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The Story of an Hour novel by Kate Chopin, recognized as a masterpiece of short fiction, reflects the complicated self-discovery mechanisms of a woman. Mrs. Mallard, a central character of the story, hears about the death of her husband who was riding on a train. However, the first reaction of grief is replaced by a strange feeling that she initially cannot understand. Unexpectedly, she feels a sense of freedom and happiness in anticipation of a life free from her husband’s despotism. In seeking to understand the author’s idea and the themes presented in the story, this paper will focus on such literary elements as setting, narrator’s point of view, and tone resulting in a concise discussion.
The first literary element under analysis is the setting. The story takes place within one hour, primarily in the Mallards’ house, and nobody enters or leaves the house except Mr. Mallard. This creates a sense of limitation and restraint. Chopin mentions “a comfortable, roomy armchair,” yet the reader has no information concerning the color or size of it (1). Likewise, the setting provides no details about wallpaper or curtains. The lack of precise descriptions makes the atmosphere out-of-body promoting tension and close settlement of the situation.
At the same time, the reader understands that Mrs. Mallard feels quite comfortable in her house, as well as her sister Josephine and friend Richard. This probably means that she is frightened by the outside world.
It is also important to point out that she goes into her room and locks the door after the news is received. The author describes the beautiful landscape outside the window, emphasizing that nature reappears to a new life—to spring. Spring here is the symbol of free life, renovation, and hope. It reflects the main character’s inner world, her emotions, and feelings after she grasps her ideas. Speaking more precisely, the renovation of the soul and the renovation of nature go together in stressing the significance of the change. Chopin uses a circular narrative style to set the integrity of the story. In other words, the author begins and ends the story with Mrs. Mallard’s heart trouble.
I noticed that Josephine, worried about Mrs. Mallard, tries to get her sister out of the room. However, Mrs. Mallard comes out ready for her suddenly changed life. The setting of the story includes two completely different versions of her destiny, namely the free one and the old one, where the loss of freedom becomes the reason for her death. However, it might seem that “the joy that kills” causes her death. In this connection, it seems necessary to provide some background information concerning the characters’ epoch (Chopin 1).
It was a time in American society during the second half of the nineteenth century. In that patriarchal society, wherein women were deprived of a voice, their only opportunity was to express themselves in a non-verbal way. Similarly, it is one of the most important ways to display the state of Mrs. Mallard’s mind. She expresses herself without words. She is not able to say anything but dies under the pressure of the loss of newfound freedom.
The second element that needs to be discussed is the narrator’s point of view. The narrator takes the form of the omniscient third person; that means that he is all-seeing and all-knowing. If the story were written in the first-person narrative, the reader would consider the situation differently. The use of the narrator’s point of view shows Mrs. Mallard in a more sympathetic and kind light, as she remembers her husband’s “tender hands” (Chopin 1). Simultaneously, she thinks about bitter moments in her marriage.
It seems that, in describing such ambiguous feelings, the narrator makes excuses for the main character’s behavior. Again, if it were in the first-person narrative, the reader could think that Mrs. Mallard is selfish and does not love her husband. It is clear from these observations that Mrs. Mallard is a complicated character who discovers her hidden desires. Learning that her husband’s death led to freedom and joy becomes a surprise for her.
As it was stated before, Chopin uses the third-person narrator to explore the complexity of the female character. Moreover, it provides extensive background information in introducing the reader to the secondary characters, namely Josephine and Richard. They confirm the fact that Mrs. Mallard is not alone, and has relatives and friends who also reflect her connection with society and the wish to become a free part of it. In general, the narrator does not condemn or protect this woman. It seems that the author wants to explain how complicated her life is, and offer readers some food for thought.
Finally, the third element contributing to understanding the theme is the tone of the narration. The ambivalent atmosphere created by the dramatic tone is the key to understanding the central character. It goes without saying that other characters are sure that her death is from a sudden double shock. Since the readers know more about the situation, for example, that she experienced “a monstrous joy,” they might guess the actual reason for her death (Chopin 1). Therefore, to evoke a definite emotional response in readers, the author uses dramatic and in some ways ironic tone to show the tragic ending of Mrs. Mallard’s life and the story in general.
The climax of the story is the sudden return of the “deceased” Mr. Mallard, at which time the triumphant and victorious Louise unexpectedly dies. Overall, in the text, there is an ironic tone associated with sympathy, caution, emotion, and anxious triumph at the same time. Obviously, the author does not remove the responsibility of the husband, as his wife was unhappy in the marriage. The last words of the author sound ominously and malignantly like retribution and warning.
Such an ambiguous tone in the story confirms the outlook of Chopin, merging the desire to poeticize the woman’s spiritual independence and the ironic awareness of the initial failure of this attempt. The story ends with the purposefully ironic tone as well, through which the reader perceives that Mrs. Mallards’ heart trouble is much more of a metaphor and emotional state than a physical condition.
In conclusion, one can say that the novel The Story of an Hour by Chopin illustrates the complex inner feelings of Mrs. Mallard. In the end, the woman dies from an intolerable contradiction. Based on such literary elements as setting, narrator’s point of view, and tone, the paper discusses the meaning of the novel. The whole story is a wonderful example of the author’s consistency in the realization of her idea, as the major function of all the elements is the same—to achieve a complicated, dramatic effect. As a result, it was stated that Chopin wants to show the female’s conflicting emotions that reveal her wish for independence from her husband.
Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour. n.d. Web.