Kate Chopin's short piece "The Story of an Hour" is about a sickly wife who briefly believes her husband is dead and imagines a whole new life of freedom for herself. And then….well, we're not going to spoil the ending for you here.
Chopin's stories have been read more and more over the years – and this piece is no exception – although her most famous work, The Awakening, remains the standard against which her other works are measured. Yet, contemporary audiences would have read "The Story of an Hour," published in Vogue magazine in1894 (source), a full five years before they would've gotten their hands on The Awakening.
Looking back, it's pretty interesting to think about Chopin's works appearing in Vogue. Here's what it said about Chopin:
"MRS. KATE CHOPIN—A beautiful woman, whose portrait fails to convey a tithe of the charm of her expressively lovely face, has been an honored contributor to Vogue almost from its first number. . . . Mrs. Chopin is daring in her choice of themes, but exquisitely refined in the treatment of them, and her literary style is a model of terse and finished diction." (source)
Can you imagine Chopin's story being published in Vogue magazine today? The Vogue Shmoop's familiar with has stuff like André Leon Talley's ruminations about current Paris fashions, or articles about what Gwyneth Paltrow likes to cook. No offense to Vogue, but we don't think it's publishing the great short stories of our own time any more. Yet in 1894, it actually was. Which we think is kind of cool.
Ever visited Disneyland with your family? Let's take it as a given that you love your family, whatever their flaws, and find Disneyland exciting. But by the end of a day there, you're not so sure. Your parents won't let you ride on Space Mountain because it's too dangerous, your little brother just wants to keep going through the Haunted Mansion, and your older sister only wants to scope out the hot guys working at the soda fountain. Meanwhile, your wants and needs get lost in the shuffle. Maybe you start fantasizing about getting lost or separated from the rest, just for a couple hours, so you can check out the Indiana Jones ride, or the French Quarter, on your own time.
Well, Mrs. Mallard's marriage is kind of like that family trip to Disneyland – she's lost in the shuffle. She's lost herself. That's why, even in the midst of her grief over her husband's death, she can't stop thinking about the potential such a sad event has to change her life in a positive way. It's not even the idea that her husband was mean to her, because he sounds nice; it's the concept that being tied to another person, no matter how great or awful he is, keeps you from being yourself.
So what are we supposed to think? Does "The Story of an Hour" suggest that it's impossible to be tied down, or that we can't really be ourselves for long? Getting back to Disneyland – sure, it's awesome to go on the rides you choose, in the order you decide. But if you're not attached to anyone, there's nobody to share your experience with. So what's more important, attachment or freedom? Is it ever possible to have both?
Kate Chopin on PBS
Explore the mini-site companion to the PBS piece "Kate Chopin: A Re-Awakening."
Find a thorough bibliography for this story and Chopin's work here.
Everything you want to know about Chopin and her work.
"The Story of an Hour," the Play
Gerald P. Murphy's short version.
Kate Chopin: A Re-Awakening
This PBS program discusses Chopin's life and works.
An amateur audio book, free from LibriVox.
Artist Gabrielle Bell made a graphic novel inspired by "The Story of an Hour." You can see one of the panels here.