“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin

In Kate Chopin’s short piece, “The Story of an Hour”, the readers witness a particular situation play out. A woman hears about her husband’s death and is subsequently shocked to discover that he is, in fact, alive. Chopin’s work tells a nuanced story through a minimal number of words, using expectations, social conventions, and conditioning to its advantage. The author utilizes effective and specific language to increase engagement and invest her audience into the events. The lead-up to the main events and the backstory provided in the beginning set the tone for the first half of the story. The presentation of the backstory purposely sets the incorrect expectations for the audience to increase the surprise readers will experience in the second half of the story.

Mrs. Mallard is informed about the death of her husband due to an unfortunate train incident. The initial exposition piece lets the audience know of the precautions the woman’s sister Josephine and her husband’s friend took in informing her about the events. The main purpose of this kind of setup is to instill a particular mood into the reader, making them unprepared for the twist in the second part of the story.

Josephine’s efforts to tell the news in the calmest and most gentle manner, as well as Mrs. Mallard’s heart trouble predispose the audience to feel that the widow would be distraught about her husband’s passing. This assessment is further supported by Mrs. Mallard’s initial reaction, i.e. her nervous breakdown. Her actions are described as “She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms” (Chopin 1). The conditioning allows the story to subvert expectations by revealing that the woman is happy to know Mr. Mallard is dead. The backstory also explains the ending of the piece. Having learned that Mrs. Mallard is afflicted with a heart condition makes her surprising death more plausible.

Work Cited

Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1894.

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