“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin is filled with many examples of irony. Irony exists in literature when the author uses specific words or situations that offer both an expected meaning to the reader as well as meaning that opposes what is traditionally acceptable. For instance, the reader recognizes that a word generally represents one image but realizes that the author is representing something opposite with that word. In “The Story of an Hour” there are many different types of irony being used: situation, dramatic and verbal. This paper will focus specifically on the examples situational irony which involves the ways that characters react to a situation that are in contradiction to the expectations of the reader given the specific situation.
Situational irony was used when Mrs. Mallard heard the news about her husband’s death. Initially she reacted in a manner that would be expected from a grieving widow when “she wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her” (476). This reaction to the death of her husband seemed to appease the other characters as well as the reader. However, the irony of the situation came clear to the readers, although the other characters were unaware of this ironical twist. Mrs. Mallard recognized that she had loved her husband but she did not feel the loss as she thought she should. In fact, although Mrs. Mallard “knew that she would weep again,” there was a sense of freedom that she felt when “she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome” (477). Mrs. Mallard is actually happy and she cannot wait to spend her upcoming years free. Then, in a final twist of situational irony, Chopin reverses the sense of freedom that Mrs. Mallard feels when she sees that her husband is still alive and loses her will to live. The other characters believe that she has died “of the joy that kills” but the readers know that Mr. Mallard’s return from the dead would have killed the spirit of Mrs. Mallard even if she would have lived through the shock of his return (477).
Although the reader and the other characters expected the same reaction from Mrs. Mallard at the beginning of the story, Kate Chopin used situational irony to show a different side of Mrs. Mallard. Through this, she also showed a different view of the women during the time period. Expected to be dependent on the husband, women such as Mrs. Mallard were not conceived to have their own sense of self or need for freedom. Even Mrs. Mallard seemed shocked at how great the freedom felt. This shows that situational irony paints a picture that can only be viewed through an unexpected twist in a character’s actions.