In "The Story of an Hour," what do Josephine and Richards have in common? How do their attitudes contribute to the irony of the story?

2 Answers

jk180's profile pic

James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

One item that the two characters in Kate Chopin's short story "The Story of an Hour" -- Josephine and Richards -- literally have in common is that both are present at the story's beginning. At this point in the story they are united in their purpose to gently break the news of the husband's reported death to the wife and main character of the story, Louise.

Their commonalities extend further, of course. They are also united in their desire to protect Louise. Josephine pleads that Louise open her bedroom door: "Louise, open the door! I beg; open the door--you will make yourself ill. What are you doing, Louise? For heaven's sake open the door." Similarly, Richards tries to intervene at the story's end, when everyone learns that the husband indeed is not dead: "He [the husband] stood amazed at Josephine's piercing cry; at Richards' quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife."

There may be several ways to talk about the irony in this story. What strikes me as very ironic in the story is that neither Josephine nor Richards understand Louise's actual thoughts about her husband's reported death. From start to end, they only see her as sensitive and vulnerable and as needing close supervision. Her own thoughts, the reader learns, are very different from what these two characters expect. 

rmhope's profile pic

rmhope | College Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

Josephine and Richards both serve as foils for Louise in the story in that they respond predictably to the news of Brently's death whereas Louise responds unpredictably.

Although the story begins with a dangling modifier leaving some ambiguity, readers may assume that Josephine, Louise's sister, and Richards, a friend, are alike in that they both know of Louise's heart condition and are therefore both careful to break the news of her husband's death to her gently. After breaking the news, both Josephine and Richards remain in Louise's home, even though she obviously wants some time alone. Presumably they are willing to let her have her way, but only within parameters. Such behavior on their part would be considered normal and compassionate. Although Josephine is the one who, after a relatively short time, comes to Louise's door and peeks through the keyhole, demanding she come out, readers can infer that Richards is in agreement with Josephine here. He waits at the bottom of the stairs and watches the two sisters as they descend when Louise has been successfully extracted from her solitude. Both Josephine and Richards are understandably solicitous towards Louise: Josephine "clasped her sister's waist," and Richards moves quickly to block Brently from Louise's view when he appears unexpectedly.  

The overall irony of the story is that Louise's reaction is the opposite of what one would expect. She rejoices internally when she realizes her husband's death means freedom for her; she dies, not of "the joy that kills" as the doctor pronounces, but from shock that her recently realized joy has been killed by the appearance of her husband. 

Richards and Josephine's attitude toward Louise adds another layer of irony. Their smothering solicitude toward Louise--despite their desire to be loving--mirrors the smothering effect Louise's marriage has had on her independence and ability to pursue her personal desires. Marriage is a good thing, and Louise loved her husband ("sometimes"); nevertheless, she found her relationship constraining. In the same way, the good intentions of friends and loved ones can be overpowering and restricting. 

Josephine and Richards display normal and typical reactions toward Louise, but Louise has ideas of her own--ideas that her husband, her sister, and her friend know nothing about.

Sources: