Within the time period of the setting, the reader is given to understand that Mrs. Mallard, who does love her husband, has been repressed under the feme covert laws of the time, and is relieved to be "free" from her subservient social position after learning of Mr. Mallard's purported death.
When Mrs. Mallard, who is "afflicted with a heart trouble," is told gently of her husband's death, she weeps with "wild abandonment," an indication that she does love the man. Then, she ascends to her room alone where she collapses into a comfortable armchair that faces a window. As Mrs. Mallard gazes out this window, which has apparently been her habit, she notices "the delicious breath of rain" and the "new spring life," both suggestive of a rebirth and hope. A young woman, whose face has lines that "bespoke repression," she begins to realize that a change is coming. At last she "abandoned herself" to this realization that she is now "free, free, free!" and no longer under the feme covert laws of the Victorian age in which she lives. Now she relaxes "every inch of her body."
Although knowing that she will weep when she sees her husband in the casket, she now foresees "a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely." She will be able to "live for herself."
There would be no powerful will bending hers [Mr. Mallard dominates her] in that blind persistence with which men and women believe that have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. [This is why she is relieved to be a widow]
After this "moment of illumination," Louise Mallard wonders,
What could [hers and Brently's] love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!
Too soon, she hears her sister Josephine, calling to her, "Louise, open the door!" Louise asks her to go away as she is relishing the idea of her new freedom, praying now that her life will be long. Finally, she emerges from her room holding herself as though she were a goddess. Clasping her sister's waist, the two women descend the stairs together. But, just then, Brently Mallard unlocks the front door with his latchkey. Seeing him alive is "a joy that kills" Louise, who tumbles down the stairs, dying from what the doctor terms heart disease.