Essay, Research Paper
Kate Chopin employs the tool of irony in “The Story of an Hour” to illustrate the problem relative to marital relationships in which one individual imposes his “private will” upon the other. She presents, through the story of Mrs. Mallard, an issue not socially accepted at the end of the 19th century.
This is the story of Mrs. Mallard, a woman with a heart condition who finds out her husband has died in a train accident. She reacts with sadness at first, but after seeking solitude, realizes that she is free. She is ready to begin her new life when her husband, who was not involved in the train accident, comes home alive. The woman dies from heart failure on the spot.
The purpose of irony in Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” is to convey a message without saying it explicitly. In the context that the story was written, at the end of the 19th century, woman were often not allowed many rights. Their role in society was trifling compared to what men had. Chopin, a feminist ahead of her time, uses irony in this particular story to show the unequal role women had in relationships in the late 1800’s. Mrs. Mallard’s discovery of her long lost freedom and desire to live for herself only comes after her husband’s death. The ironic tone in the story is employed by Chopin to present a socially unaccepted concept in a more acceptable format.
In “The Story of an Hour”, Chopin makes use of different types of irony. The first type of irony encountered is situational irony, where there is a contrast between what is expected to happen in a particular situation and what actually happens. After grieving with “wild abandonment” the death of her husband, Mrs. Mallard seeks solitude in her room. Now the reader starts to see the world through her eyes, a world full of new and pure life. As she looks out of the window, she sees spring and all the new life it brings. The descriptions used now are far away from death. Mrs. Mallard stares out the “open window” at “the new spring life”. As for the weather, instead of being gloomy and dark to symbolize death, she sees “patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds.” She also mentions that birds are singing and there is a “delicious breath of rain” in the air, all images not usually associated with death. She is expected to mourn her husband’s death, but in contrast, she is thinking about new life. At the end of the story, Chopin uses dramatic irony, where there is a contrast between what the audience knows and what the characters think is happening. “When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease – of joy that kills.” The other characters are still unsuspecting of her actual joy in death. They believe her joy corresponds with the love she had for her husband. In contrast, the reader knows that the love she had for her husband pales in comparison to the joy she feels upon the discovery of her newfound freedom.
Mrs. Mallard begins to fantasize about living her life for herself. “Free, free, free!” are the words Mrs. Mallard whispers in her room. Coming from a woman who just lost her husband, one can wonder how was their relationship. However, Mrs. Mallard clarifies that their relationship is one of love. Brently Mallard “had never looked save with love upon her.” And likewise, “she knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death.” However, love does not seem to be the problem here. Regardless of the love she has for her husband Brently Mallard, the problem she sees is the unequal relationship in which one individual exercises their “powerful will” on the other. Even though at times she had loved him, she is now regaining her freedom. Another sign that informs the reader of her new liberation is the revelation of her first name. Her name is Louise, she is no longer Mrs. Mallard, she is Louise, she has her own identity because she is free. It is ironic to see that it took Brently Mallard’s death for Louise to realize that she was not “Body and soul free!” It seems as if she finds personal strength in her husband’s death, ready to face the world as a whole person. Once Louise Mallard recognizes her desire to live for herself, desire that her marriage will not grant her, her heart will not allow her to turn back.
“The Story of an Hour” is a story of great irony. One that carries a message of hope and freedom. The title itself is self explanatory: The story refers to that of Louise Mallard’s life. A woman that lived in the true sense of the word, with the will and freedom to live for only one hour.