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The Story of an Hour

by Kate Chopin

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Literary Devices in "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin

Summary:

In "The Story of an Hour," Kate Chopin employs literary devices such as irony, symbolism, and imagery. Irony is evident in the unexpected reaction of Mrs. Mallard to her husband's death. Symbolism is used with the open window representing freedom and opportunities. Imagery vividly describes Mrs. Mallard's physical and emotional awakening, enhancing the story's themes of independence and self-discovery.

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What literary devices does the author use to reveal irony in "The Story of an Hour"?

Kate Chopin reveals irony in a variety ways in this story due to the fact that the story uses different kinds of irony. The main type of irony used over the course of this great short story is situational irony. Situational irony occurs when the thing readers expected to happen does not happen. This occurs when Mrs. Mallard retires to her bedroom after hearing the news of her husband's death. Readers fully expect her to grieve over the loss of her husband; however, that most definitely does not happen. Readers learn that Mrs. Mallard is experiencing several different emotions, but grief is not one of them. She is a bit relieved at her husband's death. Mrs. Mallard is even excited for the future that is to come since it will be without her husband.

A savvy reader will hopefully think back to the start of the story when Chopin told her readers that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with 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.

At that point in the story, readers are very likely to interpret that information as pertaining to her physical heart health; however, once we learn that Mrs. Mallard is excited at her future freedom, we realize that Chopin was using verbal irony. The heart trouble is definitely a figurative heart trouble dealing with emotional heart health.

As the story continues, readers are blessed with two more good examples of situational irony. Nobody expects Brently to walk through the door. Readers don't expect it, and the characters don't expect it. While we do know that Mrs. Mallard isn't going to be thrilled at his presence, we do assume that she will likely fake her joy. Unfortunately, Chopin shows readers a completely unexpected outcome. Mrs. Mallard dies from a "joy that kills." This final quote is also a good example of dramatic irony because readers know something the characters do not know. Mrs. Mallard definitely didn't die from happiness at seeing her husband alive.

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What are some literary devices in "The Story of An Hour" by Kate Chopin?

Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" was published in 1884 and is one of the richest demonstrations of a compressed narrative that also exhibits a broad range of literary devices, with foreshadowing, symbolism, figurative language, metaphor, and irony being chief among them—in short, a tour de force of short story writing.

Foreshadowing, which helps prepare the reader for subsequent events, frames the story's opening lines:

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

Chopin skillfully establishes that Mrs. Mallard has a serious medical condition and, by implication, that she lives among refined people who care for her. Mrs. Mallard's condition also implies that her heart condition dictates that she not only must be treated gently but also that she is gentle herself, and the reader does not suspect the possibility of the emotional fireworks that overwhelm Mrs. Mallard later on.

When Mrs. Mallard, who insists on being alone, goes to her room, she has a conventional episode of explosive grief, which we would expect after news of her husband's death. At this point, however, Chopin creates a scene, rich with positive imagery, that mirrors the sudden change going on in Mrs. Mallard's mind and soul. Nature, at this point, becomes an extended metaphor for Mrs. Mallard's transformation from a grieving widow to a single woman free of the repression of marriage. As she gazes out of the window, she sees:

the tops of trees that were aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air....The notes of a distant song...reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.

Each of these images mirrors the expansion of consciousness within Mrs. Mallard as she thinks about the implications of her husband's death, which she, at this point, does not quite understand fully. Again, this metaphor—with its intensely positive symbols of nature's freedom—becomes the controlling image for what is to follow: the blossoming of Mrs. Mallard's future.

As Mrs. Mallard continues to absorb the sensations she is experiencing, Chopin creates another extended metaphor—through personification:

There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully....it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, and the color that filled the air.

This "thing," which she tries to "beat...back with her will," is the explosive realization that she is free of repression—that is, of the repression of marriage—even though she notes that she loved her husband, who was always kind, "sometimes."

Irony, which we can loosely define as the difference between what seems to be and what really is, comes into play at the story's end when Mr. Mallard suddenly appears, and Mrs. Mallard drops dead, her death attributed to her heart:

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

This is a wonderful example of dramatic irony. The characters observe a grieving widow suddenly shocked with joy too much for her weak heart, a conventional and expected interpretation of Mrs. Mallard's death. The reader, of course, understands that it is intense disappointment at the loss of her new-found (albeit temporary) freedom that is the deadly element.

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What are some literary devices in "The Story of An Hour" by Kate Chopin?

In "The Story" of an hour we find mainly

  • symbolism and allegory
  • imagery
  • situational and dramatic irony

The symbolism, or representation of one of thing with another, is evident in Louise's weak heart. She is too weak and sensitive to tolerate heavy situations; we know that this is a symbol for the lack of love in her life. When there is no love, the heart empties and, eventually dies. 

Allegory comes in the form of how motifs seem to permeate the story. Death, re-surfacing, re-starting, going back to life...those are topics ever-present. All the happiness that could exist in Louise's life would only be possible from Brantley's death. And, as he is alive, she now has to die. Either way, death is ever-present either through her condition or through his accident. 

Imagery is used a lot, especially when the reader understands the extent to which Louise REALLY wants to change her life and begins to imagine herself as a free woman:

he was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window. Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed ...that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long....There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory.

Strong imagery, that appeals to the senses, is used to explain to the reader the strength of the character's emotions. Just the fact that we can sense and see what Louise hopes to see constitutes good use of imagery. 

The situational irony shows that the opposite of what is expected happens: Brentley is alive, enters the house fine and well, and his wife dies as a result.

The dramatic irony is how the death is diagnosed as "joy that kills". We know that it was not joy that killed Louise, but the shock that came over her after the disappointing fact that Brently was still alive and that her life was going to continue as usual. 

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What writing techniques are used by Chopin in "The Story of an Hour"?

Clearly every good piece of fiction will contain multiple examples of different writing techniques, and the work of Chopin is certainly no exception. There are plenty you can pick from, and what is great is that because this story is so short, you can re-read the story very quickly and identify the variety of techniques there are included.

For me, however, the most powerful technique is the use of irony. Notice how this irony can be found in the very first and last lines of the story:

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.

When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease - of joy that kills.

However, we as readers know the internal thoughts of Mrs. Mallard and how, once she accepted her husband's death, the overwhelming thought that dominated her mind was her freedom now that she was alone:

There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.

Thus the delight of this thought and her freedom is cut short dramatically and suddenly by the re-appearance of her supposedly dead husband which results in Mrs. Mallard's death. Of course, we know it was not of "joy that kills," it was the thought of being placed suddenly back into that relationship again that caused her death after being able to contemplate freedom.

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What are some literary elements used in Chopin's "The Story of an Hour"?

"The Story of an Hour" is full of suspense, irony, contrast, and paradox.

This story's main character is told that her husband has passed away. Generally, a first emotion for a marriage that has been long-lasting is grief or pain. For this character, she is sensing an amazing freedom, an exact contrast to the aforementioned feelings:

There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.

An irony which reveals itself through these words occurs with the idea of marriage being corporate. Generally, true love assumes that part of the purpose of living together is to live for each other. She is weary of that type of relationship.

Another contrast occurs as Louise Mallard's sister insists that she is going to make herself ill (supposedly from grief that comes in through the open window), yet the narration of the story reports that Louise is "drinking in a very elixir of life". The contrast between sickness and health comes in the words ill and elixir of life.

Paradox can be seen in the typical expectations for death. Near the end, although this woman should be grieving, she is experiencing

"a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory."

Often, we speak of death having victory or conquering us. In this instance, it is Mrs. Louise Mallard who feels she has been the Victor over death.

All of these literary elements demontrate themselves through Chopin's clear and precise diction.

Hope that helps.

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How do literary devices in "The Story of an Hour" contribute to its theme?

The author uses the literary devices of metaphor and irony to underscore the theme of the brevity of life and the importance of living it for oneself.

The story is full of metaphors and similes that are used to describe the emotions that describe Louise’s reaction to her husband’s death.  All of these contribute to the theme by helping the author feel as if we are inside Louise’s head, experiencing with her.  In addition there is a sense of irony—first that Louise is relieved that her husband is dead (not what we’d expect), and then that she dies of joy immediately after becoming free.  All of these literary devices are used by the author to reinforce the theme that life is short and we need to live it for ourselves.

The first metaphor shows the initial impact of learning that her husband is dead.

When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her.

Louise reacts like most people would at first.  She is overcome.  The metaphor “storm of grief” is a perfect one.  It implies that she was completely caught up in her reaction.  She wants to alone with her grief.  She will not be comforted.  The next thing we know she is describing the exhaustion that “haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.”  This is another apt metaphor.  It is disturbing now.  She is starting to realize that she is not as grieved as she thought, but it has not sunk in yet.  It is almost like guilt.

At this point, Louise begins almost a rebirth.  Notice the simile (a kind of figurative language using “like” or “as” to compare):

She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams.

By describing Louise as “like a child,” the author is not only giving us a very good description of how she feels, but also making a connection to how she feels and the theme of life being short.  You have to live it the way you want to live it.  Louise is young again, now that her overbearing husband is gone.

When Louise first begins to feel joy, she does not even know what it is.  The author uses an extended metaphor to describe the feeling of joy coming to her.

There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air.

It takes her awhile to realize that she is happy, and free.  Being free is another metaphor too, of sorts.  She is not literally free because she was never literally imprisoned.  She is free of having a domineering husband.  She describes it as “drinking in a very elixir of life.”  This directly relates to the theme of appreciating life.

Unfortunately, Louise dies almost immediately.  The entire thing takes only an hour.  Everyone thinks she dies from a broken heart, when she really dies from joy at being free.  This is one of the great ironies of the story.  She died as soon as she was free, just as she was enjoying her freedom.  Another irony, of course, is that everyone expects a wife to be sad when her husband dies.  She was, of course, at first.  Then she felt joy, because her marriage was such a loveless one.

The theme of the story is that every day counts, and you have to live it for yourself.  The author develops this theme by a careful use of literary devices such as metaphor and irony.  Since you never know what is going to happen, or who will be taken from you when, it is best to live life for the moment.  Louise may have died too soon, but she died happy. 

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What are two literary elements in Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour"?

In Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour," there are a number of literary elements and literary devices.

One literary element in the story is conflict. There are several examples of conflict in the story. One is man vs himself. When Mrs. Mallard first feels that sense of freedom approaching her, she is frightened.

There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully.

When Mrs. Mallard expresses her unhappiness with her marriage, this is man vs man.

There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.

When Mrs. Mallard dies at the end, the doctors say she died of heart failure: from "the joy that kills." This is man vs society in that no person of that male-dominated era could imagine Mrs. Mallard's death coming from the shock of disappointment; they could only imagine it was from relief or joy.

The second element is irony, which is the difference between what you expect to happen and what really happens. When Brently Mallard comes through the door, one might expect Mrs. Mallard to be happy, but she is "fatally" disappointed.

In terms of literary devices, one that is used is personification, which is giving human traits to non-human things—as shown in the line below:

Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.

Exhaustion cannot haunt anyone.

Another literary device is onomatopoeia, which describes the sound it stands for:

The notes of a distant song which someone was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.

"Twittering" is a word that describes the chattering sound that sparrows make.

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What literary devices are used in "The Story of an Hour"?

Chopin primarily uses stark, simple prose to tell her story. Some of her literary devices, however, are as follows:

Alliteration: In this literary device, two or more words that begin with the same consonant are placed close together. Chopin writes: "She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment." The alliterative "w" in "wept" and "wild" creates a sense of rhythm and puts emphasis on the words wept and wild.

Imagery: Imagery is description that uses any of the five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. In the following passage, we can visualize what Louise sees, smells, and hears:

She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which some one was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.

Simile: Simile compares two items using the words like or as. Chopin likens Louise's will to her hands in the following: "she was striving to beat it back with her will—as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been."

Repetition: Chopin only needed to use the word free once, but the repetition emphasizes the importance of freedom to Louise: "free, free, free!"

Dialogue: Chopin primarily narrates what happens, but the brief dialogue puts us in the scene and adds dramatic intensity to the story, as in the quote below:

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."

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What are the literary elements used in "The Story of An Hour" by Kate Chopin?

One of the chief literary elements that are used in this excellent short story is the use of nature to mirror the thoughts and feelings of Mrs. Mallard as she reacts to the news of her husband's death. This pathetic fallacy is best seen in the way that the description of what Mrs. Mallard can see from her window matches perfectly the sense of new hope and new life she has now that her husband has died. Consider the following quote:

She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which someone was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.

Note the way that the description of the trees, "all aquiver with the new spring life," matches Mrs. Mallard's sense of newfound freedom that she feels now that her husband has given her new life. The timing of the seasons is particularly important here as well, as spring is a time of rebirth and of new growth after winter, which of course is very symbolic in terms of Mrs. Mallard's marriage and the sense of desolation and restriction she felt. 

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How does Kate Chopin use plot, irony, and symbolism to highlight the theme in "The Story of an Hour"?

Themes: identity vs. enslavement (in this case, by marriage)

Plot: one of the main ideas presented through the sequence of events in this story is the main character's journey from a sense of enslavement and lack of personal identity, to a sense of freedom.  When she first hears of her husband's death, Mrs. Mallard is filled with grief.  But over the course of the next hour, she realizes that his death is exactly what she needed to finally be herself - rather than just his wife.

Symbolism: Nature - happening outside her window, nature seems to mimic Louise's feelings inside the house.  Her grief is matched by rain, and her movement to freedom and joy are paralled outside by the sky clearing up.

Irony: There exists both situational irony and verbal irony in this short story.  Mrs. Mallard is introduced as having a "heart condition."  Upon first reading, we assume this means her heart is physically weak or possibly diseased.  When she hears her husband is dead - she is sure she will die of grief.  But at the finale of the story - just when she has come to the realization that her husband's death is the best thing that could have happened to her, he shows up, alive, and she then she drops dead.  Does she have a heart attack?  Or did grief actually kill her in the end?  By this point in the story we have to wonder, if grief killed her, than ironically it no longer the grief over the death of her husband, but rather, the fact that he is still alive.

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In "The Story of an Hour," how does Kate Chopin express the themes of grief, freedom, and irony?

Mrs. Mallard is given the news that her husband has been killed. She retires to her room, and people assume she is overcome with grief. In reality, she is experiencing the relief of freedom, from what is obviously a lackluster marriage. She is rejoicing in her new-found freedom.

The ironic twist comes when she learns her husband was not killed , after all, and then the grief comes into play. She mourns her fleeting moment of freedom instead of rejoicing her good fortune with her husband's return.

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Can you identify a quote with a literary device from "The Story of an Hour"?

Let me start by commiserating with you. Literary devices can be hard work to identify as you start getting used to them. However, there is hope. It does get easier. Let me give you a hint. Some of the easiest literary devices to identify are alliteration, which is when words have the same consonant sound at their beginning, and similes, which is a form of comparison (figurative language), identified because of the word "like" or "as" that is used to construct the comparison. Let me offer the following example of a simile:

She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams.

Note the use of the word "as" in this quote to identify the simile comparing the way Mrs. Mallard is sitting and sobbing intermittently to a child sleeping. This of course makes us feel sorry for Mrs. Mallard as she copes with her grief, but also shows how she is overwhelmed by the force of her grief at moments, as the comparison makes us think of a child experiencing a bad dream and involuntarily sobbing as a result. I hope this example will help you find more literary devices. There are certainly plenty there!

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Can you identify a quote with a literary device from "The Story of an Hour"?

One example of a literary device used in this story is irony. According to the doctor, Louise "has died of heart disease -- of the joy that kills."  The doctor has assumed that Louise's heart could not withstand the excitement of learning that her husband was alive.  However, Louise is grief-stricken to learn that he is alive because she has lost her freedom.  This reveals how confined women often felt in society and in their marriages during this time period.  The brief time Louise relishes her future opportunities is enough to make her lose her will to live.  Her life ends when she discovers her husband is alive.

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