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The irony of the cause of Mrs. Mallard's death revolves around the definition of the word heart. For, in Western culture, there are both literal and figurative meanings: literally, the heart is the main organ of the body, and figuratively, the heart is the soul, the inner being.
In the opening lines of Chopin's story, Mrs. Mallard is described as "afflicted with a heart trouble," a phrase that suggests she is emotionally repressed. When she learns that her husband has been a victim of a train wreck, she privately breathes "free, free, free!" as she realizes that she is independent. However, as she triumphantly descends the stairs from her room, she sees her husband come through the front door. This shock causes her to die of "heart disease--a joy that kills." That is, her soul, finally freed from its repression, is so overcome with despair upon seeing her repressor return that she dies because her joy is taken from her and this deprivation kills her soul/heart. Thus, it is "a joy that kills."
She arose at length and opened the door...There was a feverish triuimph in her eyes...Someone was opening the front door...It was Bently Mallard who entered....He stood amazed at Josephine's piercing cry....she had died of heart disease--of joy that kills.
Furthermore, the statement "a joy that kills" is of itself ironic since joy does not normally bring about death. Louise Mallard's sense of freedom, having been suddenly received, is just as quickly rescinded.
With these considerations, then, the student can explain in the introduction how the irony of the last line with its phrase "a joy that kills" is connected to that of the first line with its phrase "a heart trouble." That is, in the hour's time, the condition of Mrs. Mallard returns to its starting point of repression.
The thesis, then, can be developed around the irony of this hour being that the joy which is born of the lightening of her repression, "a heart trouble," becomes a tragic joy at the return of the husband, Bently Mallard, because he is alive, but she again is in her repressed state. So overcome is Louise Mallard that her soul gives out and the joy of Bently Mallard's return instead, ironically, kills her.
Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" covers about an hour in the life of Louise Mallard. Her sister and a family friend have come to tell her that Brently Mallard, her husband, has died in a train accident. The first irony of the story is that the two visitors are worried that this news will be too much for her heart, since she has a history of heart trouble.
In fact, the news serves to unburden her heart in a way her guests could never know. For the first time, she feels free.
She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and exalted perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial. She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome.
Though she loved her husband, in a way, she knows she is now free to make decisions about her own life, small things, but things she has not gotten to do or decide for herself. She contemplates this new reality for quite awhile, but her sister eventually gets worried about Louise and comes to get her.
Of course you already know what happens next: Brently Mallard appears at the door and Louise immediately dies when she sees him. While others assume she dies of joy, it is clear that she dies not out of shock or joy that her husband is alive but out of grief for the life she almost had--and that is the grand irony of this story.
It is the last few words of the story which are the basis for your essay, since you are two write about her ironic cause of death. Louise dies from a "joy that kills," and that is what you must incorporate into your thesis. Remember that irony, in this case, is a contrast between what is expected and what happens.
The discussion of Louise's heart has three distinct components:
- Her heart is fragile and her visitors are worried the news might kill her, but it does not.
- Her heart should be overflowing with grief, but it actually overflows with joy at the news of her husband's death.
- Her heart should have been full of joy when she realizes her husband is alive, but her heart cannot bear the news that she is not free as she hoped but trapped once again and it quits beating.
I would use these three stages her heart goes through as my three primary points of discussion. Each stage contains irony. She is not strong enough for much bad news (at least according to the people who presumably know her best), but she gets the worst possible news and she is fine. She should be sad about a death but is in fact happy, ecstatic even. And she should have died from happiness overload but actually dies from excessive grief over losing the life she almost had.
Possible thesis: Louise Mallard's weak heart undergoes three dramatic and ironic transformations within a very short time; the final and greatest irony kills her.
Your introduction could be comprised of many things, so choose something which both captures your readers' interest and previews what they are about to read (thesis). Happy writing!
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