Louise Mallard has heart trouble, so she must be informed carefully about her husband’s death. Her sister, Josephine, tells her the news. Louise’s husband’s friend, Richards, learned about a railroad disaster when he was in the newspaper office and saw Louise’s husband, Brently, on the list of those killed. Louise begins sobbing when Josephine tells her of Brently’s death and goes upstairs to be alone in her room.
Louise sits down and looks out an open window. She sees trees, smells approaching rain, and hears a peddler yelling out what he’s selling. She hears someone singing as well as the sounds of sparrows, and there are fluffy white clouds in the sky. She is young, with lines around her eyes. Still crying, she gazes into the distance. She feels apprehensive and tries to suppress the building emotions within her, but can’t. She begins repeating the word Free! to herself over and over again. Her heart beats quickly, and she feels very warm.
Louise knows she’ll cry again when she sees Brently’s corpse. His hands were tender, and he always looked at her lovingly. But then she imagines the years ahead, which belong only to her now, and spreads her arms out joyfully with anticipation. She will be free, on her own without anyone to oppress her. She thinks that all women and men oppress one another even if they do it out of kindness. Louise knows that she often felt love for Brently but tells herself that none of that matters anymore. She feels ecstatic with her newfound sense of independence.
Josephine comes to her door, begging Louise to come out, warning her that she’ll get sick if she doesn’t. Louise tells her to go away. She fantasizes about all the days and years ahead and hopes that she lives a long life. Then she opens the door, and she and Josephine start walking down the stairs, where Richards is waiting.
The front door unexpectedly opens, and Brently comes in. He hadn’t been in the train accident or even aware that one had happened. Josephine screams, and Richards tries unsuccessfully to block Louise from seeing him. Doctors arrive and pronounce that Louise died of a heart attack brought on by happiness.