The Story of an Hour
by Kate Chopin
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.
It was her sister Josephine who told her,
in broken sentences, veiled hints that revealed in half concealing. Her
husband's friend Richards was there, too, near her. It was he who had been
in the newspaper office when intelligence of the railroad disaster was
received, with Brently Mallard's name leading the list of "killed." He
had only taken the time to assure himself of its truth by a second telegram,
and had hastened to forestall any less careful, less tender friend in bearing
the sad message.
She did not hear the story as many women have
heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance.
She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister's arms.
When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone.
She would have no one follow her.
There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable,
roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion
that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.
5 She could see in the
open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with
the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the
street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song
which some one was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows
were twittering in the eaves.
There were patches of blue sky showing here
and there through the clouds that had met and piled above the other in
the west facing her window. She sat with her head thrown back upon the
cushion of the chair quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her
throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues
to sob in its dreams.
She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose
lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength. But now there was
a dull stare in her eyes, whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on one of
those patches of blue sky. It was not a glance of reflection, but rather
indicated a suspension of intelligent thought.
There was something coming to her and she
was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too
subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching
toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air.
Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously.
She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess
her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will -- as powerless
as her two white slender hands would have been.
10 When she abandoned
herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said
it over and over under her breath: "Free, free, free!" The vacant stare
and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed
keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and
relaxed every inch of her body.
She did not stop to ask if it were not a monstrous
joy that held her. A clear and exalted perception enabled her to dismiss
the suggestion as trivial.
She knew that she would weep again when she
saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked
save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that
bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her
absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome.
There would be no one to live for her during
those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful
will bending her in that blind persistence with which men and women believe
they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow creature. A kind
intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she
looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.
And yet she had loved him -- sometimes. Often
she had not. What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery,
count for in face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly
recognized as the strongest impulse of her being.
15 "Free! Body and soul
free!" she kept whispering.
Josephine was kneeling before the closed door
with her lips to the keyhole, imploring for admission. "Louise, open the
door! I beg; open the door -- you will make yourself ill. What are you
doing, Louise? For heaven's sake open the door."
"Go away. I am not making myself ill." No;
she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window.
Her fancy was running riot along those days
ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that
would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long.
It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be
She arose at length and opened the door to
her sister's importunities. There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and
she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She clasped
her sister's waist, and together they descended the stairs. Richards stood
waiting for them at the bottom.
20 Some one was opening
the front door with a latchkey. It was Brently Mallard who entered, a little
travel-stained, composedly carrying his gripsack and umbrella. He had been
far from the scene of accident, and did not even know there had been one.
He stood amazed at Josephine's piercing cry; at Richards' quick motion
to screen him from the view of his wife.
But Richards was too late.
When the doctors came they said she had died
of heart disease -- of joy that kills.
1. What is the primary conflictin the story?
2. What aspects of the setting are important to this story?
3. Explain two symbols in the story.
4. In what way is the story ironic?
5. What is the theme of the story? Why?