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Irony in The Story of an Hour

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In Kate Chopin’s short story “The Story of an Hour,” there is much irony. The first irony detected is in the way that Louise reacts to the news of the death of her husband, Brently Mallard. Before Louise’s reaction is revealed, Chopin alludes to how the widow feels by describing the world according to her perception of it after the “horrible” news. Louise is said to “not hear the story as many women have heard the same.” Rather, she accepts it and goes to her room to be alone. Now the reader starts to see the world through Louise’s eyes, a world full of new and pure life. In her room, Louise sinks into a comfortable chair and looks out her window. Immediately the image of comfort seems to strike a odd note. One reading this story should question the use of this word “comfortable” and why Louise is not beating the furniture instead.

Next, the newly widowed women is looking out of the window and sees spring and all the new life it brings. The descriptions used now are as far away from death as possible. “The delicios breath of rain…the notes of a distant song…countless sparrows were twittering…patches of blue sky….” All these are beautiful images of life , the reader is quite confused by this most unusual foreshadowing until Louise’s reaction is explained. The widow whispers “Free, free, free!” Louise realizes that her husband had loved her, but she goes on to explain that as men and women often inhibit each other, even if it is done with the best of intentions, they exert their own wills upon eachother. She realized that although at times she had loved him, she has regained her freedom, a state of beeing that all of God’s creatures strive for. Although this reaction is completely unexpected, the reader quickly accepts it because of Louise’s adequate explanation. Louise grows excited and begins to fantasize about living her life for herself. With this realization, she wishes that “life might be long,” and she feels like a “goddess of Victory” as she walks down the stairs. This is an eerie forshadowing for an even more unexpected ending.

The reader has just accepted Louise’s reaction to her husband’s death, when the most unexpected happens; her husband is actually alive and he enters the room shocking everyone, and Louise especially, as she is shocked to death. The irony continues, though, because the doctors say she died of joy, when the reader knows that she actually died because she had a glimp of freedom and could not go back to living under her husband’s will again. In the title, the “story” refers to that of Louise’s life. She lived in the true sense of the word, with the will and freedom to live for only one hour.

Also, Kate Chopin’s story, “The Story of an Hour” is an ironic short story of a wife in the late 1800’s. The story is only a few pages long and in doing so Chopin writes a story filled with kernel’s (events that have important causal chronological coherence) with very few satellite’s (events not logically essential to the narrative action). There were no satellites that I could find while reading the text; I found every word written essential to the narrative, the progression and the conclusion of the story. Upon examining Freytag’s pyramid, I can see that the narrative does follow this diagrammatic representation of the story structure. From the inciting moment (Mrs. Mallard’s heart trouble, and Mr. Mallards “death”) to the climax (Mrs. Mallards becoming of a free independent person) to the catastrophe (Mrs. Mallard’s death) we can follow Freytag’s design. The most interesting element to the story, following Freytag’s pyramid, is the reversal; Chopin surprises us in Mrs. Mallard’s reaction to her husband’s death. The reversal is Mrs. Mallard’s joyful acceptance of his death, her realization of freedom; the narrative twists the story to the exact opposite of what the reader was expecting.

The reversal of the readers expectation is a much more effective way for Chopin to express her message. The element in the reversal also has the role of a function (an act defined by its significance for the course of action in which it appears). A death would usually be thought of as a tragedy, but once we start to gain insight on Mrs. Mallard’s character we can see why she responds with the opposite reaction. Another function within the story is the “joy that kills” it makes sense in this story, but in most you would see an immense joy at Mr. Mallard’s return, these circumstances would not often see a wife dying from, what I assume is, a miserable shock.

In addition, Once examining the story I found an interesting insight on Mrs. Mallard in terms of acts and happenings; the happenings (a change of state not brought about by an agent and manifested in the discourse in the act of happen) are events out of Mrs. Mallards control, and the acts (a change of state brought about by an agent) are Mrs. Mallards emotional realizations and her change of outlook on life and death rather than physical actions: Mr. Mallard’s death is a “happening” for Mrs. Mallard; her rebirth from a husband’s possession to an independent free woman is a strong “act” from Mrs. Mallard; Mr. Mallards life and return is another happening that Mrs. Mallard can’t control; but the most interesting is Mrs. Mallards death, the reader can’t be sure if it is an act or a happening or perhaps a mixture of the two. Once Mrs. Mallard has tasted her freedom, and has undergone her rebirth, the loss of it would be incredibly unbearable, would she have chosen to die under those circumstances.

The first thing we learn about Mrs. Mallard is that she has heart trouble, and other people see her as a fragile woman. Chopin waits until further into the story to reveal that Mrs. Mallard is young with a calm face; it isn’t difficult to assume that the heart trouble could be a convenient way for male doctors to describe perfectly normal reactions and emotions. There are many accounts, from those times, in which women were considered by men, and by doctors to be emotionally weak; there were very few female doctors and the fact that male doctors weren’t as educated or open to the idea that women’s differences from men weren’t weaknesses but just differences. A good example of this is the story “The Yellow Wallpaper” which will be presented on March 16th; a woman’s legitimate illness can be brushed off and ignored due to the fact that she is a woman and her “weakness” can be overcome by rest; in this case Mrs. Mallards concerns or perhaps physical reactions to her suppression of self. Certain emotions or emotional states could easily be taken for physical conditions because society at the time didn’t want to see legitimate emotional outcry from women in their “proper” stations. There are many references to Mrs. Mallard being imprisoned in her station and in her life, which is probably her marriage alone. “There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair (261).”

The fact that the chair faces a window (and an open window especially) shows a longing to be free; it doesn’t mean that she isn’t allowed outdoors, but it symbolizes her feelings of being trapped. The chair is roomy and comfortable, this implies that she spends a lot of time at this window, an uncomfortable chair would not be practical or enjoyable.

“When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. (262).” Mrs. Mallard’s repetition of the word “free”, following this quote, certainly suggests imprisonment, what I find interesting is the narrator’s use of language; words relating to abandon are used throughout the narrative and the whispered word escapes her lips. Furthermore, Although Chopin refused the title of feminist, she was probably refusing the definition of feminism of her time; also the title could be seen as another label to fit people into regardless of their individual views. It is clear to me that weather Chopin would agree or not there are very strong feminist views throughout the text. The most interesting thing to note about Chopin’s feminist expressions is their similarity to a more modern perspective of feminism: the domination/submission model. Feminism has been undergoing a change from conflict between men and women to domination and submission on a whole. The domination/submission model can relate to eco feminism (the idea that the domination of Man, not men, over nature and the domination of women are intimately connected and mutually reinforcing), racism, ageism, and “ism” all the way down to sexism.

The fact that Mrs. Mallard feels guilty for her reaction and only talks well of her husband shows that she doesn’t blame her husband; The, obviously, female narrator, and Mrs. Mallard herself are never judging men; they are just unhappy in the societal situation in which they find themselves. This story is a look at the situations in which people will thrive and in which they will suffer; this story is not an accusation towards men it is a critique on Man. “But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely (Chopin 262).” “There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature (262).” These are quotes that reinforce the domination and submission model.

It was very normal and average for a wife to assume her husband’s name, and it still is; there is nothing wrong in doing so, but Chopin was definitely saying something with the titles she imposed on Mrs. Mallard throughout the story. Originally she is referred to as Mrs. Mallard, immediately we see that in her marriage she is defined by her husband. Mrs. Mallard is the property of Mr. Mallard, it cannot be ignored that a certain part of the self is lost. She is also referred to as “she” but we don’t learn of her first name until she has been reborn and only after the moment of her realization of freedom do we learn her name is Louise. At the moment of her death she becomes the wife. “He [Mr. Mallard] stood amazed at Josephine’s piercing cry: at Richards’ quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife (263).”

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