An Ironic Hour

An Ironic Hour

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On the surface, "The Story of an Hour," by Kate Chopin is about a woman named Louise Mallard who is afflicted with a "heart condition." She is informed of the death of her husband, Brently Mallard, in a train accident. Brently Mallard's friend, Richards, confirms twice by telegram before he rushes to deliver the sad message. Her sister, Josephine, breaks the news to her in "veiled hints" and "broken sentences." At first she experiences grief, as one would expect, however she later has feelings of joy. The entire timeline is only one hour long and, at the end, to her surprise, she learns that her husband is indeed alive and she dies.

Below the surface, however, Chopin shows how death, being considered the end of life, actually can mean the beginning of life. This would suggest that, to Mrs. Mallard, the end of her husband's life would mean the beginning of hers. Louise Mallard is finally free from the oppression of marriage that was so common in the 19th century. Kate Chopin uses symbolism, imagery, and irony to convey this idea.

The fact that everyone has a first name in the beginning of the story except Mrs. Mallard is symbolic of the nature that she is "owned" by her husband. She did not have an identity until after his death. She is not referenced as Louise until after she had experienced a realization of freedom and as soon as her husband reentered the scene she became the "wife" again. As she sat "facing the open window" is again symbolic of her newly found freedom. Louise felt as if nothing stood between her and the rest of the world now that her husband was gone. The characterization of Louise as having "a dull

stare" implying that she was "locked" inside herself only to be transformed to a "feverish triumph" after the death of her husband was evidence of her newly found freedom from an oppressive life.

Imagery plays another important piece in the story. At the very beginning the description of Louise as being "afflicted with a heart trouble" does not necessarily mean she has a physical illness. Her heart trouble appeared to be more of a psychological condition of depression, sadness, or perhaps the inability to feel the expected attachment to marriage. "That physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach her soul" supports that the "heart trouble" was more about the oppression from her marriage than about her literal health.

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An Ironic Hour Essay

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In the 19th century, women were often described as having a "condition" when they did not conform to the rules of the society. When she "went away to her room" she experiences physical and psychological feelings that appear to be almost orgasmic. Chopin describes a sensation that was "coming to her", one that was "too subtle and elusive to name." This "thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with all her will" was Chopin's use of imagery to push the limit of language that was acceptable during the 19th century time period in which she was writing. Louise finally "abandoned herself" and that is when she realized she was "Free, free, free!" The selection of the word "escaped" used by Chopin again described that Louise had felt like a prisoner.

Irony is displayed from the very beginning. If Richards had not rushed to be the first one to tell Louise of her husband's death the entire story may not have happened and, ironically, Richards was the one who didn't move fast enough at the end to block her view upon her husband's return, which ultimately caused her death. Although the circumstances of Chopin's story might lead readers to believe the death of Mrs. Mallard's husband would be very painful, ironically, when she receives the news, she has an overwhelming feeling of relief. Louise died "of a joy that kills." The irony is the joy of losing her freedom, not the joy of knowing her husband was still alive.

It is often said that death ends suffering, and for Louise, this was the case. Her husband's supposed death ended her suffering for an hour and in the end her own death ended her suffering forever. By using symbolism, imagery and irony, Kate Chopin shows that death can be the beginning of life for some, just as life can cause the death of others.

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