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Ambiguity and Irony in “The Story of an Hour”

Chopin (1894) uses ambiguity and irony in “The story of an hour” to highlight the devastating effect of social standards and the necessity to scarify personal happiness to fit the image created by society. The author’s attempt to deride the widespread belief that marriage is a synonym to joy is evident in the final part of the story when the protagonist, Louise Mallard, dies of a heart attack. Ironically, Louise’s relatives and doctors conclude that the infarction was caused by the happiness to see the husband, Brently, who was considered dead by mistake, alive. Still, in actuality, Louise Mallard dies because of sadness that all her dreams for an independent life are broken. Thus, the essay argues that irony is used to emphasize the force of social norms and the anguishes of people who do not fit into the standards proposed by society.

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When discussing the issue of social problems uncovered by Chopin (1894), it is immensely important to consider that the story was written at the end of the 19th century. By this time, the suffragette movement is just emerging in the UK and the US. Hence, at the time of the story, women are deprived of many freedoms; they are unequal to men and are regarded not as independent individuals but rather as someone’s wives. Louise Mallard definitely does not fit into this pattern because her grief for the husband’s death turns to the happiness of being free from him. The irony of the described change is exacerbated by the fact that Mrs. Mallard’s feelings are altering immensely fast. Josephine, the sister, is the mirror opposite of Louise. In contrast to Louise, Josephine is a typical woman of the epoch; she is married and is highly unlikely to understand the sister’s emotions.

Another detail that deserves being discussed is a phrase of the doctors that Louise Mallard died of joy. Considering the times of the story, the doctors are more probably to be men than women. Therefore, this scene shows how the belief that women are better off with their husbands than alone is deeply rooted in people’s mindset. At the same time, it indeed was a joy that killed the protagonist of Chopin’s story. That is because if she had not felt that excited by the idea of the upcoming freedom, then the news about her husband would not have disappointed her that strong.

In “The story of an hour,” Chopin (1894) uses ambiguity and irony to draws readers attention to the fact that the strict adherence to the unwritten social norms deprives people of the possibility to live a life full of pleasure from doing what he or she truly wants. It seems that Louise Mallard was unaware that she was deprived of happiness and that she wants to be free from men before she was told that Brently was dead.

To conclude, “The story of an hour” is dedicated to the oppression of women and inequality between men and women that was much more evident a century ago than it is now. The irony is used to show that it is the society, with its false visions about what is good or bad for every individual, that breaks people’s lives with dissimilar worldviews. Finally, “The story of an hour” remains topical even a century after being published.


Chopin, K. (1894). The story of an hour. Vogue.

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