Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” is the story of an hour in the life of Mrs. Louise Mallard, a young woman whose wrinkles portray “repression” and “strength.” As the story begins, the narrator reveals that Mrs. Mallard has “heart trouble.” Her sister Josephine and her husband’s friend Richards have come to her after hearing of a railroad disaster that has resulted in the death of Mr. Mallard. Both are concerned that the news will make Mrs. Mallard ill and Josephine takes great care to tell her the news as cautiously as she is able.
Mrs. Mallard reacts to the news with “sudden, wild abandonment” and locks herself in her bedroom. In the solitude of her room Mrs. Mallard understands the fundamental change taking place in her life. She sits in a chair, no longer crying, looking out the window at the “new spring life.” She “suspend[s] intelligent thought” and fearfully waits for a “subtle and elusive” idea to “possess her.” She begins to comprehend that she is joyful that her husband is dead, but she attempts to suppress the thought.
Once Mrs. Mallard accepts the feeling, even though she knows that her husband had really loved her, she is ecstatic that she will never have to bend her will to his again. Now that her husband is dead, she will be free to assert herself in ways she never before dreamed while he was alive. She recognizes that she had loved her husband sometimes, but that now she would be “Free! Body and soul free!” She begins to look forward to the rest of her life when just the day before she shuddered at the thought of it.
Mrs. Mallard leaves her room and rejoins her sister who has been outside the door worrying. She carries herself “like a goddess of Victory” as she joins her sister to return downstairs where Richards still waits. On their way down the stairs, they hear the front door open and see Mr. Mallard walk in. He had been no where near the accident scene. The short story ends with the abrupt death of Mrs. Mallard, whose heart gives out. Her doctors explain that she died “of joy that kills.”
Short Stories for Students, Volume 2, Kate Chopin, Edited by Kathleen Wilson, Published by Gale Research, New York, 1997.