The Story of an Hour is set in the late nineteenth century in an American house. The story takes place over just one hour, as the story suggests. Chopin uses a variety of narrative techniques to add depth to her story, such as symbolism, foreshadowing, and point of view.
The Story of an Hour is written in third person narrative. The story works well in third person, especially as it begins in the viewpoint of one character and then moves onto another which turns out to be the protagonist. The Story of an Hour begins in the viewpoint of the narrator and not of a specific character, and then moves to the viewpoint of Mrs Mallard. If this story was written in first person narrative the effects of the beginning, and probably of the whole work, would be very different.
The Story of an Hour explore events that occur within the woman’s relationship with her husband, and her reaction to them. Mrs Mallard believes her husband to be dead. However, although she cries on hearing the news, the sadness soon turns to relief and happiness as she envisages the life she has ahead of her without him.
Interestingly, it is not until the sixteenth paragraph of The Story of an Hour that the author reveals the Christian name of the protagonist as Louise. Prior to that, we only know her as Mrs Mallard. It is possible that Chopin chose to do this to show that, before her husband’s death, Louise had only been a wife and had no real individuality or individual identity. When her husband died, or so she believed, she was free of the identity of marriage and was liberated to be her own person again. This is displayed through the introduction of her Christian name when her sister shouts, “Louise, open the door!” (Chopin, 1894).
Chopin has used symbolism as a literary technique, and has done so very effectively. The springtime mentioned in paragraph five represents the different and thrilling life that Mrs Mallard believes to lie ahead of her. Also, the patches of blue sky mentioned in paragraph six symbolise the arrival of her different, and more desirable, life. In the story, the various images act as symbols to the thoughts and feelings of the characters. In this way, the author’s chosen theme and tone of the story is emphasized further through the use of symbolism.
Chopin also uses foreshadowing as a literary technique. The opening sentence suggests that the protagonist’s heart problems will have a bearing on the course of the story: “Knowing that Mrs Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband's death” (Chopin, 1894). Foretelling is an effective technique in short stories as it avoids the reader feeling cheated by a ‘twist in the tale’ ending. Furthermore, the technique compliments the stories as it makes their endings more plausible.
The Story of an Hour is a well thought out and crafted short story. Chopin has used intelligent symbolism and also foretelling for the benefit of her readers. Chopin has a fluent and accessible style that is unique enough to recognise as hers and hers alone. This story is both successful and has survived the text of time, in that it is still being read and appreciated by people all over the world.
Chopin, K. (1894). The Story of an Hour. VCU. Retrieved from http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/webtexts/hour/
Clugston, W. Journey into Literature. Bridgepoint Education: San Diego.Seyersted, P. (1969). Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography. University of Oslo.