Influence of Style Tone and Imagery in Story of an Hour

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Style, tone, and language are crucial aspects used in writing. It gives the story meaning, or a certain feeling, and helps the reader know what the author is trying to say in a story. The style that the “The Story of an Hour” uses is imagery to convey a message that the main character is transitioning from oppression to freedom. The tone of this story is an overall feeling of what someone feels once they experience freedom. The language that Chopin chose in the story helps the reader envision what she is trying to convey in the story. When trying to publish this story, many people turned her down. Her ideas were too forward thinking, or maybe backward, that publishers would not print her story. Once she finally got her story published, however, it became a widely acknowledged piece of literature. Her work has either been praised, using it to invigorate the feminist movement, or scrutinized, by those who believe marriage should be honored, loved, and enjoyed. The style, tone, and language Kate Chopin used contributed to the success, and controversy, of “The Story of an Hour.”

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The style of “The Story of an Hour” describes how women sometimes feel in a marriage, confined and trapped, and how Mrs. Mallard is set “free” after her husbands’ death. Death, in a story, is typically symbolized with fall or winter, and gloom. In this story, it is symbolized with spring and new life. Implying that the death of her husband is really a good thing, giving her a new chance at life. “The death of Brentley marks the end of the winter of her discontent; her soul can awake from its torpor.” (Rosenblum) As she looks out the window towards nature and freedom, the house symbolizes a type of prison, her domestic life being confining. The house surrounds her and keeps her from experiencing the joys of nature. In the story, her room is at the top of the house symbolizing that her life of freedom is elevating, she can be free like the birds. As she descends into the house, moving toward her old life, she is losing her freedom. “Her leaving this refuge and going down the stairs foreshadows her loss of freedom.” (Rosenblum) Little does she know when she reaches the bottom of the stairs her freedom will be taken away. Rosenblum puts this into perspective very poetically.

She descends from the heaven of solitude to the hell of marriage again, where she encounters her husband. Now death is her only salvation. Instead of soaring freely like the birds, she can escape only by sinking still lower, into the grave.” (Rosenblum)

During the time when this story was written, the view was that, if the husband was good to her, the wife should be happy and thriving in her marriage. To be anything other than content was simply absurd and unheard of.

The tone is optimistic, and joyful, instead of being full of grief from the news of her husband’s death, she is elated that she is free. “Brentley’s death is not tragic to her because it gives her own life back to her.” (Rosenblum) She is not simply “the wife” anymore, she is her own person, free to do whatever it is she wants to. She does not have to answer to anyone but herself. The story’s tone is also melancholic, for the life Mrs. Mallard leads before her husband’s death. She is hesitant at first, seemingly not able to believe what just happened, but then repeats the word “free” over and over. Implying that she was in some kind of “self-preservation” mode, resolved to her “lot in life” before the news of her husband’s death. In addition, the tone is tragic, because once she is finally free, she is plunged right back into a confining marriage and, within a few minutes, dies of shock. “He stood amazed at Josephine's piercing cry; at Richards' quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife. But Richards was too late. When the doctors came, they said she had died of heart disease--of the joy that kills.” (Chopin 525)

Chopin choses her words and language in a way that mesmerizes and captivates her readers, but also causes controversy concerning what she writes. “when one writer falls on another’s spell, it is generally because of the way the progenitor uses the language to forge or reflect an attitude toward the world” (Bishop and Starkey) Evans regards Chopin as “arguably one of the most important American writers of flash fiction.” (Evans 2017) The language in this story is of a woman feeling oppressed because of marriage. Chopin uses word choices that are both thought provoking and paint a vivid picture. Words explaining how her face “bespoke repression,” suggesting that “no matter how kind Brentley has been, he has still imposed his will on his wife.” (Rosenblum) Also words written such as: “like a goddess of Victory,” and with “a feverish triumph in her eyes,” implies that she has won her freedom. The trees “all aquiver” with new life, symbolizes that Mrs. Mallard is feeling all aquiver with new life. Furthermore, she uses the words, “The notes of a distant song which some one was singing reached her faintly,” just as her new life was beginning to dawn on her. The language Chopin uses is so controversial, especially during the time in which it was written, that Evans writes,

Reaction to the novel was harshly negative, and although Chopin continued to live and write for a few years after its publication, neither her career, nor her spirits, ever fully recovered from the shock she suffered when the torrent of negative reviews appeared. (Evans 2013)

This short two-page story has gotten just as much, if not more, attention than some critically acclaimed novels. It was such a contentious subject in Chopin’s time that she never fully recovered from the ridicule. Despite that ridicule, she still kept writing and publishing and became a very accomplished writer. Even today, more than 100 years later, “The Story of an Hour” is talked about in a wide spectrum by various different critics. In Evans’ analysis of short fiction, he gives numerous accounts of what some critics have said, or might say, concerning Chopin’s short story. Chopin has used style, tone, and language in such an intricate way that it has made “The Story of an Hour” remarkably successful and popular, at the same time being a great subject for critics, and very controversial.   

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