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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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How has "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin effectively used defamiliarization?

Kate Chopin effectively uses defamiliarization in the short story "The Story of an Hour" through her description of Louise Mallard's unusual reaction after the death of her husband. Her unconventional reaction does not follow what most people would think of as familiar.

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The literary term "defamiliarization" comes from the Russian word "ostranenie," which means "making strange." It refers to the technique of presenting common or familiar things in unfamiliar ways. It was first used by a Russian writer and literary theorist named Viktor Shklovsky to distinguish the language used in poetry from everyday language. The term refers to language that alters perception of an otherwise commonplace object or concept. For example, Tolstoy used defamiliarization in his novels, and Tolkien used it in his fantasies.

In the short story "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin, the author uses defamiliarization to express the profound change that comes over Louise Mallard. The story begins conventionally enough, with Louise's sister Josephine telling her about the death of her husband. Louise, suddenly a widow, breaks down in a fit of weeping and subsequently departs to be alone in her room.

However, as Louise sits in an armchair facing the open window, defamiliarization begins to set in. As readers, we would suppose that she would be so overcome with grief that she would not notice what is going on outside her window. Instead, she marvels at the "delicious breath of rain" in the air, the tops of trees "all aquiver with new life," the sparrows "twittering in the eaves," and a distant voice singing. The gloom that would be a common reaction to the death of a spouse is replaced by joy. Louise is overcome with a feeling that she is free from the oppression of her overbearing husband. She can finally do whatever she wants and envisions a lifetime of wonderful freedom.

We see, then, that the defamiliarization that begins with her appreciation of the sensory thrills outside her window transforms her mood. What would commonly bring on mourning (the death of her husband) instead causes her to have a fuller appreciation for life and look forward to, instead of dread, the future. It all has to do with Louise's unfamiliar perspective on the event.

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