Chopin's cultural context surely influenced the character of Mrs. Mallard. When Chopin was writing this story, women in Louisiana were still considered the legal property of their husbands. Few women worked outside their home, as their expected role was to take care of their husbands and children. The majority of women who did find employment were employed as domestic help.
Women had many barriers to participating in society, and lots of opportunities were closed to them. When the Olympic Games opened just a couple of years after the publication of this story, there would be no events for women. Women could not serve on juries and could not inherit property outright in many places. Women who wished to acquire professional positions such as doctors and lawyers likely found this an impossible dream. Women themselves often looked with scorn upon other women who didn't fall into societal expectations, and Chopin's novel The Awakening was not appreciated because of its themes of sexual liberation.
In "The Story of an Hour," we see how heavily these societal expectations rest on Mrs. Mallard. In fact, her identity is so wrapped in her husband that we don't even learn her first name until nearly the end of the story; she is simply the Mrs. of her husband's house. In her husband's (incorrectly conveyed) death, she finally finds the freedom she has longed for. No longer will her husband's wishes dictate her day. Instead, she is finally free to pursue a life of her own choosing. Her husband has not been a cruel man and "had never looked save with love upon her." But that doesn't matter:
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. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.
In her husband's death, Louise Mallard finally finds her own identity. She finds the freedom to live on her own terms. And the thought of these freedoms overwhelms her with joy.