At first, you may not believe that ‘The Story of an Hour’ was worth writing; you won’t find great action, huge explosions or collapsing buildings. The story is literally the description of how Mrs Mallard spends the hour after hearing of her husband’s death. This may not sound exciting or interesting, but you’d be surprised. In just over 1,000 words, Chopin is able to perfectly address and question a variety of themes.
Why bother to read a story about a grieving widow? Most would be surprised that this story does not follow the usual expectations that you would have when deciding to read it. This might not be apparent when first reading the text, but the more you delve into it, the more you are able to find. Chopin employs the age-old technique of using setting to describe mood, and from this we can see that Mrs Mallard is clearly not taking the news of her husband’s death as we would expect. For example, Mrs Mallard notes the tops of trees “that were all aquiver with spring life”, which as a metaphor could indicate the fresh new life that the woman begins to anticipate now that she is free of her husband. A setting so incongruous with what the reader would expect is what particularly appeals to me about this text; it is cleverly and subtly done, but in a way that is able to break literary boundaries and provoke the reader.
Whilst themes such as selfhood and self-fulfillment can be found in ‘The Story of an Hour’, perhaps the most important subtext is women’s liberation. Living at a time when women’s liberation was a largely unsuccessful movement, Chopin was able to question the oppression of woman by their dominating husbands. Many will be surprised when reading that Mrs Mallard feels freed of a burden when her husband dies, but the story actually helps Chopin to be a pioneering author of her time and a precursor to modern feminist writers. I like lines such as “there would be no-one to live for her during those coming years”, where “her” is particularly important word, as its inclusion changes the whole meaning of a very traditional sentence. Instead, it reads so that Mrs Mallard is viewed in her own right and realised as being able to continue in life as her own person, without the need of a man to validate her.
‘The Story of an Hour’ is a perfect read for those searching for something easily understandable but simultaneously provoking. Despite being written well over a century ago, this story addresses important themes that are still applicable in modern day life.