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Born in 1851, Kate Chopin was an American short story author and novelist who wrote about female independence and abominable topics. Influenced by experiencing the death of her husband in 1883, she began to write and discover her own independence. During the late 1800’s, women were subjected to domestic roles and responsibilities, and their identities were defined by their husbands. With limited access to education and rights, women were viewed as inferior to the men. Kate Chopin experienced first-hand the roles of women during this time, and she used her upbringing to influence her writing and beliefs (“Kate Chopin” 123).
Chopin “The Story of an Hour,” is a story based in the late 1800’s that illustrates Mrs. Mallard, a married woman, receiving the news of her husband’s death. While appearing to be deeply saddened over the death, she ironically feels relieved from the roles of being a wife and is free to experience her newfound freedom. However, she unexpectedly discovers that her husband’s passing was imprecise, which causes her to die of a weakened heart.
In Kate Chopin’s, “The Story of an Hour,” the persona illustrates downfall of women’s oppression and the significance of freedom using verbal irony, situational irony, and dramatic irony.
In the beginning of the story, the idea of a medical condition and Mrs. Mallard having heart trouble is introduced, and the heart trouble is why her sister, Josephine, was cautious while revealing the death of Mrs. Mallard’s husband. For example, the persona states, “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” (Chopin, 549). However, throughout the story we can find evidence of her not experiencing heart trouble due to her mourning her husband’s death. In fact, she felt the exact opposite. For instance, the speaker states, “She said it over and over under her breath: ‘free, free, free!’…Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body,” (Chopin 550). Mrs. Mallard felt relieved and joyful after finding out about her husband’s death, so this implies that her “heart trouble” is actually not medically related. In a Scholarly source written by Wan Xuemei, he states, “Though in her deep heart there is an ardent longing for freedom and for female self-assertion, and beneath her reserve lies a strain of romanticism and rebelliousness, she has no chance to release from what she evidently felt as repression or frustration, thereby freeing forces that had lain dormant in her. Maybe it is such reasons that cause her heart trouble,” (Xuemi 168). This evidence conveys that her real heart trouble is due to her feeling repressed and hindered by not being able to have her own identity or independence. The downfall of women’s oppression is being illustrated by Mrs. Mallard feeling trapped and the oppression causing her heartache, and the significance of freedom is conveyed when the speaker highlights that Mrs. Mallard’s freedom is more important than the death of her husband.
Although the idea of death is often viewed as a sensitive subject, which causes depression and heartache, Mrs. Mallard’s reaction to her husband’s death is the opposite of what one would expect. For example, the persona states, “But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome,” (Chopin 550). This reaction is immensely ironic because most women would be grief-stricken due to the death of their husband; however, she feels relieved and fortunate. Her reaction implies that her marriage felt like a trap, and she was confined to the typical roles of women during that time period. Her desperate need for freedom was silenced, and the reader can conclude that she was infatuated with the idea of being able to live with no obligations. The situational irony of her response showcases the essential need for not only her freedom, but also, women’s freedom from the imprisonment of marriage.
During the progression of the story, the reader can see Mrs. Mallard’s real views on marriage, her husband, and her need for independence. While the reader is aware of her thoughts, Mrs. Mallard’s real feelings are never revealed to the other characters in story, and her unknown feelings add depth and irony to the story that draws the reader in. For example, Josephine states, “‘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,’” (Chopin 550). Josephine believes that Mrs. Mallard is mourning, but she is actually celebrating her new life. This dramatic irony creates intensity for the reader and gives the reader a chance to empathize with Mrs. Mallard and the women who suffered from oppression during the time period. While Mrs. Mallard’s family would most likely criticize and judge her true emotions, the reader is given the chance to look at the situation from an outside perspective and gain insight. This use of dramatic irony emphasizes that being confined to society’s rules and not having freedom of will resulted in the downfall of women’s oppression.
By giving the reader insight on Mrs. Mallard’s feelings of imprisonment, the speaker was able to add more depth and irony in the story. For instance, the persona states, “It was Brently Mallard who entered…He had been far from the scene of the accident…He stood amazed at Josephine’s piercing cry…When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease-of joy that kills,” (Chopin 551). While the readers have enough understanding to know why Mrs. Mallard died, the characters in the story are left in the dark and are forced to conclude that it was due to joy of Brently’s return. The fact that Mrs. Mallard’s feelings were unknown to the characters in the story is symbolic of how women’s oppression in the late 1800’s were oblivious and unknown to society. This use of dramatic irony creates an intense ending for the reader and signifies the importance of identity and freedom of will. Mrs. Mallard did not truly love her husband and was with him because she felt that it was her duty and place in society. The reader can also conclude that it was guilt that also caused her to die because instead of mourning the loss of her husband, she felt very fortunate. Ultimately, it was the concealed truth of her heart trouble that ended her life.
Although the use of irony in the story is frequent, the title of the story can also be viewed as ironic. “The Story of an Hour” is a story being told in an hour’s time. The duration of an hour is significantly short compared to a lifetime, but as one experiences many emotions, an hour can seem like a lifetime. This short story is not just a story told in one hour, but is Mrs. Mallard telling her story, which seems like a lifetime to her. In conclusion, the downfall of women’s oppression and the significance of freedom was effectively illustrated using irony. Although the true feelings of Mrs. Mallard were never revealed to the other characters, the insight gained by the reader highlights the burden that was placed on women by society during that time period.
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