Joy That Kills
Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” is a story of one hour in the life of a woman living in the nineteenth-century American society. It is written in the third person limited point of view and, therefore, we only know the thoughts and feelings of a single character—Louise Mallard. The story begins when the protagonist, Mrs. Mallard, learns of her husband’s death. The narrator then takes us through a series of events, starting from Louise celebrating the death of Mr. Mallard, through her dreaming about a new life and, finally, to her death and downfall at the sight of her husband being alive at the end of the story. The message that the author tries to convey is that in the late 1800s, women felt oppressed in marriages, even in the kindest ones. Kate Chopin achieves meaning in her short story through the use of three types of irony: dramatic, verbal, and situational. The first type of irony employed by Kate Chopin in her short story entitled “The Story of an Hour” is dramatic irony. Dramatic irony exists when a character of a work has a limited understanding of his or her situation at a particular moment of the unfolding action, and the audience, at the same instance, is aware of the characters actual situation. In “The Story of an Hour,” the reader first experiences dramatic irony when Mrs. Mallard’s family and friends try to “break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death” (Chopin 246). They are both concerned that the news will make her ill. Nevertheless, the truth is different. In her criticism of “The Story of an Hour,” Jennifer Hicks, a director of the Academic Support and Writing Assessment program at Massachusetts Bay Community College, states: “Certainly, we are told of the joy she feels with the freedom she finds in her husband’s death.” As the story unfolds, we learn of the actual feelings of Mrs. Mallard, while other characters are not aware of them—the fact that Mr. Mallard’s death was actually a relief to his wife. When the main character locks herself up in her bedroom, her sister Josephine cries: “Louise, open the door! I beg; open the door—you will make yourself ill” (Chopin 247). What she does not know is that Mrs. Mallard was “drinking in a very elixir of life.” The news of the husband’s death brought her relief and hope that “life might be long” (247). When she finally decides to leave the room, her husband returns home unaware of what is happening at his house. Mark Cunningham recognizes dramatic irony at that instance of the unfolding action. He says: “Richards is trying to screen each from the other; he is trying to block recognition. However, in one of the ironies that the other characters cannot know, Louise has already recognized what her life with Brently was like.” Richards, Brently’s friend, also does not know that Louise prefers that her husband is gone. Therefore, he tries screening her from the view of her husband alive in order to prevent her form the sudden surge of emotions associated with the sight, which could in effect have a fatal impact on the weak heart of hers. Yet the character that is subject to the greatest dramatic irony in the story is Mrs. Mallard herself. Throughout the one last hour of her life, she is convinced that her husband is dead. When she first hears the news, “She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms” (Chopin 246). That is the type of reaction that one would expect from a woman who has just became a widow. Nevertheless, Dr. Selina Jamil, a Professor of English at the Prince George’s Community College, notices: The narrator points out that Mrs. Mallard is not struck, as “many women” have been, by “a paralyzed inability” to accept the painful sense of loss. On the contrary, she is roused from her passivity by an uncontrollable flood of emotion. This “storm” that “hunt[s] her body and seem[s] to reach into her soul” ultimately purges her of the sufferance of a meaningless life, as it becomes the...
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