down w/her sister

  • END:

    • she’s walking in victory, freedom

    • Richards waiting for her at bottom of steps

    • door opens – Richard!

      • far from accident
      • didn’t even know there was one


    • Richards tries to screen him from her view (no shock)(good intentions)

    • she died “of heart disease – of joy that kills

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STYLE:

  • twists

  • subjectivity: private thoughts & feelings (EA POE)

  • ** EA POE: “unity of effect”

    • setting, style, POV, symbolismsubjectivity  ending


PERSONAL

  • inner sanctum of heart

  • inner sanctum of bedroom

  • POV

  • imagery (sense what she senses)



SETTING:

  • house

  • personal, private bedroom, locked inside = private (subjectivity)


POV:

  • limited omniscient POV

  • Louise’s thoughts & feelings only 

    • insight

    • sympathy

    • subjectivity

    • irony & surprise of the ending


SYMBOLISM:

  • chair = relaxation, view to the world

  • window = freedom, outside world

  • * bedroom = privacy, subjectivity, freedom, sanctuary


Imagery:

  • language that evokes the five senses (seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching)

  • sense detail;
    • image = sensory experience made of words


    • smell the rain, hear the singing & peddling, see the clouds, feel the weight of exhaustion

  • spring, trees, rebirth

  • REBIRTH IMAGERY:

    • looking out her bedroom window

    • juxtaposition between life/rebirth & death

    • spring life: rain in the air, peddler calling, distant song, sparrows twittering in the house’s eaves; patches of blue sky peeking through cloud

    • death: her condition, her husband

    • she dies in grief, she relives in freedom, she dies

    • he dies, he lives

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**IRONY**

    • irony of situation (expectations)

    • verbal irony (character says one thing but means another)

    • dramatic irony (we know something a character doesn’t)

    • expect one thing, another thing happens (irony of situation)

          • the fearful “something” = not Death, but freedom

          • she loved him sometimes, not often

          • ending




    • PRESUMPTIONS:

    • Presumption #1 (he was on the train)

  • 1st presumption sets up (foreshadows) the 2nd
    • Presumption #2 (she died of good joy at his safe return)


    • Presumption #3 (sister & Richards, that she couldn’t handle the news)

    • Presumption #4 (all downstairs, that she was distraught with grief while in her room –

instead of relishing in her new-found freedom)

  • Presumption #5 (she plans for a long “free” life)




    • she plans for a long “free” life – then dies

    • she really “lives” for an hour




    • TITLEhow quickly things can change

          • quick changes in life

  • despair to joy

  • death to rebirth

  • trapped to free

  • prays for early death to prayer for long life

  • point of greatest joy/freedom …to death

          • really living

  • for an hour



    • They took such care to break to her the news of her husband’s death

        • thought she couldn’t handle it

        • thought she wouldn’t be able to go on w/o a husband

        • didn’t realize his death = “good” news to her it was news of his safety that kills her

        • didn’t realize his “life” = bad news to her




    • REBIRTH

        • spring

        • from grief to joy

        • BUT

        • from his death to life




  • IRONY:

    • prayer for a long life (of freedom)


    • had previously dreaded that life would long (of imprisonment)

  • IRONY:

    • in “feverish triumph”

    • walked “like a goddess of Victory” (Ate)

      • to her defeat

  • TWIST #2:

    • Brently Mallard walks in

      • had been traveling, nowhere near the train accident

      • did not even know there was an accident

    • SHOULD be happy moment for the wife

    • BUT is a moment of despair, of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, of thwarted triumph

    • she had died of heart disease—of joy that kills.”

      • meaning #1: died of happiness to see him return

        • the joy was that he was alive

        • they think she was overjoyed at his return

        • shock of good news

        • (bad heart)

      • meaning #2: the joy she had in her room set up her devastating disappointment upon his return

  • OXYMORONS: (= irony)

    • monstrous joy

    • of joy that kills

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Louise Mallard
    • Does she have a bad “heart”? (*ALTERNATE INTERPRETATION*)


      • Is she selfish?

      • Does she want more than she deserves

      • Is the ending like a Greek Myth/Tragedy?

        • hubris, pride

        • Icarus, smoted by the gods

      • ** “self-assertion” = “strongest impulse of her being” **

        • more important than Love or Guilt or Shame

        • days that would be her own

        • drinking in the very elixir of life

        • no one to live for” but herself

    • Is she a “Pebble”?

      • Does she have it good BUT doesn’t realize it?

    • wife (Anne) in “Say Yes”?

    • wife in “Cat in Rain”?

    • wife in “Powder”?


Louise & Brently Mallard

  • What was the relationship like between the protagonist and her husband –

    • He was kind, gentle, never cruel, never anything but loving

    • She loved him “sometimes, often she had not”

    • He was kind BUT made her feel confined & restrained

    • (Do you think he was totally to blame OR did she have a part in her own confinement –

        • So often times it happens, that we live our lives in chains & we

never even know we have the key” –Eagles “Already Gone”)

  • 19th-century marriage

  • contrasted or compared to today?

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THEMES:

  • marriage
    • sucks for women in late-19thC


    • a prison

    • even a good marriage = constricting

  • too much joy is bad (“joy that kills”)

  • selfishness: was hers a selfish joy, a “monstrous joy”?

  • answered prayers:

    • pray for short life, prayer for long life –

    • Just take the life you have

      • bloom where you’re planted?

      • Is that giving in, surrendering, settling?

  • God is a cruel god, mocking her prayers

  • The essential human instinct is for “self-assertion” — freedom to whatever you choose, whenever, with whomever.

  • Her “heart trouble” =

    • physical

    • emotional (trapped in a loveless, controlling marriage)

  • autobiographical? Did Kate relish the freedom that came to her when her husband died? Was she glad he was dead? Did she love him, sometimes?

  • Sympathy:

    • heart trouble

    • suffer the death of a husband

    • trapped in a loveless marriage

    • initial response

    • tears at the funeral (not spiteful)

    • joy = unwelcome, tried to push it away, came externally

    • walked “unwittingly” like a goddess of Victory

  • control: enforce your will on your own life

    • only (see “good intentions”)

    • before someone else does, before you die

    • find your own freedom while you can




  • never really know someone

      • sister of Louise

      • sister, Richards, all of Louise
      • husband of Louise


      • (made clear by PRESUMPTIONS)

      • Say Yes

  • quick changes life takes sometimes – within an “hour”

      • reversals of fortune (GREEK)

      • It was only yesterday that she thought with a shudder that life might be long.

        • marriage = CONTROL

        • prayed to die young, then prayed for long life

        • sets up irony of her death

      • life = ironic

  • Marriage = CONTROL

    • “….there would be no powerful will bending her in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow creature.”

      • Say Yes

      • Clod & Pebble

      • Parable

      • Chrysanthemums

    • even good marriage = control

      • (kill w/kindness, in a different sense)

    • human nature to impose our feelings, beliefs, attitudes on others (marriage, life)

    • marriage = CONTROL

      • Say Yes

      • Clod & Pebble

        • Love = selfish, self-serving, relishing in another’s pain (death!)


Stiletto Feminism (?):

  • Katy Perry (like Chopin, rebelling against ultra-conservative/religious upbringing?)

  • Lady Gaga

  • Kesha

  • Beyonce

  • Rihanna



FEMINISM:

  • sexist?


    • protection

    • good intention

    • trying to shield her from the truth

    • trying to protect her

  • that’s why even a good marriage = stifling

  • men & women do it to women (not just men)

    • based on the premise that women = weak, can’t handle it, hysterics

GREEK TRAGEDY (?):

  • sudden reversal of fortune

  • pride, hubris – “self-assertion”

  • goddess of victory

  • answered prayers

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OTHERS STORIES

      • Parable

      • Powder

      • Say Yes

      • Clod & Pebble

      • Cat in Rain

      • Chrysanthemums

      • Antigone


SONGS:

  • Eagles “Already Gone”

  • Sugarland “Settling”

  • Garth Brooks “Unanswered Prayers”

  • Van Halen “Not Enough”

  • Patty Smythe & Don Henley “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough”

  • Travis Tritt “Anymore”

  • Springsteen’s cover of “I’m Trapped”

  • Elvis “Suspicious Minds”





QUESTIONS


  1. Louise Mallard’s character

    • (+/-)


    • father in “Powder

    • husband “Say Yes

    • wife & husband in “Cat

  2. At the start, what do we learn about the condition of the protagonist? How does this fact inform the plot?

  3. What has “happened” to Mr. Brently Mallard?

  4. How does Chopin get readers to sympathize with Mrs. Mallard?

    • Why is it key for her to get us to sympathize with her?

  5. What is the imagery evoked in the window scene?

  6. What is this “thing” that comes to her at the window?

    • What did you think it was at first? What previous information led you to this?

  7. Why would Chopin purposefully mislead readers?

  8. Why is it significant that the protagonist’s newfound freedom is an unwelcome thought, a state of “suspension of intelligent thought”?

  9. Explain the IRONY of her cause of death—“of joy that kills”? How does it possess multiple meanings?

  10. How is the surprise ending foreshadowed? By what earlier plot twist or information?

  11. What possible THEMES does this short short story evoke? What comment is made concerning marriage, specifically women’s roles within late-19thC marriage?

  12. Compare or contrast today’s state of marriage with that of Chopin’s time.

  13. How do the setting, imagery, POV of the story work together to create a unified effect (EA POE)?

  14. In the end, what is the IRONY of her situation—the irony of her joy, her prayer, her end?


MARRIAGE:


  • warts & all

  • good & bad

    • no such thing as all good or all bad

  • MIX

    • happy, protected, supported, taken care of

    • no fulfillment, no personal growth

  • CAN one be fulfilled & in a marriage?????

    • Are marriage & self-fulfillment mutually exclusive???

    • Is it a choice – one or the other, not both?

    • Can one grow as a person within the “confines” of a marriage?

FEMINISM:

  • Are Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Rihanna, Katy Perry = Stiletto Feminism?

  • Are they the Kate Chopin of their day?

  • Would KP the KC – rebelling against her ultra-religious/Catholic upbringing?

  • Are Eveline & Louise Mallard/Kate Chopin closely related by strict religious upbringing?




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