In this paper we are going to discuss the well known short story ”“ “The Story of an Hour”¯, written in 1894 by the American writer Kate Chopin. Initially Chopin could not gain the literary success and popularity, only after the novel “The Awakening”¯ was produced in 1899, she was finally recognized. In most of her stories she paid a lot of attention to the theme of emancipated and strong women, which was rather timely for the sexual liberation debates of the twentieth century. The impressive literary writing, produced by Kate Chopin, evokes deep emotions in readers and although the story is not long, it can be characterized as complete in presenting the main message of the author and very rich for feelings, sense and irony. The main characters of the story ”“ Louise- had a unique experience even if very short one, but this becomes evident to the readers only by the end of the story.
The Story of an Hour is a bright and evoking piece of writing, with profound and perfectly presented irony.
The plot of the story is actually the description of a person’s thoughts, which go through her head, when she gets the terrible news about the death of a close person. In the story, the person, who hears such news, is a young woman ”“ Louise Mallard. She has problems with her health, namely heart troubles and thus it is rather difficult for her relatives to inform such news to her. Still they can not make it in a gently enough manner and the girl runs to her room, which finally becomes the setting of the whole story. From the very beginning of the story this is rather difficult for the readers to make the concrete judgments about the feelings of the young woman towards her husband. Because the reaction of Louise would seem quite unusual for many people, instead of crying and shouting and despair outbreaks, she is just sitting calmly in her room ”“ “There stood, facing an open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair.”¯ (Chopin, 1). The word comfortable in this sentence seems absolutely inappropriate for the situation. A woman, who has just got the news about the death of her husband, would not concentrate normally on such things as furniture and its comfort. The next confusion for the readers comes from the unexpected descriptions of the beauty of the nature, the girl is facing from the window:Ā “The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which some was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.”¯ (Chopin, 1). The setting of the story ”“ i.e. the room of Louise plays a very important role for the story, as it represents the birth of freedom, coming after the death of the husband. Louise looks through the window, which can be seen as metaphor for the opening opportunities that await her in her future life. The scent of rain usually brings freshness and feeling of renewal in nature, in the same way, Louise “smells”¯ her new beginning, she was so much striving for. Patches of the sky, seen from the window, which “were showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled one above the other in the west facing her window”¯, were the signs of bright spots in her life, emerging among the clouds of despair and sorrows. “The blue skies that peak through the clouds denote the clearing of oppression and opportunities for renewal”¯ (Chopin, 1).
Only after this the author provides the explanation for the readers, who realize, that the young woman sees this events not like loss, but rather as deliverance. Chopin writes about this: “What could love count for in face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being”¯ (Chopin, 2). This deliverance gives the chance of developing of positive energy and vitality, which were almost forgotten by Louise. Certainly the relatives of the girl can not understand her reaction and especially her sister Josephine is concerned about the time, she spends alone in her room. Actually from the very beginning of the story the author uses ironical approach.
She treats with irony the way, how Louise accepts the tragic news, as certainly the readers would expect absolutely different reaction from her. And the story is finished with irony, when the readers got to know, that Louise dies herself also. Chopin used the omniscient type of narrator, which is absolutely appropriate for the story and for the plot developed. The setting and the characters are described in a very thorough way and this contributes to the gripping style of writing of this author. “The fact that she uses an omniscient viewpoint but nevertheless saves the information that Brenty wasn’t a participant in the railroad accident at all until the end of the story shows that a story written using an all-knowing style doesn’t necessarily have to end predictably”¯ (Willhite, 3).
As we have already mentioned, the first irony of the story is hidden under the perception of the news by Louise. As soon as the girl remains alone in her rooms after hearing the news, the readers get the chance to see the things through the eyes of Louise. At the moment, when she whispersĀ the word “free”¯, the readers understand, that ironically she is not suffering, she is glad about the freedom he got. Louise knows perfectly well, that her husband loved her, but she is tired from the strong impact of his will on her own, as it often happens in relations between men and women. She can not say, that she didn’t love him in return, and still she strived for freedom as any other individual. The reaction of Louise, which from the very beginning seems to be inadequate and illogical, gradually becomes clear and acceptable to the readers, as her explanations seem corresponding. The existing mood of Louise soon is substituted by her dreams about her future life, where she would be free from boundaries and would have the chance to live for herself only. Finally, when she decides to come back downstairs to her family, she is full of feeling, that “life might be long”¯ and that she is “a goddess of Victory”¯. The description of Louisa’s feelings in reality contributes to making the ending even more unexpected and ironical.
As soon as the readers understand the argumentation and the state of mind and feeling of the young woman, related to the death of her husband, events of the story make another unpredictable turn. It turns out, that her husband is alive in reality and Louise is as deeply shocked as the readers, when she sees him entering the room. Her shock is so strong, that she dies. Ironically, the doctors come to the conclusion, that the main cause of death was such unexpected joy and happiness, whereas in reality the readers understand, that she plunged into the feeling of freedom and relief so deeply, that she couldn’t imagine coming back to the life with her husband and being again subjected to his will. “In the title, the “story”¯ refers to that of Louise’s life. She lived in the true sense of the word, with the will and freedom to live for only one hour”¯ (Deneau, 213).
The title of the story, which seemed absolutely unclear from the very beginning, now seems logical. The young woman in reality lived only for one hour, when she was building fantasies about her happiness and freedom, no conjecturing, that her dreams will never come true as the initial news were incorrect. Until she reveals the truth, she had one hour of true, valuable life with joy and her ambitions.
There is no detailed description of the character of Louise, instead the author used the physical description of the woman for giving the idea about the personally of the main character of the story ”“ “she was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength”¯ (Chopin, 1). The phrase “bespoke repression”¯ reveals to the readers the stress, which Louise suffered from in her past life.
We don’t know, either the reason was the tyranny of her husband or she was too weak to be able to express her desires, but her inner striving for independence is evident. Her “dull stare in the eyes”¯ also underlined, how much she was tired of routine and stagnation in her life. But as soon as she thinks, she got the chance to take independent decisions, she is trying to look into the future not into her miserable past. Ironically, even this chance turns out to be short or even fake.
Actually the theme of freedom of women is rather versatile and sophisticated issue, because for many hundreds of years and in many countries and cultures all over the world, women suffered from suppression from the side of the man in general and their husbands in particular. Even nowadays there are men, who think that the pace of a woman is at home, taking care of the household and of children, they take this decision for their wives, instead of giving them freedom and independence in certain frames at least. The author used a rather interesting approach to this theme, instead of describing the hardships of women or their emotional torments, Chopin briefly described an unusual situation, with an unusual beginning and end and let the readers make their own judgments asĀ for the role of man and woman in a family and in society. The author used irony exactly for reinforcing the influence of her real message to the readers, which is actually conveyed in the two sentences almost at the end of the story ”“ “There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination”¯ (Chopin, 2).
One the surface the life of Louise would probably seem quite happy and successful, because readers know about her love towards her husband and about the fact, that he loved her. But this love can not change the situation of depriving her of any opportunity of self-expression and making her own choices in life. The only way to escape is to die. The death of her husband seemed to solve the problem from the very beginning, but when he turns out to be alive, Louise “prefers”¯ to die herself, which is probably her first and last independent choice in life. The word “free”¯ is used several times in the story, the author wanted to underline the desire of Louise to free her body and her soul, practically at any price.
The title of the story, as well as the first sentences of it, belong to the technique of foreshadowing, applied by the author along with irony.”¯
There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air”¯ (Chopin, 2).
From the first sentences of the story readers realize, that something is going to happen to the young woman, most probably related to death. The indications of threshold of something terrible seems to be broken after Louise hears the news “and the drama of her past life helps us forget the promise of her heart condition, but Chopin uses the promise as an excellent foreshadow of what happens at the end of the hour”¯ (Deneau, 214).
Overall, we can conclude, that the short story by Kate Chopin is a real masterpiece of human feelings and emotions, spiced with subtle and profound ironical presentation of these feelings and perceptions. The author used a lot of irony in the story in order to underline the remoteness and relations between what is actually true in life and what seems to be true. Even the last line of the story is fully ironic.