The Story of an Hour

Literary Analysis: The Story of an Hour
Student’s Name
Institutional Affiliation
Marriage is constraining, at least that is how Kate Chopin illustrates the institution in her
literary masterpiece, The Story of an Hour. According to Chopin, marriage is an archaic tradition
that seldom has to do with love and affection but compromises that constrain one from being
themselves. It is a life-long sentence that only a few are lucky to walk away from unscathed.
Louise, the protagonist in the story, was one of the very few to do so after her husband, Mr.
Brently Mallard, supposedly passes away. But does she walk away unscathed? The Story of an
Hour is a narration of the unfolding of Louise’s life after the passing of her husband and how she
still finds herself constrained even after the end of her marriage. This paper is a literary analysis
examining the stylistic features and themes employed in The Story of an Hour and how they
show the constraints of life and marriage.
Symbolism and allegory are undoubtedly the most dominant stylistic features used in the
story. Louise’s heart condition does not imply that she is only unhealthy but also, she does face
“heart issues” in her marriage. Today, a heart is colloquially used to show love. Chopin uses this
modern colloquialism to show the frail love that characterizes the Mallard marriage. Chopin uses
the heart condition to augment the troubles that Louise is facing with her “heart” in her
matrimonial life.
Death is also employed to symbolize the impending finality of life and marriage. The
heart condition has always constrained Louise from living her life fully as she is cognizant of her
death that is beckoning with her every waking. While death may have constrained Louise, it
ironically liberates her from her husband after it claims his life in a grisly train accident.
However, the liberation is short-lived as Louise succumbs to the heart condition thereby
constraining her from enjoying her life as a widow.
Thematically, time is also employed to emphasize the constraints that Louise is facing.
From the title of the story, we learn that the events of the story take place in an hour. Narrating a
life-long tale of events within an hour is constraining, but somehow Chopin manages to do so.
After receiving the news of her husband’s passing, a myriad of things rushes through Louise’s
mind yet she only has an hour to shape her life and charter her way forward. How does one deal
with the loss of a loved one and make plans for her future within an hour? That is constraining if
not impossible.
Irony is also used to build up the theme of constraint. A significant portion of the story is
a narration of how Louise anticipates her life will turn out now that her husband is gone.
Although sad at first, Louise becomes relieved with the thought of the great promise her life as a
widow will. However, this does not come to pass as Louise falls ill and the hope of an exciting
life is short-lived. On her deathbed, Louise learns that Brently was alive all along. The reader
would expect that Louise would be heartbroken by this piece of news but on the contrary, she is
overjoyed. The doctors say “she died of heart disease-of joy that kills,” joy, presumably from
hearing that her husband is alive (Chopin, 1864). All along, her happiness was constrained
within her marriage yet she thought it was without. The irony!
The choice of genre and title of the book are also constraining. Chopin opts to write
Louise’s ordeal as a short story yet it had enough material to suffice a novel. The short story
genre not only creates a sense of immediacy to a story but also has a constraining factor in its
narration, sometimes to about three pages. Just like Louise was constrained in her marriage so is
her story, a life-long endeavor for the pursuit of liberation and happiness, squeezed to fit in a
short story.
The “story” bit of the title is equally constraining. All through the novel, the reader
establishes that there two stories, i.e. Mrs. Mallard’s story and the narrator’s story. The two
stories are constrained in one book with each grappling for the attention of the reader. Similarly,
Louise’s life is split into two, i.e. her married life and the life she hopes to have now that she is
free of her husband. The two lives each grapple for the attention of Louise. Although Louise is
more attracted to the unmarried life, her matrimonial vows to Brently still have a sway on her
conscience, thus explaining her constraint. This is well depicted in her sigh of relief after
learning Mr. Mullard was alive.
In conclusion, Chopin employs symbolism and allegory, irony, death, the theme of time
and the title to show constraints in marriages. Her linear narration of Louise’s life is the epitome
of, in equal proportions, the shortcomings and beauty of marriage. While we may not be pleased
with where we are, we should not always be quick to discern that life is greener on the other side.
Chopin, K. (1864). The Story of an Hour. Vogue.

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