Kate Chopin: Motivated Female or a Dangerous Role Model?

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SWBAT analyze how Kate Chopin's choices in text structure, plot elements, and use of irony in "The Story of an Hour" impact the reader's experience through close reading and group discussion.

Big Idea

Is Mrs. Mallard a horrible woman? A battered wife? A revolutionary feminist leader? A study in irony? Empower students to figure it out.


30 minutes

Upon entering class, students will take a reading quiz in the Pearson Success Net online reading textbook platform.  These quizzes are through the Prentice Hall The American Experience Common Core Edition textbook, and while they are helpful for quick assessments and gathering feedback on Common Core mastery, I don't often use them as formal assessments.  Today it will only be used to track which students actually devoted time to reading the short material (Chapter 11 of My Bondage and My Freedom).  

After the quiz, we will complete a discussion over the material as a class with the attached discussion questions.  Like always, these discussion questions will start with an opportunity for students to reflect on easy and difficult pieces of the passage, reading strategies they employed to overcome trouble spots, and questions that are answered by peers about the story.  This routine has really contributed to making reading a more thoughtful, collaborative activity!  It also improves participation and gives readers greater exposure to connecting textual evidence and using a wider variety of reading strategies.

Building Knowledge

15 minutes

After our discussion on Douglass's work concludes, I will transition to the next lesson section by asking students to explain how reading strategies for literature may be different than informational texts.  Some ideas that they might suggest are:

  • A greater focus on character development using indirect sources
  • Timelines may be more complex in literature since informational text usually goes in chronological order
  • More figurative language would have to be investigated in literature
  • Fewer text markers like headings would exist to help readers
  • Literature typically has fewer characters that you get to know more deeply

Then, I will direct students to the attached graphic about irony in order to provide greater insight into irony, which is a feature of both "The Story of an Hour" and the Common Core's literature standard requiring students to evaluate indirect messages of text, I will review the three types of irony with students.  As we discuss each type of irony, students will have to identify how the associated image relates with the type of irony defined.  They will also be asked to come up with (and write down in their notes!) at least three more examples of "irony in action" for each type.  I will suggest pulling examples from pieces of literature we've already read this semester and movies, especially, as this is a medium they are familiar with but a concept they would still be directly applying.  The Common Core demands a dexterity with a body of literature, which is a concept many students don't have.  We supplement with movies while building the skill and helping students focus on the IDEAS of the skill (here, irony), but wherever possible, I try to get them to go backwards to connect with old texts.  This process will allow students to engage with each other to propose, support, and argue the relevance of each suggestion as it relates to the task.  

Some of the additional examples students may generate are:

  • Verbal: "I really love this class." (HA.)  "This winter jacket is so cool!" 
  • Situational: The Final Destination series, Scooby Doo (another hilarious one!), and basically any other film or book that blows the viewer/reader's mind
  • Dramatic: Scream movies, She's the Man, Othello

Next, we will preview the story's concept by noting the title, "The Story of an Hour," and brainstorming what kind of hours we would write about if we were going to write a story with this title.  Would it be a good hour? Bad hour? Ugly hour?  Students will probably have a lot of suggestions in this section, but try to note similarities that you see occur in them, like the fact that most will be about intensely emotional experiences, most will be individual adventures or experiences, and most will be centered around the climax of some plot line that would have extended into the past and into the present around the hour.  Some examples that might come up (or that I might use to spur on discussion) would be getting married, shutting the door behind your parents after they drop you off in your first dormitory, losing a friend or family member, or experiencing something brand new for the first time (like a first piano lesson or your first bass-is-pounding-your-chest-for-you rock concert).  


35 minutes

To gather some information about Kate Chopin and her influence on literature and American culture, we will watch a video from Education Portal about Kate Chopin.  Then, we will briefly discuss the historical context of the time, what women's lives were like, and her own hardships that contribute to her depth and richness as an author.

Next, we will read "The Story of an Hour" as a class while listing out the events that take place in the story in chronological order.  I find that it's important to do this in a manner that's easily changed (which is why I typed it up on the computer with a projector), moving events around and inserting them as they happen.  Learning, for example, that Mrs. Mallard had wished for death prior to all this makes it very clear why she would be so joyous at the news that her husband was dead.  Without this chronological listing, students typically jump to immediate conclusions about Mrs. Mallard being a terrible person or a horrible wife.  Once they reach that conclusion, in my experience, they are much less likely to devote energy into talking about all the important features in this story, like irony, sequence, and word choice that demonstrates character motivation.

While we create the chronological listing of the story, we will pause at different intervals to discuss the story.  Questions and sample responses are included in a separate document (that incorporates the chronological listing of the story) to aid in delivery.  


10 minutes

In the final section of class, we will connect "The Story of an Hour" with our upcoming investigation of regionalism and dialect.  Kate Chopin was a preeminent regionalist writer, so we will talk about how regionalism uses settings, characters, and word choices to capture and express stories and themes specific to certain geographic regions.

"The Story of an Hour" does not have any words that are really location-specific, but the description of society is specific to the Louisiana region where Chopin wrote.  I will ask students what kind of features or words might be present in various parts of the country, using the south, central, and northern regions of the United States.  Students might give examples of settings like mountains, swamps, plains, etc., or they may point to characteristics of the people in these areas, like the hard-working pioneers of the west, sophisticated urban citizens in areas like New York and Boston, or elegant, social southern belles.  Additionally, they will give examples of language that is specific to these regions.

After our discussion, students will be instructed to view the following articles, then compose a half-page reflection (due at the start of the next class period) discussing how closely their assessment on attitudes on language (from the first link) matched the other assessments, what they found interesting, what surprised them, and what other information they would like to know about dialect.  The links they will be given are:

To aid students in using these resources, I will use my computer and project to give students a brief "walk through" of the format and contents of each website.  Then, they will have the rest of the hour to work on this project independently.


Next Steps

Students will need to be sure to complete their investigation of the articles and their journal entries before next time, as it is vital that they come to the next class period prepared for group discussion.  A lack of preparedness will put the next action-packed Mark Twain hour behind!