Irony in “Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin

Subject: Literature
Pages: 2
Words: 664
Reading time:
3 min
Study level: College

Introduction

Irony can be generally defined as the expression of certain thoughts by using language that would normally mean something opposite to the intended message. Verbal irony refers to intentionally produced statements that convey one meaning when understood literally but need to be taken as the opposite of that literal meaning. Dramatic irony is irony embedded in the literary work’s structure. It occurs when the audience’s understanding of what is going to happen surpasses that of the story’s characters, thus giving additional meanings to the latter’s words or actions. The situational irony stems from incongruities between the anticipated and the actual outcomes of the situation. This essay explores three different forms of irony in Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour.”

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Verbal Irony

Verbal irony emphasizes the unpredictability of Mrs. Mallard’s reactions and rapid changes in her thinking about the husband’s death. After the woman realizes that she is free now, Chopin mentions a brief “look of terror” that comes “from her eyes,” which might be opposite to the emerging happiness the character starts to feel. In another example, the woman is amazed by the thought that “there would be no one to live for during those coming years.” Without context, this phrase could be perceived as an expression of extreme loneliness and grief, but the audience already knows that Mrs. Mallard feels “monstrous joy” deep inside. Therefore, thoughts about nobody to live for are actually pleasant and relate to her future self-fulfillment. However, these examples serve as verbal irony only in the context of the interaction between the author and the audience; dialogues between characters are basically non-existent, which limits the room for using this literary technique.

Dramatic Irony

Chopin utilizes dramatic irony to create a conflict that makes the characters interpret the cause of the protagonist’s death incorrectly while enabling the reader to understand the truth. In the last paragraph, the doctors that come to investigate Mrs. Mallard’s death conclude that her sudden death stems from “the joy that kills” (Chopin). The only information accessible to them is that the supposedly grieving woman’s heart stopped beating after she saw her husband alive. Therefore, she might have experienced a shocking sense of joy and alleviation. By describing Mrs. Mallard’s internal dialogue, Chopin creates the situation in which the woman’s actual perceptions of the husband’s sudden arrival are clear for the reader but remain hidden for the secondary characters. The author places the audience multiple steps ahead of the woman’s acquaintances in terms of the ability to understand her actual feelings before her death.

Situational Irony

Situational irony permeates the literary work as the very beginning of the story contributes to expectations that turn out to be the opposite of what will happen. In the very first paragraph, Chopin sets the context for the story with an emphasis on Mrs. Mallard’s heart disease and the fact that she has just become a widow. These pieces of information can be enough to make the reader anticipate the character to cry of despair and assume that the story should revolve around a grieving woman having to live without her husband. Although Mrs. Mallard seems to grieve for some time right after receiving the heartbreaking news, she eventually understands that her fate is not scary at all and she will be “free” (Chopin). This runs counter to the anticipated outcomes of delivering such news to a person known as a loyal wife. The described situation’s final outcome, a man who suddenly loses his wife, is also opposite to the initial plot-related guesses the audience can make.

Conclusion

Finally, irony makes the story even more thought-provoking and fascinating to read. The plot is far from hilarious, but verbal irony exposes discrepancies between the widow’s presumed and actual mental states. Through dramatic irony, Chopin makes the reader more knowledgeable about the woman’s psychological metamorphoses, increasing curiosity about whether other characters will understand the widow’s actual emotions. Situational irony assists the writer in surprising the audience and creating unexpected plot twists.

Work Cited

Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” VCU, Web.