On the surface, Louise Mallard and Dee Johnson may seem like two very different women. However, the key theme that permeates both stories is the women's struggle for what Kate Chopin calls possession of self-assertion. Both women face oppression, and the source of such oppression continues to follow them around, no matter how self-possessed they may appear to be. In other words, both Louise and Dee were once oppressed, but both flip their circumstances and take control of their situation.
Despite of their individual brief possessions of self-assertion, the underlying cause of both women's issues is still oppression, and both women are ultimately unable to escape it. Conclusively, the aspects of oppression and a brief possession of self-assertion are the two key themes that both characters share in common.
For Louise Mallard, oppression comes in the form of the traditional Victorian marriage—one in which women are supposed to serve the specific roles of "wives and nurturers" with not many other prospects ahead. For Dee Johnson, oppression comes in the form of racial inequality, poverty, and the poor treatment of African Americans in the mid 20th century. She also hated the way she grew up. These circumstances make the two women feel oppressed and resentful about their lives. They are not happy, and they are desperately trying to find a way to cope.
The story of Louise Mallard is that she is a young bride, with somewhat of a weak heart, who has just found out that her husband died in a train wreck. Scared about her weak condition, her family determines that Louise is in a deep state of grief. However, unbeknownst to them, Louise is secretly excited that she will be free to be alone, and be herself, for the first time in her life. Keep in mind that Louise's story takes place in the 1890s (the story was written in 1894), and the rules of social decorum, as well as the societal expectations bestowed upon women, were drastically different then from what they are today. Louise's possession of self-assertion comes, ironically, from the news of the death of her husband. She becomes empowered and strong, and she wants to live life in a different way.
When Louise finds out that her husband is not really dead, she suffers from a heart attack and dies of what others erroneously identify as "a joy that kills." It was not so. Louise had many hopes and dreams at the prospect of freeing herself from the oppressive nature of the traditional Victorian marriage. When she realized that she will not experience those freedoms the way she thought she would as a widow, she simply could not take it anymore.
The story of Dee Johnson is different. As an African American woman who grew up poor in the Southern United States—a region which is historically notorious for racial tensions and inequality—she also grew up resentful and angry at her conditions growing up.
Contrary to Louise Mallard, Dee Johnson has the opportunity to leave town and to go study in Augusta, which was a big sacrifice her mother had to make along with funding provided by her church. Nevertheless, academic success and the separation from home made Dee into a very confident woman (perhaps a little over-confident) who has decided to look into her past and make it ornamental, for her own benefit.
To add to her possession of self-assertion, Dee changes her name into an African version of it Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. Dee's mother, as well as the reader, comes to realize that these demonstrations of self-assertion may be a bit over the top. However, it is Dee's ways to deal with her life.
Dee distances herself from the poor, country folk, acts with a degree of haughtiness, and looks upon her childhood memories, including Mama's quilt, as props. She travels with a companion that claims to be a vegetarian Muslim, and both she (Dee) and her friend welcome Dee's mom and sister speaking foreign languages.
Sadly, neither Louise nor Dee really overcome the oppression that drives their behaviors.
In the end, Dee does not really learn her lesson after her mother refuses to let her keep the quilt that is like a family heirloom. Dee's mother knows all too well that the Wangero name is nothing but a reaction to what Dee considers to be an oppressive and limiting time in her life. Sadly, even though Dee tries so hard to distance herself from her true origins (her mother and sister), the fact that she has to put up this act together shows that the trauma of the oppression is ever present in her mind.
In a similar situation, Louise Mallard's sources of oppression, her husband and her marriage in general, continue to be present. The husband never died, so life continues as usual. Sadly for Louise, she detested her life "as usual" and dies when the prospects of freedom looked impossible to reach.