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Explanations with The Six Elements of a Short Story

The Six Elements of a Short Story
(Adapted from Reading Across the Disciplines by Kathleen T. McWhorter)
Related with your response in discussion forum, look for these elements as you read. These
elements are also the ones that you have to consider in reading short stories in general.
The plot is the basic story line, the sequence of events as they occur in the work, focuses on
conflict, and often follows a predictable structure. The plot frequently begins by setting the
scene, introducing the main characters, and providing the background information needed to
follow the story. Next, there is often a complication or problem that arises. Suspense builds
as the problem or conflict unfolds. Near the end of the story, events reach a climax- the point
at which the resolution of the conflict will be decided. A conclusion quickly follows as the story
The plot of “The Story of an Hour” involves a surprise ending: Mrs. Mallard learns that her
husband has been killed in a railroad disaster. She ponders his death and relishes the freedom
it will bring. At the end of the story, when Mrs. Mallard discovers that her husband is not dead
after all, she suffers a heart attack and dies.
The setting is the time, place, and circumstances under which the action occurs. The setting
provides the mood or atmosphere in which the characters interact. The setting of “The Story
of an Hour” is the Mallards’ home and takes place during the course of one hour.
Characters are the actors in a narrative story. They reveal themselves by what they say-the
dialogue-and by their actions, appearance, thoughts, and feelings. The narrator, or person
who tells the story, may also comment on or reveal information about the characters. As you
read, analyse the characters’ traits and motives. Also analyse their personalities and watch
for character changes. Study how the characters relate to one another.
In “The Story of an Hour”, the main character is Mrs. Mallard; her thoughts and actions after
learning of her husband’s supposed death are the crux of the story.
Point of View
The point of view refers to the way the story is presented or the person from whose
perspectives the story is told. Often, the story is not told from the narrator’s perspective. The
story may be told from the perspective of one of the characters, or that of an unknown
“The Story of an Hour” is told by a third-person narrator who is knowledgeable and
understand the characters’ actions and motives but is not part of the action. In the story’s last
line, the narrator tells us that doctors assumed Mrs. Mallard died of “joy that kills.”
The tone or mood of a story reflects the author’s attitude. Tone suggests feelings. The
author’s feelings are not necessarily those of the characters or narrator. Instead, it is through
the narrator’s description of the characters and their actions that we infer tone.
In the “Story of an Hour”, the tone might be described as serious. Serious events occur that
dramatically affect Mrs. Mallard’s life. The story also has an element of surprise and irony.
We are surprised to learn that Mr. Mallard is not dead after all, and it is ironic, or the opposite
of what we expect, to learn than Mrs. Mallard dies “of joy that kills.”
The theme of the story is its meaning or message-its main idea or main point. Themes are
often large, universal ideas dealing with life and death, human values, or existence. To
establish the theme, ask yourself, “What is the author trying to say about life by telling the
One theme of “The Story of an Hour” is freedom. Mrs.Mallard experiences a sense of freedom
upon learning of her husband’s supposed death. She sees “a long procession of years to come
that would belong to her absolutely.” There is also a theme of rebirth, suggested by
references to springtime; her life without her husband was just beginning. The author also
may be commenting on the restrictive or repressive nature of marriage during the time the
story was written. After Mr. Mallard’s death, “There would be no powerful will bending
hers…” Mrs. Mallard, after all, dies not from losing her husband but from the thought of losing
her newly found freedom.
If you are having difficulty stating the theme, try the following suggestions:
1. Study the title. Now that you have read the story, does it take on any new meanings?
2. Analyze the main characters. Do they change? If so, how and in reaction to what?
3. Look for broad general statements. What do the characters, or the narrator say about life
or the problems they face?
4. Look for symbols, figurative expressions, meaningful names (example: Mrs. Good-hear), or
objects that hint at larger ideas.