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...

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?

Expert Answers
karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kate Chopin's story "The Story of an Hour" ends with this ironic phrase: "the joy that kills." From the start of this very brief tale, we know that Mrs. Louise Mallard has "heart trouble" and that she is very delicate. When the other characters learn that her husband, Mr. Mallard, has been killed in a train accident, they know they must break the news to her gently so as not to cause a heart attack. Mrs. Mallard takes the news fairly well, though she does cry some, and she retreats to a room to be alone.

While in this room, Mrs. Mallard comes to the realization that her husband's death presents a new beginning for her. As she looks out the window, she sees signs of new life everywhere and feels enlivened and refreshed. She thinks of all the time she will have to herself now, all the freedom she can enjoy. Instead of dreading the rest of her long life, she looks forward to it. This is also ironic, of course, because she is to die very, very soon.

When Mrs. Mallard emerges from her room, she does so as a "goddess of Victory," but her pleasure is very short-lived, as her husband walks through the front door and she dies of a heart attack. The doctors are the ones who assume she died "of the joy that kills." They think that she was so happy to see her husband was actually alive that her heart could not take it and exploded with "joy." The doctors, like all of the other characters in the story, have no idea how Mrs. Mallard really feels when she is in the room alone; only the reader is privy to her thoughts. The statement is ironic because we know that she is actually disappointed by his return, not joyful. All of the dreams she had for her life as a widow are now crushed, and the shock of that realization is what kills Mrs. Mallard.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

lfawley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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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The Story of an Hour

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