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Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" is a masterpiece of the literary technique of irony; even the title is ironic in that so much that is unexpected happens in the life of Louise Mallard in just sixty minutes. Here are other examples of the three types of irony:
- Situational Irony
Since irony always involves an incongruity, this type of irony is one in which the expectation and the fulfillment are not what is expected. Perhaps, the most salient example of situational irony is in the turn of events in the hour that suggest that Bently Mallard is dead and Mrs. Louise Mallard has fully come alive. For, incongruously the narrative abruptly changes and it is Bently Mallard who yet lives while Mrs. Mallard, who with "triumph in her eyes" as she descends the stairs from her room in which she has "breathed a quick prayer that life might be long"; perceives her husband as he comes through the door, and with a "piercing cry" abruptly dies.
- Verbal irony
This type of irony involves an incongruity of words. That is, verbal irony is a statement by the writer which means the opposite of what it appears to mean. While Chopin's story has several instances of verbal irony, one example is Chopin's use of "a heart trouble" at the beginning of the narrative. It seems that the phrase denotes a physical ailment, but Chopin does not intend for "heart" to denote the organ of the body. Instead, the reader later discerns, "heart" connotes the figurative heart; that is, the soul. Mrs. Mallard suffers from repression, a trouble of the soul.
- Dramatic irony
Dramatic irony involves differing perceptions by the reader than by a character in the story. For instance, when Mrs. Mallard will not allow Josephine to help her upstairs, it seems that she is so grief-stricken that she wishes to be alone. However, unbeknownst to the character Josephine, the reader learns that Louise Mallard wishes to be alone so that she can fully comprehend her freedom from repression as a Victorian wife:
She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless....
There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully....She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching...
When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped...."free, free, free!"
Instead of grieving as Josephine believes, Louise Mallard rejoices in her new freedom. Since only the reader is privy to this knowlege and the character Josephine and, later, her husband Bently do not know her feelings, dramatic irony exists.
Indeed, it is this masterful use of irony in her very short story that gives Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" such powerful implications.
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