From “The Story of an Hour”: “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.”
Read the story online or in a PDF
Time and place
When the story was written and published
Questions and answers
What scholars say
A graphic short story
Articles and book chapters about the story
Books that discuss the story
You can read the story in our accurate online text. Or you can read it and download it in our accurate, printable, and searchable PDF file. Both texts are based on The Complete Works of Kate Chopin, edited by Per Seyersted (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969, 2006). If you’re citing a passage from this or other Kate Chopin stories for research purposes, it’s a good idea to check your citation against one of these printed texts. That’s especially important with “The Story of an Hour,” because many online versions of the story–and some published versions–contain a textural error (a missing word) that could cause you to misunderstand what Kate Chopin is saying.
In the middle of the story, many online versions’ sentence reads, “There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself.” Compare that with Kate Chopin’s sentence as it appears in our accurate online text or in our PDF: “There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself.” If you don’t see why the word matters, check our questions and answers below.
- Louise Mallard
- Brently Mallard: husband of Louise
- Josephine: sister of Louise
- Richards; friend of Brently Mallard
The story is set in the late nineteenth century in the home of Louise Mallard. More about the location is not specified.
Readers and scholars often focus on the idea of freedom in “The Story of an Hour,” on selfhood, self-fulfillment, the meaning of love, or what Chopin calls the “possession of self-assertion.” There are further details in the questions and answers below. And you can read about finding themes in Kate Chopin’s stories and novels on the Themes page of this site.
It was written on April 19, 1894, and first published in Vogue on December 6, 1894, under the title “The Dream of an Hour.” It was reprinted in St. Louis Life on January 5, 1895.
You can find complete composition dates and publication dates for Chopin’s works on pages 1003 to 1032 of The Complete Works of Kate Chopin, edited by Per Seyersted (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969, 2006).
Q: I don’t understand what you mean about what happens if “her” is left out of the sentence at the top of the page, “There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself.” How does including “her” change the meaning of the sentence?
A: Without “her,” the sentence means that Louise Mallard has been living for her husband, that he has been the center of her life, that he has been her reason for living. With “her,” the sentence means that Brently Mallard has been controlling his wife’s life, that his “powerful will [has been] bending hers” to his, has been bending what she wants to what he wants, has been forcing her to live the way he wants her to live, to do what he wants her to do.
That’s an important distinction. “Her” in the sentence explains what Mrs. Mallard means by her newly recognized “possession of self-assertion,” what she means by whispering, “Free! Body and soul free!”
Q: Is it true that this is Kate Chopin’s most popular story?
A: It may be true. The story certainly appears in a great many anthologies these days. From 1929 to about 1970, “Désirée’s Baby” was the best known of Chopin’s works, praised by critics and often reprinted. When the Complete Works of Kate Chopin was published in 1969, “The Storm”–unknown until that time–became famous almost over night, as did “The Story of an Hour.” Today “Désirée’s Baby,” “The Story of an Hour,” and “The Storm” are heavily discussed by scholars and regularly read in university and secondary school classes around the world, although a few other stories–“A Respectable Woman,” “Lilacs,” “A Pair of Silk Stockings,” “Athénaïse,” and “At the ‘Cadian Ball,” among them–are also frequently read.
Q: Why is the story so powerful? What do readers find in it?
A: In 1975 Susan Cahill called the story “one of feminism’s sacred texts,” and many readers have concluded that Kate Chopin’s sensitivity to what it sometimes feels like to be a woman is on prominent display in this work–as it is in The Awakening. Chopin’s often-celebrated yearning for freedom is also on display here–as is her sense of ambiguity and her complex way of seeing life. It’s typical of her to note that it is both “men and women” who “believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.”
Q: Is the story suggesting that Louise Mallard did not love her husband?
A: Mary Papke writes that it is suggesting that “Mrs. Mallard will grieve for the husband who had loved her, but Louise will eventually revel in the ‘monstrous joy’ of self-fulfillment, beyond ideological strictures and the repressive effects of love.”
Q: Yet doesn’t the story say that Louise “had loved him–sometimes”?
A: Yes, but it also says, “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!” Bert Bender argues that Louise “comes to question the meaning of love,” that she is “puzzled” by “the meaninglessness of love in natural history.”
And Barbara Ewell adds that “love has been, for Louise and others, the primary purpose of life. But through her new perspective, she comprehends that ‘love, the unsolved mystery’ counts for very little. . . . As Chopin often insists, love is not a substitute for selfhood; indeed, selfhood is love’s precondition.”
Q:You say that the story was first published under the title, “The Dream of an Hour.” Who changed that title and why?
A: We don’t know. It’s true that the story appeared in Vogue in 1894 as “The Dream of an Hour.” As late as 1962 critic Edmund Wilson continued to refer to it under that title. But in 1969 it was called “The Story of an Hour” in the Complete Works of Kate Chopin. We have discovered no explanation for the change.
Q: So what does the present title mean?
A: The action of the story seems to play out in about an hour’s time.
Q: I’ve read on a website that readers were scandalized by the story when it was published. Why?
A: It’s a mystery to us how the authors of that website could possibly know that readers in the 1890s were, in fact, scandalized by the story. Book reviewers were certainly upset by Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening in 1899. There are published reviews showing that. There is, however–so far as we can tell–no printed evidence that the “The Story of an Hour” set off a scandal among readers.
Nevertheless, it is true that, as Emily Toth says in Unveiling Kate Chopin, “Kate Chopin had to disguise reality. She had to have her heroine die. A story in which an unhappy wife is suddenly widowed, becomes rich, and lives happily ever after . . . would have been much too radical, far too threatening in the 1890s. There were limits to what editors would publish, and what audiences would accept.”
Q: I’m studying literature in France and am looking for a film adaptation of “The Story of an Hour.” Does one exist?
A: Professor Thomas Bonner (Xavier University of Louisiana) offers this response:
The Joy That Kills was produced by Cypress Productions in 1984 and released the following year as part of the Public Broadcast System’s American Playhouse series. Tina Rathborne (sometimes spelled Rathbone or Rathbourne) directed; she and Nancy Dyer wrote the script. Set in New Orleans in the 1870s, the film does not follow the almost existential lack of a specific setting and time in “The Story of an Hour.” It leans toward the New Orleans settings of The Awakening. It was filmed in one of the historic houses in the French Quarter of New Orleans with Ann Masson being the film’s art director. I always felt that the story, if it has a specific setting, is closer to the St. Louis area as it evokes Chopin’s loss of her father in a train wreck and that the film helped explicate The Awakening more than the story.
And Professor Emily Toth (Louisiana State University) adds that “there’s at least one other film of ‘The Story of an Hour,’ by Ishtar Films.”
Per Seyersted writes, “This astonishing story strongly indicates that the sudden success which [the publication in 1894 of] Bayou Folk brought Kate Chopin was of crucial importance in the author’s own self-fulfillment. It gave her a certain release from what she evidently felt as repression or frustration, thereby freeing forces that had lain dormant in her. It is highly significant that she wrote ‘The Story of an Hour,’ an extreme example of the theme of self-assertion, at the exact moment when the first reviews of the book had both satisfied and increased her secret ambitions.”
Several critics have noted that Kate Chopin was influencd by the short stories of Guy de Maupassant. Christopher Benfey writes that “the sting in the ending (compounding the first surprise of the window’s joy) and the deft, painterly detail–her window view could be Monet’s or Morisot’s–show how well Chopin had learned the lessons of Maupassant, several of whose stories she translated. She was a life-long connoisseur of rickety marriages, and all her wisdom is on display in her piercing analysis of this thoroughly average one.”
A Graphic Short Story Based on “The Story of an Hour”
Cartoonist Gabrielle Bell’s newest book is called Cecil and Jordan in New York (Drawn and Quarterly, 2009). It’s a collection of short works.
Here is the first page of a story called “One Afternoon”:
The New York Times says Cecil and Jordan in New York “is narrated by a young woman who’s just moved to the city with her filmmaker boyfriend; it’s a clear-cut tale of impecunious 20-something artists until halfway through, when the narrator abruptly transforms herself into a chair (click on “Look Inside” the book) gets taken home by someone who finds her on the sidewalk and decides that her old life won’t miss her. The engine of these mercilessly observed stories is squirminess: emotional awkwardness so intense that it can erupt into magic or just knot itself into scars.”
For students and scholars
The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Edited by Per Seyersted. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969, 2006.
A Vocation and a Voice. Edited by Emily Toth. New York: Penguin, 1991.
Kate Chopin: Complete Novels and Stories. Edited by Sandra Gilbert. New York: Library of America, 2002.
Some of the articles listed here may be available on line through university or public libraries.
Mayer, Gary H. “A Matter of Behavior: A Semantic Analysis of Five Kate Chopin Stories.” ETC.: A Review of General Semantics 67.1 (2010): 94-104.
Shen, Dan. “Wen Xue Ren Zhi: Ju Ti Yu Jing Yu Gui Yue Xing Yu Jing.” [in Chinese] Foreign Literature Studies/Wai Guo Wen Xue Yan Jiu 32.5 (2010): 122–8.
Jamil, S. Selina. “Emotions in ‘The Story of an Hour’.” Explicator 67.3 (2009): 215-220.
Wan, Xuemei. “Kate Chopin’s View on Death and Freedom in The Story of an Hour.” English Language Teaching 2.4 (2009): 167-170.
Emmert, Scott D. “Naturalism and the Short Story Form in Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour’.” Scribbling Women & the Short Story Form: Approaches by American & British Women Writers. 74-85. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2008.
Chen, Hui and Chang Wei. “Meng Jing Shi Fen De Fen Ceng Gou Si Jie Du.” [in Chinese] Qilu Xue Kan/Qilu Journal 4 (2007): 111–4.
Cunningham, Mark. “The Autonomous Female Self and the Death of Louise Mallard in Kate Chopin’s ‘Story of an Hour’.” English Language Notes 42 (2004): 48-55.
Huntley, Paula. The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo New York: Penguin, 2004.
Miall, David S. “Episode Structures in Literary Narratives.” Journal of Literary Semantics 33 (2004): 111-29.
Deneau, Daniel P. “Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour’.” Explicator 61 (2003): 210-13.
Cho, Ailee. “[Chopin and the Desire of Flight].” Nineteenth Century Literature in English 7 (2003): 119-34.
Berkove, Lawrence I. “Fatal Self-Assertion in Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour’.” American Literary Realism 32 (Winter 2000): 152-58.
Johnson, Rose M. “A Rational Pedagogy for Kate Chopin’s Passional Fiction: Using Burke’s Scene-Act Ratio to Teach ‘Story’ and ‘Storm’.” Conference of College Teachers of English Studies 60 (1996): 122-28.
Koloski, Bernard. “The Anthologized Chopin: Kate Chopin’s Short Stories in Yesterday’s and Today’s Anthologies.” Louisiana Literature 11 (1994): 18-30.
Mitchell, Angelyn. “Feminine Double Consciousness in Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour’.” CEAMagazine 5.1 (1992): 59–64.
Bender, Bert. “The Teeth of Desire: The Awakening and The Descent of Man.” American Literature 63 (1991): 459-73.
Miner, Madonne M. “Veiled Hints: An Affective Stylist’s Reading of Kate Chopin’s ‘Story of an Hour’.” Markham Review 11 (1982): 29–32.
Koloski, Bernard, ed. Awakenings: The Story of the Kate Chopin Revival Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009.
Brown, Kathleen L., and Peter Lev. Teaching Literary Theory Using Film Adaptations Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.
Beer, Janet. The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Ostman, Heather. Kate Chopin in the Twenty-First Century: New Critical Essays Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2008.
Arima, Hiroko. Beyond and Alone!: The Theme of Isolation in Selected Short Fiction of Kate Chopin, Katherine Anne Porter, and Eudora Welty Lanham, MD: UP of America, 2006.
Beer, Janet. Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Studies in Short Fiction New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Stein, Allen F. Women and Autonomy in Kate Chopin’s Short Fiction New York: Peter Lang, 2005.
Walker, Nancy A. Kate Chopin: A Literary Life Basingstoke, England: Palgrave, 2001.
Toth, Emily. Unveiling Kate Chopin Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1999.
Koloski, Bernard. Kate Chopin: A Study of the Short Fiction New York: Twayne, 1996.
Petry, Alice Hall (ed.), Critical Essays on Kate Chopin New York: G. K. Hall, 1996.
Elfenbein, Anna Shannon. Women on the Color Line: Evolving Stereotypes and the Writings of George Washington Cable, Grace King, Kate Chopin Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1994.
Boren, Lynda S. and Sara deSaussure Davis (eds.), Kate Chopin Reconsidered: Beyond the Bayou Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1992.
Perspectives on KateChopin: Proceedings from the Kate Chopin International Conference, April 6, 7, 8, 1989 Natchitoches, LA: Northwestern State UP, 1992.
Toth, Emily. “Introduction” A Vocation and a Voice New York: Penguin, 1991.
Papke, Mary E. Verging on the Abyss: The Social Fiction of Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton New York: Greenwood, 1990.
Toth, Emily. Kate Chopin. New York: Morrow, 1990.
Elfenbein , Anna Shannon. Women on the Color Line: Evolving Stereotypes and the Writings of George Washington Cable, Grace King, Kate Chopin Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1989.
Taylor, Helen. Gender, Race, and Region in the Writings of Grace King, Ruth McEnery Stuart, and Kate Chopin Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989.
Bonner, Thomas Jr., The Kate Chopin Companion New York: Greenwood, 1988.
Bloom, Harold (ed.), Kate Chopin New York: Chelsea, 1987.
Ewell, Barbara C. Kate Chopin New York: Ungar, 1986.
Skaggs, Peggy. Kate Chopin Boston: Twayne, 1985.
Women and Fiction: Short Stories by and about Women. New York: New American Library, 1975.
Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969.
Rankin, Daniel, Kate Chopin and Her Creole Stories Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1932.