What is the irony in "The Story of an Hour"?

The irony in “The Story of an Hour” is that other characters mistakenly attribute Mrs. Mallard’s death to her shocked elation that her husband Brently is alive. Supposedly killed in a train accident, Brently suddenly appears at the end of the story. During the “hour” of the story, however, Mrs. Mallard secretly celebrates her new freedom from her marriage and husband. Her death, therefore, is from shock not of joy but of horror.

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In "The Story of an Hour," Kate Chopin invokes both situational and dramatic irony. In fact, the entire plot can be understood as being grounded in situational irony. After all, if one's wife or husband were to die in a terrible accident, one would expect the natural reaction to be one of grief. However, while Louise Mallard does initially react with profound grief, ultimately she takes from this moment a sense of personal liberation. She takes joy in the personal agency that widowhood gives her.

This situational irony is actually deepened, however, once you factor in her health condition (an element reflected in the story's very first sentence). The characters within this story are concerned that giving Mrs. Mallard news of her husband's death will be too much for her heart, and this concern is actually validated within the story itself, if not in the way they expect. The characters fear that her grief will prove too much for her, but it is actually in that intense outpouring of joy and...

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Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on May 5, 2020