What gap or discrepancy do you notice in "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin?
Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” contains examples of situational irony, which reveals the discrepancy between what is expected and what actually happens, as well as dramatic irony, which reveals the discrepancy between what the characters know and what the readers know.
When Louise Mallard first hears of her husband’s death, she is understandably shaken. However, she does not display “a paralyzed inability to accept its significance.” Once she cries, she wishes to be alone.
What readers might not expect next is that she thinks calmly at first and then becomes excited about her future as an independent woman. Mrs. Mallard has been oppressed by her marriage—although he loved her, Mr. Mallard took on the stereotypical role of the husband who holds back the wife merely because she is female. We are privy to Mrs. Mallard’s observation that men in society believe they have the right to “impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.” She knows that whatever the intention, the act itself is criminal. Louise’s ideas go against the patriarchal society in which she lives, and ironically, her thoughts would be considered the crime.
Her sister, Josephine, is worried about Louise being by herself after hearing such terrible news. Her concern that Louise will become ill is met by Louise’s insistence that she is not making herself sick. Instead, the readers know she is taking in the “elixir of life” and looks forward to finally living for herself. If Josephine could hear her sister talk about freedom, she would be quite confused. Typically, if someone hears of the death of a loved one, people make sure someone stays with the person to comfort her. Louise doesn’t need comforting—she is celebrating, which is quite the opposite of what convention might dictate.
The readers do not see her reaction as harsh because we understand that Louise has been held back all her life, something that Josephine and the rest of society do not recognize. Thus, there is a great discrepancy between what readers and characters understand.
When Louise finally opens the door, she appears as “a goddess of Victory.” She accepts her sister’s support and walks downstairs only to meet her supposedly-dead husband. She immediately has a heart attack, which the doctors attribute to her heart disease. They believe that she is so shocked with relief that her husband is alive that her heart could not take so much happiness and it gave up. In fact, the readers know, it is not “joy that kills.” It is heartbreak that kills.
There is a great discrepancy between truth and what society thinks. Louise dies because she cannot bear to return to her previously oppressed state. She has tasted freedom and independence and she will not succumb to society’s standards again.
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