How does Chopin use the many ironies to remarkable effect and depth in "The Story of an Hour"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

[Because other questions have already been asked to enumerate the ironies in Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour," your two-part question was reduced to this one (see the links below). Since only one question may be asked at a time, and since it needs to be a fresh question, this part was chosen.]

Kate Chopin's magnificent use of irony and symbolism lend great meaning to her very brief short story.  Here are some ways in which Chopin puts these ironies to use to create a meaning that is more significant than it appears.

  • "A heart trouble" that Mrs. Mallard has leads the reader to believe that she is somewhat of an invalid rather than a terribly repressed and anxious woman.  So, when her heart beats rapidly with joy with her realization that she is at last "free," the reader understands that Mrs. Mallard instead is the frail victim of circumstances rather than genetics. 
  • Mrs. Mallard's "sudden, wild abandonment" with which she has wept is not from sorrow, but from the "abandonment" of Victorian repression.
  • As she climbs the stairs, Mrs. Mallard is "pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul" is ironic because it is not grief, but repression in a patriarchal society that wears upon Mrs. Mallard.
  • When the sob comes "into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams," Mrs. Mallard is releasing emotion rather than mourning for her husband.  She is overcome with the prospect of getting her individual life back.
  • As Mrs. Mallard waits fearfully for the "thing that was approaching to possess her" as she sits in her chair looking out the window, she "strives to beat it back with her will" as though she does not wish to accept it.  But, in actuality, her fear is that it is too good to be true, not that it is terrifying in itself.  For, as she says the words "free, free, free!" the "look of terror that had followed it" goes from her eyes.  Ironically, her pulses beat and her flowing blood "warmed and relaxed every inch of her body." 
  • She knows that she will cry, ironically, when she sees Bentley Mallard in the coffin because she has loved him. However, because she "saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely," Louise Mallard herself dies.
  • Louise Mallard has "a brief moment of illumination" as she ponders the fact that she can live for herself: "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."  Ironically, the mere reappearance of Bentley Mallard "imposes" upon Louise Mallard so much that she dies.
  • Before she leaves her room, Louise Mallard drinks in the "very elixir of life through the open window"; She hopes that life "might be long." However, as she moves to the top of the stairs, death waits for her.
  • Louise Mallard "carries herself unwittingly like a goddes of Victory"; yet, in a moment she is vanquished by the appearance of Mr. Mallard.
  • After she descends the stairs, Mrs. Mallard dies "of heart disease--of joy that kills."  It is the sudden theft of her joy, the disease of repression, that stops the heart of Louise Mallard.





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The Story of an Hour

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