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Kate Chopin's 'Story of an Hour': Summary and Analysis

  • 0:06 Early Feminist Literature
  • 1:15 Synopsis
  • 2:21 Analysis
  • 3:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katherine Godin

Katherine is a teacher of middle and high school English and has an M.A. in English Education and an M.Ed. in Educational Administration.

In this lesson, we will examine the plot and characters of Kate Chopin's most widely read short story, 'The Story of an Hour.' We will consider the ways in which the author's topics of marriage and independence reflect her feminist sensibilities and make this an early work of feminist literature.

Early Feminist Literature

The Story of an Hour, a short story written by Kate Chopin, is truly a reflection of the writer's life experiences and attitudes about women and independence. Kate Chopin, a regionalist writer who focused much of her work in Louisiana, was raised by strong women who taught her about self-reliance and perseverance. When her own husband died young, leaving her with six children of her own to support, she turned to what she knew would be a therapeutic activity - writing. Successful and controversial, her stories reflect an honest challenge of traditional gender roles and a questioning of social conventions. Why must a woman's existence depend upon her relationship with the men around her? Such questions were often the driving force behind many of her works.

It was not intended that The Story of an Hour become such a well-known example of early feminist literature in the U.S. Rather, Chopin meant to reflect in her writing her own struggles with identity and thoughts about marriage, family, love and sexuality. What she explores in The Story of an Hour is one woman's process of dealing with death, specifically, the death of her husband. What is surprising (and probably quite shocking to her early readers) is the character's realization of what his death means to her.

Synopsis

Louise Mallard is home with her sister Josephine when they hear of a terrible train accident. A friend comes to report to them that Louise's husband, Brently Mallard, has been killed in the wreck. Louise sobs with grief for a time before requesting to be alone and retreating to her room, where she tries to process the news. While it is clear that there is sadness, Louise feels another emotion building. She knows that at times her husband was a good, loving man. She knows that she will cry again for him. But what she soon recognizes in herself is an overwhelming sense of relief. She feels freedom and joy in the way that she will be able to make her own life going forward, led by her own desires and decisions. She looks forward to life alone.

After some time, and at the urging of Josephine, Louise opens the door to find comfort with her sister. Soon thereafter, someone is heard at the front door turning the lock, turning the handle, opening the door. It is Brently. He is alive and was nowhere near the train wreck when it occurred. Josephine screams. Louise collapses and dies of shock, which doctors later claim was a heart attack brought on by joy.

Analysis

The Story of an Hour is, among other things, a reflection of the idea that marriage is confining and limiting for women. It is Louise's reaction to her husband's death, her new freedom and renewed excitement about life that illustrate to the reader that her previous existence was one in which she had no freedom, no excitement, no interest in the uncertainties that lie ahead. There is also this sense that it was unacceptable for her to feel this way - to have an interest in driving her own future or to have any kind of joy in being alone, or living for oneself. This is a common thread that runs through many of Chopin's stories.

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