An intelligent, independent woman, Louise Mallard understands the “right” way for women to behave, but her internal thoughts and feelings are anything but correct. When her sister announces that Brently has died, Louise cries dramatically rather than feeling numb, as she knows many other women would. Her violent reaction immediately shows that she is an emotional, demonstrative woman. She knows that she should grieve for Brently and fear for her own future, but instead she feels elation at her newfound independence. Louise is not cruel and knows that she’ll cry over Brently’s dead body when the time comes. But when she is out of others’ sight, her private thoughts are of her own life and the opportunities that await her, which she feels have just brightened considerably.
Louise suffers from a heart problem, which indicates the extent to which she feels that marriage has oppressed her. The vague label Chopin gives to Louise’s problem—“heart trouble”—suggests that this trouble is both physical and emotional, a problem both within her body and with her relationship to Brently. In the hour during which Louise believes Brently is dead, her heart beats strongly—indeed, Louise feels her new independence physically. Alone in her room, her heart races, and her whole body feels warm. She spreads her arms open, symbolically welcoming her new life. “Body and soul free!” she repeats to herself, a statement that shows how total her new independence really is for her. Only when Brently walks in does her “heart trouble” reappear, and this trouble is so acute that it kills her. The irony of the ending is that Louise doesn’t die of joy as the doctors claim but actually from the loss of joy. Brently’s death gave her a glimpse of a new life, and when that new life is swiftly taken away, the shock and disappointment kill her.