Enough with the Old Dead White Men: A Cheat-Sheet to Surviving Melissa Alter’s Presentation on “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin

Well, I was completely and totally going to read the story in its entirety, but I had other homework and the Oscars were on and Sparknotes crashed, so…

Scold, scold, scold. I considered writing this section in Comic Sans just to punish you appropriately, but that seems cruel, even for me. Alright, then. Here you go, disgusting human who didn’t read the story.

In “The Story of an Hour”, Richards receives a telegram notifying him of his friend Mr. Mallard’s death due to a railroad accident. Richards goes to the Mallards’ house along with Mrs. Mallard’s sister, Josephine, to break the news to Mrs. Mallard, who has heart problems.

Upon learning of her husband’s death, Mrs. Mallard weeps uncontrollably and shuts herself in her room away from Richards and Josephine. As Mrs. Mallard stares out the window, she sees signs of the oncoming spring and realizes that she finally feels free. At first, Mrs. Mallard tries to ignore this thought, but then she realizes that whatever love she had felt for Mr. Mallard is trivial in comparison to the autonomy she feels now that he is gone. Josephine calls through the door, worried for her sister’s health, but Mrs. Mallard dismisses this notion and steps out of her room, feeling stronger than ever.

Suddenly, the door to the house opens, revealing Mr. Mallard, who is perfectly hale and hearty and was far away from the accident. The occupants of the house are (understandably) shocked, and Mrs. Mallard dies from “the joy that kills”.

And I would’ve analyzed it, too, but I was studying for a Physics test…

Let’s kill two birds with one stone, shall we? Here’s how:

The chronic is the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Mallard, especially in relation to Mrs. Mallard’s conflicting feelings of love and confinement as a result of their marriage.

The acute is when the characters learn of Mr. Mallard’s “death”.

And that’s how you solve for tension. Mr. Landry would be so proud.

(This is all in Newtons, of course; remember to include units and draw those Free Body Diagrams.)

Dude, this story was worse than Twilight. Why the heck did you choose it?

First of all, ouch. That was just uncalled for.

Personally, I was kind of impressed by Chopin’s ability to pack so much into such a short story. The setting doesn’t change, and the entire tale is encompassed in such a short time span. I thought Chopin did a good job taking us into Mrs. Mallard’s mind and showing us her internal change. I loved that the reflection was after her husband’s death, as opposed to during their marriage, and just when we think that she’s free to be free (so to speak), her husband comes home. This is the first time we’re seeing the husband, but already we’re kind of disappointed by his arrival because we’re rooting for Mrs. Mallard. The last line just cinched the deal for me.

Lord of the Rings was on last night and I’ve decided to embrace my inner Hobbit-Thief. What can I steal from the story?

Well, I would recommend taking the “pro/con” format of the story. Mrs. Mallard goes back and forth between loving her husband and welcoming her newfound freedom. She feels guilty about feeling so relieved, but at the same time embraces the new direction her life seems to be taking. She continues this balancing act until she realizes that, even if she loved him, her freedom is more important. This internal conflict does an excellent job of characterizing Mrs. Mallard and makes the story more believable; if she felt no remorse, the story wouldn’t have had half the appeal. Additionally, it makes Mrs. Mallard’s realization that love is inferior to freedom ever the more impactful. The foreshadowing was also done really well. The first sentence of the story characterizes her as having heart troubles; and lo and behold, come the end of page three-ish, she “dies from a heart disease”. Coincidence? Me thinkith not.

Bringing back a character is tricky business, which is why Game of Thrones just leaves most of them dead (with a couple of exceptions, of course). However, I think that this story provides a nice format just ripe for the stealing. Mrs. Mallard’s clear relief at finally being able to take charge of her own life makes Mr. Mallard’s return ever the more stunning because 1) well, I don’t think any of us were expecting it, and 2) let’s face it, we’re rooting for Mrs. Mallard. We want her to be free and take charge of her own life, so we’re kind of against Mr. Mallard even though this is the first time we’re seeing him in the story. His return, though unexpected, is not completely unbelievable, and does a nice job of throwing us for a loop. Furthermore, we suspect that Mrs. Mallard will lose her freedom if Mr. Mallard returns, so if you’re trying to bias your readers against one of your characters before even meeting him, this is a nice way to do so. The point of view, which is extremely close to Mrs. Mallard, also automatically puts the reader on her side, while having a more distant perspective could change how we view Mrs. Mallard’s transformation. If we weren’t so close to her, we would most likely not be invested, and would probably sympathize more with Mr. Mallard than his wife.

Oh, uh, and while you’re testing your thieving powers, be a doll and pick me up the Mona Lisa, would you?

Alright, lovely discussions, so are we done he—

No. Sit down. It’s your turn to answer some questions.

I told you, I was busy reviewing Physics, I didn’t have time to study for this!

Consider it a pop quiz, then.

Please tell me it’s multiple choice.

  1. What is the actual cause of Mrs. Mallard’s death? Would she still have died if Mr. Mallard hadn’t come back?
  2. Were Mrs. Mallard’s thoughts about freedom just covering up her grief, or were they genuine? Consider: did she actually love him?
  3. What does Chopin say about the compatibility of freedom and love? Do you agree with her message? Let’s also think about the role of feminism in this piece, people.

…Umm, C?

 

Bonus:

Q: Why does Melissa keep presenting on stories where love is inferior to another force?

A: Love is not all you need.

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