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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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What effects do the figures of speech like metaphor, simile, and paradox have in "The Story of an Hour"?

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Kate Chopin's “The Story of an Hour” is filled with figurative language that enhances readers' enjoyment of the story and helps them better understand Mrs. Mallard's actions and emotions. The story ends with a paradox that operates on more than one level as readers understand it with greater depth than the characters do.

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Let's begin with a survey of some of the figurative language Kate Chopin uses to enhance her short story “The Story of an Hour .” Right away in the second paragraph, we read that Josephine tells Mrs. Mallard of her husband's death in “broken sentences” and with “veiled hints.”...

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Mrs. Mallard responds with a “storm of grief.” These images are both metaphoric and vivid, and they enhance our experience of the story, helping us picture the scenes and words contained therein.

As the story continues, we read that Mrs. Mallard is “haunted” by “physical exhaustion,” as she sinks into her chair. The metaphor helps us imagine Mrs. Mallard's pale face and weak limbs as we envision exhaustion wrapping around her like a ghostly cloud. Mrs. Mallard sobs quietly “as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams.” This simile shows us that Mrs. Mallard is in a dream-like state, that she feels detached from the world around her.

As she sits, she feels something approach. This is not literal, of course, but something is “creeping out of the sky” towards her. She battles against it with her will for a few moments before she abandons herself to the freedom that has come upon her. This metaphor of freedom as almost a monster that captures Mrs. Mallard raises the tension of the story. We wonder what is going on, what Mrs. Mallard is seeing, until we, along with Mrs. Mallard, realize that this “monster” is a new experience of herself and her life that brings her “monstrous joy.”

Mrs. Mallard stands at the open window “drinking in the very elixir of life.” The metaphor shows us how Mrs. Mallard's new found freedom is flowing through her like a magical, life-giving potion, reaching into every part of her body and rousing her into a great state of excitement and energy. She feels like “a goddess of Victory,” ready to take on the world.

Then the shock hits as Mrs. Mallard's husband walks through the front door. Mrs. Mallard drops to the floor, dead in an instant. The story ends on a paradox; Mrs. Mallard has died “of the joy that kills.” The doctors think that the joy of suddenly seeing her husband is too much for her heart, but we readers understand the depth of this phrase. Mrs. Mallard's true joy has been swept away by her husband's sudden appearance, and her heart cannot take the shock. The paradox is apt on more than one level.

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The narrator says of Louise Mallard, "She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance." This line employs a simile, a comparison of two unalike things that uses like or as. The narrator compares Louise's response to the news of her husband's death to the response other women have had to similar news, stating that they are not at all the same. Unlike them, Mrs. Mallard did not experience a "paralyzed inability to accept its significance"; no, she understands the significance of her widowhood fairly immediately.

A metaphor is a comparison of two unalike things where one thing is said to be something else; it does not use like or as. The narrator says that Mrs. Mallard cried wildly and "When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone." Her tearful fit is compared to a storm as it sounds, perhaps, like it was violent and productive of many tears (just like a storm would produce a lot of rain).

In describing the appearance and feeling of the nature outside Mrs. Mallard's window, the narrator says that "The delicious breath of rain was in the air." Rain does not really possess breath; this is an example of personification, where the writer gives human attributes to something that is not human. It's as if the rain and air possess life, just as Louise feels herself to have a new life now that she will no longer have to live as a married woman. It helps to indicate how she is feeling.

Near the end of the story, Louise comes down the stairs, carrying "herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory." This is another simile, comparing Louise's attitude to Nike, the goddess of Victory.

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The purpose of the text is largely to direct us to the irony of the dénouement of the story where Louise Mallard is struck down by "the joy that kills" – a joy which is interpreted by the remaining characters in the story as relief in finding her husband is alive. The reader, however, sees that she is killed by shock or grief at the realization that the belief she is "free, free, free!" after the death of her husband is revealed to be untrue.

 Chopin uses other techniques through the story to direct us to this conclusion. We are told that the news of her husband’s death is met with "a storm of grief" which does, as with all storms, pass.

We are greeted with the paradox of Louise grieving alone in her room with the scenes of "new spring life" beyond her window. We see that the use of pathetic fallacy here indicates her inner feelings as she distinguishes between the feelings she should have after the death of her husband, and the emotions she actually has as she considers her position as a widow.

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