There’s not much room in ‘The Story of an Hour’ to create a detailed setting or to introduce a litany of characters. However, Kate Chopin uses her limited characters and setting to tell a powerful story. Learn more about them when you read this lesson.
‘The Story of an Hour:’ A Brief Plot Summary
This exceedingly short story opens on Louise Mallard’s being tended to by Josephine and Richards; they are concerned for the state of her weak heart following the news of her husband’s death that Richards has recently delivered. After breaking into fit of tears and sobs, Louise composedly takes herself to her room.
Here, she loses herself in the prospects of a new life without a husband and eventually emerges from her room seemingly refreshed. Quite unexpectedly, though, Louise’s husband Brently then returns, and the shock is enough to stop her heart with ‘the joy that kills.’
Characters in ‘The Story of an Hour’
Let’s review the characters in the story, starting with Louise.Louise Mallard is the protagonist of Kate Chopin’s 1894 short story. It is noted early on that Louise is ‘afflicted with a heart trouble’ when friends must break the news to her of her husband’s death. Despite her condition and the nature of the news, Louise reacts to it immediately with a flood of grief. Her quick retreat to her room, though, is indicative of the repressiveness that Louise is accustomed to.
Briefly, the widowed Mrs. Mallard feels guilt over having experienced an indescribable joy at the freedom offered by her husband’s death. She is then faced with the complex mix of emotions of love and resentment elicited by thoughts of her husband Brently’s tenderness and absolute control over her life. In the end, Louise welcomes her newfound independence with open arms and takes on the new life of a self-possessed individual.Brently Mallard is Louise’s husband, a ‘railroad man’ presumably killed in a horrific accident. His wife remembers him as a kind and tender man who always treated her lovingly. Nevertheless, he is still representative of the traditional patriarch prevalent in the 1890s.
This would mean that, despite any redeeming qualities, he was yet an overbearing man who would need to be in control of every aspect of Louise’s life.Josephine is Louise’s sister, and like Brently, is a representation of traditional gender roles at the time. She is depicted as highly emotionally expressive, in contrast to her sister, whose repressive nature is at least an indication of self-control. As many women of the day would have been characterized, Josephine is given to exaggeration; for instance when she claims that Louise will become ill by secluding herself in her room, or when she lets out a piercing scream upon Brently’s unexpected return.Richards is a friend of Brently’s and in many ways his double. He appears to only have Louise’s best interests at heart when he waits to confirm news of Brently’s death, rushes to be the first to tell her in a gentle manner, or tries to shield her from seeing her ‘undead’ husband.
However, his actions can still be interpreted as patronizing affectation toward Louise and women in general.
Setting in ‘The Story of an Hour’
Not much is said in the way of setting for this exceedingly short story. We do know that the action takes place in the Mallard family home. This sparseness of setting, though, was chosen very deliberately by Chopin to express the story’s key theme: a longing for personal freedom.With the entire story and indeed Louise’s entire adult life being spent in this one location, Chopin is able to emphasize the extent of the protagonist’s captivity parading under the guise of wedded bliss.
Louise’s whole world is this house that she shares with a husband who directs her every move. This all changes, though, once Louise comes to the realization that she is now a free agent following the death of her ‘captor.’When Louise confines herself to her room after hearing the news of Brently’s death, the reader is presented with an even smaller metaphorical prison. It’s in this room, however, that Louise actually frees herself from the bonds of guilt and obligation and revels in her fresh independence. Louise’s prospects at personal freedom are symbolized by the room’s most detailed feature – an open window.
As she loses herself in the sights and sounds of spring (symbolizing new life) outside her window, Louise is able to take stock of her new circumstances and welcomes them. It’s then that she’s finally able to unlock the door that held her in, both literally and metaphorically.
Louise Mallard is the protagonist of Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour’ – an emotionally repressed woman who must deal with the untimely yet promising death of her husband, Brently Mallard, who is a traditional patriarchal figure of the 1890s. His friend Richards is quite similar: kind and considerate, yet considerably patronizing when it comes to Louise. The protagonist’s sister, Josephine, is also representative of traditional gender roles, being depicted as prone to exaggeration and emotional outbursts.
Readers aren’t given much in the way of setting in this short story but that is deliberate. The sparse setting serves as an illustration of Louise’s matrimonial imprisonment.