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

Verbal irony in "The Story of an Hour" comes right at the end when the doctor says that Mrs. Mallard died of the "joy that kills." This is an example of verbal irony as the statement can be interpreted in a different way from what it was intended to mean. Far from dying of joy, Mrs. Mallard has died from shock at seeing her husband alive. His sudden appearance has ruined all her plans for an independent life.

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At the end of "Story of an Hour," Mrs. Mallard is described as dying of the "joy that kills." The words of the doctor's statement are an example of verbal irony in that they express the exact opposite of what happens to be the truth. To be sure, the doctor isn't being ironic when he utters these words; he genuinely believes that Mrs. Mallard really did die of joy upon seeing her husband again, so this isn't the same thing as a lie. But his words are nonetheless verbally ironic in that they can be interpreted in a completely different way by the reader now that they know what Louise was planning to do with her life when she wrongly thought her husband was dead.

The doctor's words express something contrary to the truth, even if they're absolutely sincere. This is what makes them ironic. Louise hasn't died of joy at all; far from it. Instead, she's died of a heart attack brought on by shock at the sudden realization that all her plans now lie in ruins. With her husband dead and buried, she was planning to lead an independent life of her own. But now that it turns out that he was alive all along, Louise has no future to look forward to, and the shock kills her.

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There are several examples of verbal irony in "The Story of an Hour" which contribute to the climactic ending.

One example is found in the very first sentence:

Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband's death.

Mrs. Mallard's "heart trouble" is implied to be a medical condition as the story opens. Her health therefore seems a thing of fragility that must be guarded. As the story progresses, however, the reader learns that Mrs. Mallard has another kind of heart trouble:

And yet she had loved him—sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!

Mrs. Mallard doesn't truly love her husband; that is her real "heart trouble." Instead, she has lived with him out of a sense of duty and is fairly thrilled with the prospect of living life on her own terms.

Another example is found when Mrs. Mallard takes a moment to herself to consider the news of her husband's death. A surge of emotions begins to rise up in her, and she is overcome with one thought:

She said it over and over under her breath: "free, free, free!"

The verbal irony is that Mrs. Mallard proclaims her freedom from a marriage that she has come to view as a burdensome obligation; the reality is that her husband is very much alive, and the only freedom that she will find will be through her own death.

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Verbal irony is when a character says something but means something else. Taken literally, the character seems to mean one thing. Actually, they mean to communicate something completely different than what their words literally mean. Verbal irony is different than other kinds of irony because the speaker uses this double meaning intentionally.

In "The Story of An Hour," the first example of verbal irony happens when Josephine is kneeling outside her sister's door, begging her to come out so she can comfort her. 

Josephine was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the keyhole, imploring for admission. "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. 

"Go away. I am not making myself ill." No, she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window. 

When Louise says, "I am not making myself ill," she actually means that she has never felt better. She realizes that her sister will not understand the double meaning of her words, but she says it anyway. Her relief and joy at her husband's death evoked a profound sense of freedom inside her. When she says, "I am not making myself ill," it is a statement to herself. In fact, it is possible that what had really been making her ill was her unhappy marriage. At the beginning of the short story, we are told that Louise has heart trouble. 

Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband's death.

If her heart trouble was actually caused by the stress of an unhappy marriage, then Louise's statement "I am not making myself ill" is even more ironic, since the relief she feels after she is told of her husband's death is actually making her well. 

The next example of verbal irony happens after Brently Mallard returns, alive and well. At the prospect of being married to this man of "powerful will" again, Louise dies from shock and despair. 

When the doctors arrived they said she had died of heart disease—of the joy that kills.

The doctors said she had died of "the joy that kills." They thought her joy was the joy of seeing that her husband was actually alive. In fact, her reaction to his appearance was the opposite. This is an example of verbal irony because what the doctors said was actually true, but not in the way they thought. Louise died because she had been exposed to a pure, living joy that she would never have experienced if her husband had simply come home that day like usual. It was not her day-to-day unhappiness that killed her. Experiencing freedom and happiness for the span of one hour and then realizing that she was still trapped resulted in her death.

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