Discussion Questions for Kate Chopin’s “The Story of An Hour” (1894)
In the first paragraph of the story, Mrs Mallard is represented as a woman “afflicted with a heart trouble”. Comment on the dual meaning of her “heart trouble”.
What is the significance of the protagonist’s being addressed as “Mrs. Mallard” and mostly as “she”? When is her name revealed in the story? Why?
What does the story reveal about Mrs. Ballard’s social class? How?
What does the setting of the story signify?
What is the symbolic value of the storm image in the third paragraph?
Comment on the significance of “the open window” in the fourth paragraph.
Identify the imagery Chopin uses in the fifth and sixth paragraphs and discuss its symbolic value.
What is the reason for Mrs. Ballard’s “physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul”?
Why does Chopin describe her as someone who “sank, pressed down”? (paragraph 4)
How is Mrs. Mallard’s marriage to Brently Mallard portrayed in the story? What does Mr. Mallard’s death mean to Mrs. Mallard?
Study the description of Mrs. Mallard’s face in paragraph 8. How does it contribute to your understanding of the themes in the story?
Read the following quotation from the story: “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…” (paragraph 9). And discuss what “it” refers to, why Mrs. Mallard “was waiting for it, fearfully” and why it is “elusive to name”.
Read the following quotation from the story: “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.” (paragraph 10). And discuss what “this thing” refers to and why Mrs. Mallard is represented as “powerless” in the paragraph.
“She said it over and over under her breath: free! free! free!” Comment on the quotation.
What is the overall impact of the narrative voice on your perception of Mrs. Mallard?
Towards the end of the story, Mrs. Mallard walks like “a goddess of Victory”. Why?
What is the symbolic value of Mrs. Mallard’s (Louise’s) descending the stairs?
In the last paragraph of the story, the doctors say that the cause of Mrs Mallard’s death is “joy that kills”. What does this mean?
How would you explain the irony in the concluding paragraph of the story? Can you identify any other ironies in the story?
What do you think about the ending of the story? How would you conclude the story and why? Why do you think Kate
Chopin chooses to conclude her story through the doctor’s declaration of Mrs. Mallard’s death?
What is the significance of the title of the story? Why is Chopin’s story limited to what happens within an hour?
Would you call Chopin’s story a challenge against its time? Why? Why not?
Write an essay demonstrating how Kate Chopin’s “The Story of An Hour” (1894) can be connected to Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” (1859) and “The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex” (1871). [Useful sources: 1) Introduction: The Origin of Species / 2) “Darwin Said to Influence 19th-Century Writer’s Fiction” by Ellen K. Coughlin in The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 18, 1991 / 3) “Kate Chopin’s Quarrel with Darwin Before The Awakening.” by Bert Bender, Journal of American Studies 26 (Aug 1992): 185-204 ] [Useful links: BBC: Darwin / PBS: Darwin / PBS Video: Who was Charles Darwin?]
© Ali Nihat Eken, Istanbul, December 2008