The action in Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour takes place in the Mallards’ house, were learning about her husband’s death, Mrs. Mallard experiences freedom and dies when she sees him alive within an hour. The setting of this story is symbolic, and it is reflected in nature and home descriptions. Not only the weather changes but also the attention that the author pays to the main character’s room is representative of her inner state. The symbolism of the setting is used in this story as a means of clarifying Mrs. Mallard’s joy and disappointment, which reflect the complicated position of women in the 19th century.
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Spring is the period of the year that is chosen by Chopin for The Story of an Hour, which symbolizes the beginning of a new life. When Mrs. Mallard hears about the death of her husband, it seems that she is shocked, yet in her room, she thinks that she is free. Since women of that time were highly dependent on their husbands or other male relatives, the status of a widowed woman is perceived by Mrs. Mallard as rebirth. Although Mr. Mallard is defined as a kind man, it is stated that “the vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes” (par. 10). Mrs. Mallard feels that spring would allow her to start a new life only for herself, without being obliged to answer to anyone.
The change in the weather within the story is another symbolic method applied by Chopin to show her character’s feelings. In the beginning, the readers observe rainy and cold weather that indicates the onset of something negative, such as the news about death. It also points to the unhappiness and dependence of Mrs. Mallard on her husband, which seemed to be endless. However, with the realization of her freedom, she takes “the delicious breath of rain was in the air”, and the day becomes sunny (par. 5).
One may suggest that the sun is a sign of the coming improvements, and the weather changes as if a hint that life would be much better. It should be emphasized that Mrs. Mallard is definitely upset by the news, yet she is also happy to understand that she can live for her pleasure. The sun and fresh air are regarded as an elixir of life, which helps her to figure out her new position.
The house in general and Mrs. Mallard’s room compose the third setting element, which symbolizes her life. There are common words that are used to describe the house, such as staircases, windows, doors, and locks. At the same time, her room has an “open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair”, and it can be considered as a safe place unlike the rest of the house (par. 4). The symbolism is associated with the fact that other people living in the same house cannot bother her since she locked the door. Her room is a private place, where she can think about her life and realize the changes. Being locked as if a bird in a cage, Mrs. Mallard seems to fly out, yet she ironically dies when discovering that her husband is alive.
To conclude, symbolism plays an important role in Chopin’s The Story of an Hour, serving as the story background and explanation of Mrs. Mallard’s thoughts and behavior. Spring represents the beginning of a new life, while the change of the weather from rain to sun points to significant improvement. Attention is also placed on the house and Mrs. Mallard’s room, which indicates her dependent position. Thus, the symbolism of the setting helps readers to better understand the author’s messages and the main character’s inner world.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” VCU. Web.
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