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Can someone explain "of joy that kills"In the “Story of an Hour” the death of Mrs....

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stude001 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 13, 2010 at 11:05 PM via web

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Can someone explain "of joy that kills"

In the “Story of an Hour” the death of Mrs. Mallard is described as “of joy that kills”.  Is this statement describing that after realizing her husband was still alive Mrs. Mallard had a heart attack and died or the shock and disappointment from discovering her husband was still alive caused her to have a heart attack and die?  How do you think the author, Kate Chopin wanted this statement “of joy that kills” to be interpreted?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 13, 2010 at 11:12 PM (Answer #1)

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I think that the author intended this phrase to be taken as irony.  She is trying to show us how badly the outside world understands women like Louise Mallard -- women who want to be independent of men.

If you look at it, the words that you mention are attributed to the people of her society (her doctors).  They say that it was joy that killed her.  This shows how little they understand her.  Because we have been able to "see" her thoughts, we know that Mrs. Mallard was actually happy for most of that hour when she thought her husband was dead.  But the people of the society do not understand that.

I believe Chopin is trying to use this phrase ironically to show us that women like Mrs. Mallard are misunderstood by their society.  Mrs. Mallard's attitudes are too far outside the mainstream to be understood.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 14, 2010 at 12:05 AM (Answer #2)

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In my mind, the "joy that kills" is the newly discovered power of voice and articulation of self.  When Louise is told that her husband is dead, she goes through the standard grieving process that is socially expected of any wife who is told her husband is dead.  Once she goes to her room, Louise fully begins to grasp the implications of life without her husband.  She is overcome with a new sense of definition and freedom of self.  This sensation allows her to envision her own sense of voice in a world where her husband does not exist, one where she is able to fully define who she is and what her tastes can be.  From a world of sorrow emerges one of joy, a sensation that ends up killing her when it is taken away when her husband was not dead at all.  In this light, I sense that the "joy that kills" is the voice that was newly discovered, only to be taken away at the next moment with her husband's reemergence.

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lfawley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted June 14, 2010 at 1:18 AM (Answer #3)

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The "joy that kills" is, in essence, the return of her husband. When she though that her husband was dead, she experienced a sense of freedom and relief - a joy if you will - in the fact that she would no longer be under his control. As a feminist writer, this type of freedom is crucial to Chopin's characters. She writes of women who seek independence in a world that is still dominated by men and to varying degrees misogynistic.

When the husband returned and she realizes that her freedom was elusive and has, in fact, ended as soon as it began, she is unable to accept this. In that sense, it si the loss of joy that kills her. However, from a societally acceptable standpoint, she is expected to feel joy that her husband is alive, so in that sense the "joy" that she is supposed to feel (Which is actually the antithesis of the true joy that she feels when she thinks he is gone) is what kills her.

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