Originally entitled “The Dream of an Hour” when it was first published in Vogue (December 1894), “The Story of an Hour” has since become one of Kate Chopin’s most frequently anthologized stories. Among her shortest and most daring works, “Story” examines issues of feminism, namely, a woman’s dissatisfaction in a conventional marriage and her desire for independence. It also features Chopin’s characteristic irony and ambiguity.
The story begins with Louise Mallard’s being told about her husband’s presumed death in a train accident. Louise initially weeps with wild abandon, then retires alone to her upstairs bedroom. As she sits facing the open window, observing the new spring life outside, she realizes with a “clear and exalted perception” that she is now free of her husband’s “powerful will bending hers” (353). She becomes delirious with the prospect that she can now live for herself and prays that her life may be long. Her newfound independence is short-lived, however. In a surprise ending, her husband walks through the front door, and Louise suffers a heart attack and dies. Her death may be considered a tragic defeat or a pyrrhic victory for a woman who would rather die than lose that “possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being” (353). The doctors ironically attribute her death to the “joy that kills” (354).
Chopin, Kate. The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Edited by Per Seyersted. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969.
Koloski, Bernard. Kate Chopin: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1996.
Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969.
Toth, Emily. Kate Chopin. New York: Morrow, 1990