Imagery and Irony Entangled in The Story of An Hour

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Nelson Mandela once said, “Freedom can not be achieved unless the woman have been emancipated from all forms of oppression”. As true as this statement rings, it’s not an original one. The discussion of the oppressed woman had been around over a century before he uttered these iconic words. Many have put pen to paper in an attempt to convey their frustrations with the suppression of women, yet few did so as early and effectively as Kate Chopin. She did so with the help of many literary elements, including irony and imagery. In “The Story of an Hour”, Chopin uses both irony and imagery to convey her theme of freedom versus confinement.

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As the story begins to unravel, it become abundantly clear that the reader’s expectations are about to be challenged. It comes as quite a shock to see Mrs. Mallard be so excited at the prospect of being free from her husband after his death. In most stories, love is considered to be the ultimate goal, yet Mrs. Mallard feels completely differently. “What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!” (570). This captures the theme of freedom because she holds more value in her own independence than love for her husband.

Chopin uses detailed descriptions of Mrs. Mallard’s feeling of freedom to truly capture how liberated she feels. The lead describes her sense of self as “drinking the very elixir of life” (570). The word elixir is often used in mystical stories as a means to showcase healing properties and almost always is used as a saving grace. Therefore, its’ use here lets the reader know freedom seemed like to Mrs. Mallard that her husband’s death was an antidote to her suffering.

The ending of the story is the most ironic component of the story due to Mrs. Mallard’s untimely death. It is especially ironic that the lead was dreaming of her new freedom and hoping for a long life mere sentences before she dies of her heart attack. “Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her….She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long” (570). This is a perfect example of the author’s theme of confinement battling freedom as her promise of freedom is very short-lived. It seems almost as if the cruel world never had any intentions of freeing her and seems as if she will stay forever confined.

After learning of her husband’s death, at the beginning of the story, Mrs. Mallard’s movements are illustrated by Chopin as particularly restricted. When she goes to her room and sits in her armchair, “she (sinks), pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.” (570). However, as the story winds down and she comes to terms with her newfound liberation, her moves are far more graceful. Mrs. Mallard rises “at length” with “a feverish triumph in her eyes... carr(ying) herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory” (570). The stark difference in how Chopin chose to describe the leads descent into the chair versus her ascent from it showcases the character development in a few short paragraphs. Through the author’s use of vastly different imagery, it is easy to identify the change in Mrs. Mallard’s demeanor.

Although the concept of freedom and the concept of confinement are very much opposite, Chopin proves they are destined to coexist. For if there was never any confinement, how could anyone grasp the idea of being free? Through her use of imagery and irony, Kate Chopin illustrates the balance and struggle between the two antonyms in a way few authors had done before and set a precedent for those who came after.     

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