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In The Story of An Hour, Kate Chopin uses a variety of literary devices ranging from third person narration, juxtaposition and irony to vividly illustrate the dramatic process of grievance, and alternately liberation, that Mrs. Mallard experiences under the impression that her husband has died. In the beginning of the short story, Chopin attempts to extend inklings to the reader of what is later to come in the story through the assertion that “Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble,” and that the other characters, her sister Josephine specifically, would “break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death.” It might be perceived that Chopin’s intentions were to foreshadow Mrs. Mallard having a heart failure in response to the traumatic news if it were not delivered delicately. Chopin depicts Mrs. Mallard as a fragile being whom would be shattered both physically and emotionally when given the news of her husband’s death.
Chopin then toys along with this predictable reaction describing Mrs. Mallard as to have “wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment,” similar to how a “child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams.” The use of such kinetic word composition and the comparison of Mrs. Mallard to that of a sobbing child portrays her as an emotionally obliterated, feeble woman – entirely devastated, the exact reaction Chopin had foreshadowed early on. Chopin then implements juxtaposition and irony when describing Mrs. Mallard’s feelings subsequent of her devastation.
Up until this point in the story, all of Mrs. Mallard’s actions are seemingly natural. The reader would think it reasonable for a woman to be emotionally rattled at the news of her husband’s death, however Chopin twists this seemingly predictable narrative on its head by now revealing a sense of liberation in Mrs. Mallard. To initiate this shift in mood, Chopin describes Mrs. Mallard gazing at the sky not in “a glance of reflection,” however a glance which “indicated a suspension of intelligent thought,” and this described “suspension of intelligent thought” puts a pause on Mrs. Mallard’s remorseful thoughts and serves as a gateway into her newfound freedom.
Chopin further describes the positive ascension of Mrs. Mallard’s thoughts through the phrases “her bosom rose and fell tumultuously,” while whispering, “free, free, free,” “over and over under her breath.” Through this description, Chopin seems to reinvent Mrs. Mallard in an almost evil way as she is finding peace within her husband’s death. A reader might associate Mrs. Mallard’s “tumultuous” chest movements and repetition of a single word with the clich?, evil, methodical laugh of a villainous character that rises in richness at the expense of another (the laugh then commensurate to Mrs. Mallard’s happiness at the expense of her husband’s life). Chopin has recreated Mrs. Mallard in a way that makes her seemingly selfish in that she has achieved contentment through the death of her husband when the orthodox reaction should be a sense of remorse. Chopin therefore creates irony in two ways: one through the juxtaposition of how Mrs. Mallard should feel and how she actually feels and the other being how Mrs. Mallard achieves emotional uplift through an inherently wrong (according to societal expectation) response to the situation.
Referring back to the potential foreshadowing in the beginning of story, Chopin seems to create a full circle effect at the end of the story. The very last line of Chopin’s short story proclaims that “she (Mrs. Mallard) had died of heart disease – of the joy that kills.” This ending serves as a full circle ending as it ties Chopin’s beginning statement, “Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble,” to the end of the story: Mrs. Mallard’s death via heart failure. The irony then amounts from the cause of Mrs. Mallard’s heart failure. Chopin has illustrated the story so that the reader knows Mrs. Mallard’s heart failure is from the negative shock of knowing her husband is alive while the characters in the story believe Mrs. Mallard’s heart failure is from positive shock, hence “the joy that kills.” This irony and juxtaposition of what actually happened and what is perceived to have happened (by the characters in the story) is made entirely possible through Chopin’s choice of third person narration.
Through third person narration, Chopin exposes both sides of the situation: Mrs. Mallard’s internal thoughts, her feelings of liberation and freedom, and the external thoughts of the other characters, the feelings that Mrs. Mallard is desolate. By divulging the juxtaposing views to the reader, Chopin creates an ironic dichotomy. Through this ironic dichotomy, the reader gleans the unadulterated truth of Mrs. Mallard’s reaction to her husband’s death thus establishing a personal relationship between the reader and the character of Mrs. Mallard, all of which Chopin uses as a strategy to effectively illustrate Mrs. Mallard’s emotional development throughout the story.
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