Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour is a short story that is full of irony. The title is ironic, as the story is not about an hour. The main character, Louise Mallard, does not actually die at the end of the story, despite what the title might suggest.
The irony in The Story of an Hour lies in the fact that Louise Mallard experiences a moment of true freedom when she believes her husband has died. She is finally free from the oppression of marriage and can now live her life how she wants to. Of course, this happiness is short-lived as her husband returns alive and well. Nevertheless, for that brief moment, Louise was truly free.
The title of The Story of an Hour is also ironic because it suggests that the story will be about the events of one hour. However, the story covers a much longer timeframe. The events in The Story of an Hour span over the course of several hours, or even days.
In the short story ‘the story of an hour’ Kate Chopin uses irony to explain Louise Mallard’s true feelings when she heard about her husband’s death. Dramatic irony is when viewers understand what is happening in a situation while the characters are unaware. Situational irony involves a situation where actions have an effect that opposite from what was intended, and verbal iron occurs when words express something contrary to truth or someone says the opposite of their real thoughts.
The story is set in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s where it was uncommon for a woman to have an occupation, let alone her own independent thoughts and feelings. The story starts off with Mrs. Mallard receiving the news of her husband’s death in a car accident from her sister Josephine and Richard, Mr. Mallard’s friend. The news comes as a shock to Louise as she faints, however when she wakes up she does not cry but instead has “a strange thrilling breathless way of enjoying the hours” (Chopin 1294) that passed by.
The use of situational irony is shown when Mrs. Mallard thinks to herself “free! Body and soul free!” (Chopin 1295). The irony in this situation is that she is not truly free because she will have to mourn her husband’s death, however she is happy because she can now live her life the way she wants to without having to worry about her husband.
Another example of situational irony occurs when Mrs. Mallard stares out the window and Chopin writes “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” (Chopin 1295).
The ironic part of this situation is that Mrs. Mallard believes that she will be living for herself from now on, however in reality she will end up dying for herself. The final example of situational irony in the story is when Louise hears someone coming up the stairs and she thinks to herself “free! Body and soul free!” (Chopin 1296). The ironic part of this situation is that Mrs. Mallard thinks she is free, however she is actually about to be killed by her husband.
In addition to situational irony, Chopin also uses verbal irony to show Mrs. Mallard’s true feelings about her husband. An example of verbal irony occurs when Chopin writes “When the doctors came they said that she had died of heart disease-of joy that kills” (Chopin 1296). The ironic part of this situation is that Mrs. Mallard actually died of sadness, not joy like the doctors said.
The use of verbal irony is also shown when Mrs. Mallard thinks to herself “Free! Body and soul free! The bars of a prison door had opened, she was free, free, free!” (Chopin 1295). The ironic part of this situation is that although Mrs. Mallard is physically free, she is not emotionally free because she is still mourning the death of her husband.
In ‘The story of an hour,’ the situational irony is illustrated through Mrs Mallard’s reaction to hearing about her husband’s death: “She wept uncontrollably in her sister’s embrace” (188).
Mrs. mallard is visibly upset about her husband’s death, so she went upstairs to be alone and grieve. This is a normal reaction when someone loses a loved one. Everyone around her is worried because of her heart condition, but they don’t know that she’s actually happy to be free from him both physically and emotionally: “When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips.”
She said it over and over under her breath: “free, free, free!” The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They rested upon her sister with a bright gleam of joy”(188-189). The use of repetition at the end of the story reveals to us that she is not actually upset about her husband’s death but is instead elated by it as it has set her free from the confines of marriage.
The irony in this story stems from the fact that what everyone believes to be true (that Mrs Mallard is distraught by her husband’s death) is actually false, while what they believe to be false (that Mrs Mallard is secretly happy about her husband’s death) is in fact true.
The story highlights the Victorian era’s perception of marriage as a trap, from which death was the only escape for women like Mrs Mallard who felt suffocated by the institution. In The Story of an Hour, Kate Chopin uses situational irony to turn the expectations of her readers on their head and challenge the traditional roles of women in marriage.
The short story employs dramatic irony when Mrs. Mallard’s sister, Josephine, thinks Louise is hurting herself. Although grieving and heartbroken over her husband’s death, in actuality, “Louise was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the key hole, imploring for admission.” Louise! Open the door! I beg you; open the door-you will make yourself ill.
For heaven’s sake open the door.” (Chopin, 1894) The situation is ironic because Louise Mallard was not hurting herself, but rejoicing in her husband’s death. The news of Mr. Mallard’s death was “a joy that kills.”(Chopin, 1894) The irony is shown when Mrs. Mallard thinks to herself “Free! Body and soul free!” She then repeats it over and over again.(Chopin, 1894)
This is unexpected because a woman whose husband has just died would not be thinking about how free she is. The final example of irony in “The Story of an Hour” is when Mr. Mallard comes back alive. Mrs. Mallard had just come to the realization that she was free and could live her life how she wanted to.
The joy she felt turned into disbelief and then heart failure when she saw her husband alive and well. The irony is shown when Mrs. Mallard “went limp and fell heavily into Josephine’s arms.”(Chopin, 1894) The use of dramatic irony allows Kate Chopin to create a shocking ending that leaves readers with a new perspective on marriage. (Fang, 2015)