The Story of an Hour: Theme & Symbolism

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

Though Kate Chopin's 'The Story of an Hour' can be read in a short amount of time, it's still thematically rich and full of symbolism. Keep reading to learn more about this short story's liberating theme and the symbols that represent it in this lesson!

Theme in 'The Story of an Hour'

'The Story of an Hour' is a story that was written by Kate Chopin in 1894. During this time, America had only recently abolished slavery, and the 19th Amendment wouldn't grant women the right to vote until 1920. It makes sense, then, that freedom would be of great concern to Chopin, especially considering she is thought to be one of the earliest forerunners of modern feminism.

Louise Mallard, the protagonist in 'The Story of an Hour', is a typical woman of the 1890s who enjoys little in the way of personal freedom. Once she learns of her husband Brently's death in a railroad accident, however, she quickly begins to realize the new potential for her own self-assertion. In life, Brently had effectively possessed Louise - he had final say in practically any direction of her life. With him gone, Louise senses a new thing…approaching to possess her, and with her quiet repetitive chant of the word 'free,' the reader soon learns just what that thing is.

By asserting and reveling in her newfound independence, Louise becomes a woman who is self-possessed rather than governed by the 'powerful will' of her husband. Nevertheless, she feels a moment of guilt for having experienced so much joy at Brently's passing. This is quickly dismissed, though, when she realizes that she no longer needs to dread that her own life might be long. At the moment, this is because she's now a widow who must take direction from no one else. However, in the end, she has no cause to dread the prospect of a long life since it is squashed by her own untimely (but welcomed) death brought on by the shock of Brently's 'miraculous' return.

Symbolism in 'The Story of an Hour'

Louise's self-confinement to her room following the news of Brently's death is actually a metaphor for the course of her life so far. While locked away, she comes to realize that, by not asserting her own will, she has allowed her own subjugation to take place. Nonetheless, having now experienced this revelation, Louise is able to take pleasure (and pride) in declaring her personal independence.

Openness is, ironically, a key element while Louise is shut in her room. Through her open window, she is able to look out onto the open square that harbors all manner of symbols of new life: spring blossoms, recent rain, and the noises of people selling and singing, along with 'countless sparrows.' This 'openness,' then, is really itself a symbol of the boundless possibilities Louise can experience with her newfound independence.

Death and rebirth are subtly represented by Louise's dull stare fixated on blue sky, symbolic of her new-coming personal prospects. Chopin notes that this is not a pensive glance but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought, meaning death. Louise has ceased to be the repressed female subservient to the will of her husband and is reborn as a self-affirmed individual.

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