ENGL109 critical essay

Grace Brennan
ENGL 109
Professor Mary
Critical Essay
The Elements of Fiction in Action in “The Story of an Hour”
If you didn’t know how to critically read a short story, you might think that “The
Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin was the tragic story of a woman with heart troubles
who died of happiness upon the shocking return of her husband whom she had thought
was dead. But you would be wrong. If you knew how to critically read a short story, you
would know that you cannot take words at face value. Chopin uses the elements of fiction
perfectly to portray heartbreak, freedom, and a powerful ending message for its readers.
“The Story of an Hour” is a short story about grief-stricken Mrs. Mallard and the
inner struggle and eventual triumph that she goes through when she receives word that
her husband was killed in a train accident. To show the initial depth of Mrs. Mallard’s
heartbreak, Chopin uses some well-placed imagery.
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” (Chopin 84).
Chopin uses terms like “wept at once” and “wild abandonment” to help readers create a
mental image of exactly how Mrs. Mallard was feeling. Imagery is very important in this
story not only to picture her emotions, but also to allow the readers to see the world how
Mrs. Mallard sees it.
One would think that a woman who has just lost her husband would see the world
as a very dark and lonely place. This is not the case of Mrs. Mallard. Although readers
believe that she is very sad, when she looks out the window she sees signs of life and
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
Grace Brennan
ENGL 109
Professor Mary
Critical Essay
countless sparrows were twittering in the eves. There were patches of blue
sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled one
above the other in the west facing her window (Chopin 84).
It’s intriguing that Chopin has Mrs. Mallard see an almost peaceful and relaxing scene
outside her window while she was just experiencing a great deal of sadness, but this helps
the readers to see that Mrs. Mallard’s mood is changing.
While the use of imagery is important to better explain the characters and the
scenery, it is the point of view of this story that lets readers dig deeper into the thoughts
and feelings of Mrs. Mallard. Because Chopin uses the third person limited omniscient
point of view, the readers are allowed to see that as the story progresses Mrs. Mallard
begins to develop a completely different reaction towards the news of the death of her
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 (Chopin 84).
The feeling that Mrs. Mallard begins to experience is freedom. Although she
knows that she should be feeling sad and lonely, she realizes that she wasn’t always
happy with her husband and that there are things that she would like to do for herself, just
because she feels like it. I think that she could be looking forward to maybe having a
career or traveling. She is just ecstatic that her life belongs to her and that she won’t have
to be a helpless housewife that cleans and cooks and waits for her husband to come home
every night.
If the perspective had been changed, the readers would be exposed to a very
different story. For example, if Chopin chose to tell the story from the perspective of her
husband, readers would have no concept of the emotional turmoil that she went through
over the false news. The story would focus on Mr. Mallard’s commute home on the train
and probably wouldn’t be very exciting at all. He would return home wanting to have
Grace Brennan
ENGL 109
Professor Mary
Critical Essay
dinner and go to sleep like a normal night but would be shocked to see his wife die
instantly upon his arrival. Because the story came from his perspective, readers would be
left confused and possibly just believe the doctors who determined that her cause of death
was a “heart disease—of a joy that kills” (Chopin 85). The story would be missing so
much depth and would definitely not be the same if told from this perspective. Points of
view have to be specifically chosen for each story to create the best stories for the
I think Chopin chose this point of view because it shows a side of the story that
readers don’t often think about. Nobody really takes a housewife’s feelings into
consideration because it was just assumed that they enjoyed doing the tasks required of
them. Chopin really caused me to think about Mrs. Mallard’s feelings and what I would
do if I was in her situation. By telling parts of the story from Mrs. Mallard’s point of
view, Chopin allows readers to get deep inside her thoughts to experience the emotional
turmoil that Mrs. Mallard went through.
One element of fiction that Chopin chose to change up for the readers was the
conflict of the story. In many stories the conflict is a really big problem involving other
people or events, but in “The Story of an Hour” Chopin bases the story on one conflict
that is entirely within the main character and one conflict that is instantaneous and results
in tragedy. Mrs. Mallard goes through some emotional stress throughout the entirety of
the story. In the beginning, she is devastated and is not sure what to do with her life next.
As she begins to dig deeper within herself she realizes that without a husband she will be
able to live for herself. When these emotions register within her she mutters under her
breath, “Free, Free, Free” (Chopin 84). There is one moment, however, where she
questions her feelings of joy. She remembers that she had loved him for awhile, but this
thought was dismissed and she says that sometimes she did not love him and now she
doesn’t have to live for anybody but herself. I think it was interesting that Chopin added
that brief moment of love because it shows that Mrs. Mallard is not a heartless woman
who is happy about her husband’s death. It also shows how conflicted Mrs. Mallard’s
thoughts are.
Grace Brennan
ENGL 109
Professor Mary
Critical Essay
The second conflict in this story occurs right after she has become elated to be
free to live her life and steps outside of the comfort of her bedroom. Mrs. Mallard walks
down the stairs triumphantly with her sister by her side and readers believe at this point
that she will be able to continue on to live a wonderful life. These predictions are
smashed immediately when Mr. Mallard opens the front door. This is where the story
gets tricky. Upon seeing him, Mrs. Mallard dies and the explanation for her death is never
truly explained. As stated earlier, the doctors determined that she died of joy at the return
of her husband. If readers had not done a close reading of the story up to this point, they
would most likely believe that diagnosis. Only readers that had closely read would
understand that the real cause of her death was devastation or shock that she would no
longer be free to live life as she pleases. By ending the story unclearly, Chopin allows to
readers to decide what they believe actually happened to Mrs. Mallard. This adds another
dimension to the story as a whole and may cause readers to read and re-read the story to
make sure that they understood it as well as they could.
Through the strategic use of several elements of fiction, Chopin created a story
that is easy to read but deep and thought provoking at the same time. It takes several
close readings to really understand that although Mrs. Mallard experiences a deep
heartbreak at first, she is able to push through and develop a great sense of freedom.
Chopin leaves the ending open so that the message really gets to the readers who put in
the extra work to read between the lines and strive to understand the powerful message
that she leaves for them.
Works Cited
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” Fiction: A Pocket Anthology. By R.S. Gwynn.
Seventh ed. N.p.: Pearson Education, 2014. 83-86. Print.