"The Story of an Hour" Study Guide: Plot Structure and Theme

"The Story of an Hour" Study Guide: Plot Structure and Theme
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Plot Structure

Review the plot structure in “The Story of an Hour” so you don’t sound silly during your next class discussion (of course, the story’s so short it would take you the same amount of time to actually read it, but you searched for this and I’m going to give it to you along with a literary analysis of the story because that’s what you expect to find in a “Story of an Hour” Study Guide).

It is a short story that observes the unities of time, place, and plot: the action takes place in less than a day in a single location and has no subplots. Other than the news of the train wreck, which happens before the actual narrative begins, brief reflections by Mrs. Mallard on the type of husband Mr. Mallard was, and a few flash forwards on how her life will be, the story is told in chronological order.


Mrs. Mallard has heart troubles (Most study guides would briefly mention that Mrs. Mallard’s heart troubles have two meanings: (1) she has a physical defect; (2) she is emotionally torn. My study guide doesn’t because I have an entire article on irony and symbolism in “The Story of an Hour” so I’ll just briefly mention that double meaning of heart troubles because that’s what one should do with a literary analysis).

Mrs. Mallard’s sister Josephine, who was told by Richards who was told by telegram down at the newspaper office, delicately tells Mrs. Mallard the news of Mr. Mallard’s death. Mrs. Mallard cries, goes to her room, reflects on what a great guy Mr. Mallard was, and rejoices that she is now free from her husband’s rule (this is what I meant by the emotional heart troubles thing).

Her sister calls Josephine from her room and they go downstairs to hang out with Richards (if you’ve actually read the story, you realize what a cornhole Richards is. If you haven’t read the story, Richards is a cornhole). The door opens and who enters? Mr. Mallard (who that cornhole Richards said was dead).

Josephine shrieks. Richards tries to shield Mrs. Mallard from the shocking view of her husband. Mrs. Mallard has a heart attack and dies (yes, that’s irony). The doctors say she died from a “joy that kills” (that’s irony too).

What is the Theme?

The theme of “The Story of an Hour” is very straightforward.

Marriage is an oppressive institution (in the 19th-century).

The story takes place in the latter part of the 19th-century. Women had very few rights–they could not vote, had few opportunities for employment, and were expected to cook, clean, and look pretty for their husbands. Women had very little recourse if they married an abusive or mean husband. Chopin makes Mr. Mallard a good man and a good husband, highlighting, not the wickedness of men, but the deficiencies in society, which allowed a system of unfairness to exist.

Minor Theme: Life is not as it seems.

The false appearance that Mr. Mallard is dead mirrors the false image that Mrs. Mallard loves being married.*

*I would like to point out how happily married my wife is. She is so lucky to be married to me!

This post is part of the series: Short Story Study Guides, Part II

This look at commonly taught short stories will help you prepare for class discussion.

  1. Summary and Literary Analysis of “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin
  2. Irony and Symbols in “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin
  3. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” Study Questions
  4. Analyzing “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”