How does the author in "The Story of an Hour" use literary devices to contribute to the theme?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The author uses the literary devices of metaphor and irony to underscore the theme of the brevity of life and the importance of living it for oneself.

The story is full of metaphors and similes that are used to describe the emotions that describe Louise’s reaction to her husband’s death.  All of these contribute to the theme by helping the author feel as if we are inside Louise’s head, experiencing with her.  In addition there is a sense of irony—first that Louise is relieved that her husband is dead (not what we’d expect), and then that she dies of joy immediately after becoming free.  All of these literary devices are used by the author to reinforce the theme that life is short and we need to live it for ourselves.

The first metaphor shows the initial impact of learning that her husband is dead.

When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her.

Louise reacts like most people would at first.  She is overcome.  The metaphor “storm of grief” is a perfect one.  It implies that she was completely caught up in her reaction.  She wants to alone with her grief.  She will not be comforted.  The next thing we know she is describing the exhaustion that “haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.”  This is another apt metaphor.  It is disturbing now.  She is starting to realize that she is not as grieved as she thought, but it has not sunk in yet.  It is almost like guilt.

At this point, Louise begins almost a rebirth.  Notice the simile (a kind of figurative language using “like” or “as” to compare):

She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams.

By describing Louise as “like a child,” the author is not only giving us a very good description of how she feels, but also making a connection to how she feels and the theme of life being short.  You have to live it the way you want to live it.  Louise is young again, now that her overbearing husband is gone.

When Louise first begins to feel joy, she does not even know what it is.  The author uses an extended metaphor to describe the feeling of joy coming to her.

There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air.

It takes her awhile to realize that she is happy, and free.  Being free is another metaphor too, of sorts.  She is not literally free because she was never literally imprisoned.  She is free of having a domineering husband.  She describes it as “drinking in a very elixir of life.”  This directly relates to the theme of appreciating life.

Unfortunately, Louise dies almost immediately.  The entire thing takes only an hour.  Everyone thinks she dies from a broken heart, when she really dies from joy at being free.  This is one of the great ironies of the story.  She died as soon as she was free, just as she was enjoying her freedom.  Another irony, of course, is that everyone expects a wife to be sad when her husband dies.  She was, of course, at first.  Then she felt joy, because her marriage was such a loveless one.

The theme of the story is that every day counts, and you have to live it for yourself.  The author develops this theme by a careful use of literary devices such as metaphor and irony.  Since you never know what is going to happen, or who will be taken from you when, it is best to live life for the moment.  Louise may have died too soon, but she died happy. 

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