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The story of an hour is set possibly in the 1950’s, when communication technology was not so advanced (Richards, a character in the story receives the terrible news through a telegram). It is set in the backdrop of the Mallards residence. With the development of the plot, it becomes clear that it is set in time when women are a possession in marriage as opposed to a companion. Mrs. Mallard felt possessed and viewed her husband’s death as freedom and as a new lease of life where she could live for herself. The story is told from a perspective of an omniscient narrator, who knows the thoughts and feelings of Mrs. Mallard beyond what the other characters can tell, which gives the reader a glimpse into the life of Mrs. Mallard beyond face value.
Plot and characterization
The plot is developed in a quick yet gentle way. There is Louise Mallard, who is the major character in this story, and other minor characters Josephine, Mrs. Mallard’s caring and concerned sister, Mr. Mallard, the husband, and Richards, who is a friend of Mr. Mallard. The story revolves around Mrs. Mallard and the news of her husband’s death. Mrs. Mallard is the protagonist in the story, and Mr. Mallard is the antagonist. In any story, the antagonist is a representation of a challenge that the protagonist must overcome, in this case, it was the death of her husband; but in a strange twist of events and the climax of the story it is his survival, that she must overcome which she fails to do and dies. However, Chopin does not give away their characters suddenly, but rather the reader is slowly immersed in them, especially that of the protagonist, as the story develops. Josephine’s character remains static throughout the story as that of a caring sister who wants to comfort her sister in her time of distress.
Symbolism and description
To Mrs. Mallard the death of her husband was her chance for a new life. The trees that are already blooming, which means new life or a new beginning, depict new life in the story. As she sat in her room, she pictured summer days and spring days all which are bright and full of life. Chopin also used metaphors and description to show the hope that filled Louise. Chopin describes her eyes as filled with triumph and her walk as that of a Goddess. The description of her bosom that fell and rose tumultuously was a sign of relief, relief from her husband’s grip. Mrs. Mallard is also presented as a young woman who represses a lot of feelings. This was used to show the discontent Louise had experienced in her marriage. Chopin hardly uses direct speech in her short story, but the words “free! Free! Free!” are used for emphasis. They are used in this way to show the magnitude of these words to the reader and to clearly illustrate to him the significance of those words to Mrs. Mallard.
She makes use of description in the middle of the plot, and at this juncture the reader is able to see Mrs. Mallard not as the mourning and loving wife, but as a woman who has detested her husband; a woman who in marriage has lost her identity and, through her husband’s death, is free again.
This story is rich in two forms of irony: situational and verbal irony, and a twist of dramatic irony. Josephine and Richards are at Mrs. Mallard’s home to break the news of her husband’s death, which they gently reveal to her, as she has an ailing heart, but to the surprise of everyone Mr. Mallard walks in unscathed. Mrs. Mallard dies of “a joy that kills” (Chopin/The story of an hour). This goes to depict the situational irony of the story. Situational irony refers to a change of events from what is expected to what actually happens. Mr. Mallard is reported as dead-twice, he appears in the doorway with not even a scratch, and the readers come to learn that he has not been even close to the scene of the accident. Dramatic irony refers to a situation where a character in the story believes one thing to be true, but the reader knows that it is false. While Josephine thinks that her sister is sad and mourning when she has gone into a separate room, and is begging her sister to let her in, Mrs. Mallard, on the other hand, is celebrating to some extent.
There is a general tone of concern in the story, which is depicted in the way the news is broken to Louise in order to spare her agony. Bitterness was also fetched out through a wife who secretly hated what marriage represented in those days. In fact, she despised it so much; she considered it a crime that any human could find himself or herself superior to another. Hatred and anger were brought out through the wife who felt happy when she pictured the corpse of her dead husband. Despite all this Louise still loved her husband, and wept bitterly for him, and she only started to put things in perspective when the sadness was subdued.
The main theme brought out through the main character is discontent with her life as a wife to a man that she has loved at times and is glad that he is dead.