We know from the information at the start that Louise Mallard had a heart condition, and we expect she’ll die when she hears about her husband. However, she doesn’t. Share your reactions about what happened to her instead.
Although she does not die when told the news of her husband’s death in a railroad accident, Mrs. Mallard “wept at once with sudden, wild abandonment.” (Chopin, 259) She experiences “a storm of grief (Chopin, 259) and takes herself off to her room to be alone. It is in her room, alone, that she suddenly realizes that the death of her husband has given her the opportunity to be completely free. When she looks out at the open window at the perfect spring day, it is symbolic of how she now feels: that life for her is beginning again and she is “free, free, free” (Chopin, 260) She sees the future as “a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to welcome them.” (Chopin, 260)
It is important to note that she does feel real grief that her husband is dead; that hers had not been an especially unhappy marriage [we are told that “her husband’s face... had never looked save with love upon her.” (Chopin, 261)]; that she did feel some love for her husband – “she had loved him – sometimes.” (Chopin, 261) but perhaps “sometimes” is not enough.
However, women in the 19th century had so few legal rights that they were very subservient to their husbands – which is why Louise Mallard has such an enticing vision of a future in which she can do what she wants, not what her husband wants. She thinks about the future with optimism:
There would be no-one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. 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. (261)
‘The Story of an Hour’ is an early cry for female emancipation. This is why, at the end of the story, she really does have heart failure when her husband appears in the house, because it means that all her vivid dreams of freedom will be thwarted. The final sentence of the story is completely ironic: “When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease – of the joy that kills.” (262) But the reader knows she dies from sadness after her beautiful vision of freedom.
Chopin, Kate. (2008). The Awakening and Other Stories. Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics.