"The Story of an Hour," by Kate Chopin, portrays marriage like a ball and chain; you can't be free to be yourself if you are tethered to another who imposes his will forever upon you. Whether Mrs. Mallard's marriage is alone in this misery or whether marriage in general is responsible for the misery isn't really explained, nor is it important. The premise that Mrs. Mallard views her marriage as a prison of the soul is important in Chopin's story because without it, the story wouldn't hold any powerful emotional meaning, and there would not be the profound sense of irony at the end. Her negative, constricting idea of marriage is the central theme of which all her literary devices -- setting, plot, characterization, irony and metaphor -- revolve around.
Her choice of setting is dependent on her negative theme of marriage. If this story was written by someone today, death wouldn't be the only escape from marriage; one would just get a divorce, problem solved. However, "divorce was quite rare in the 1800s, and if one was to occur, men were automatically given legal control of all property and children" "(Hicks). Back in Chopin's time, getting married was the obvious and normal trajectory of men and women as they grew up and made their way in life. It was assumed that everyone wanted to marry, raise a family, stay together, until death did they part. Today, many women still view marriage as the natural outcome of their futures; the difference is that, at least in America, you can marry for love. In Kate Chopin's lifetime, many marriages were still arranged. So the setting, middle America in the 1800's, is important to the story, because if it were set in a time where death wasn't seen as the only acceptable way out of marriage, none of Mrs. Mallard's emotions and actions would have as much effect. It is important that marriage is seen as inescapable in order for the story to work. We get a sense of the period when Richards heard it in the newspaper office when word of the railroad disaster came in, and "had only taken the time to assure himself of its truth by a second telegram"" (2).