In "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin, what is Mrs. Mallard's first reaction to the news of her husband's alleged death, and what words does she use to express her later feelings?

In "The Story of an Hour," Mrs. Mallard's first reaction to the news of her husband's death is one of extreme grief and sadness. Louise weeps with "wild abandonment" and experiences a "storm of grief" before she heads upstairs. Once in her room, she experiences an epiphany and embraces her future as an independent woman. Louise repeats the phrases "free, free, free!" and "Free! Body and soul free!"

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When Mrs. Mallard first hears the news of her husband's fatal accident, she weeps with "sudden, wild abandonment" into her sister's arms. Louise experiences a "storm of grief" and cannot compose herself after she discovers the tragic news. Following Louise's outburst of emotion, she retreats to her room, where she experiences a remarkable transformation. Alone in her upstairs room, Louise sits in a comfortable chair and looks out the window as she breathes in the "delicious breath of rain." The mood of the story begins to shift when Louise hears the pleasant "notes of a distant song" and sees the lovely "patches of blue sky" through the clouds.

The welcoming springtime atmosphere reflects Louise's enlightened condition as she fixes her gaze, which indicates "intelligent thought." Louise Mallard has an epiphany when suddenly recognizes the positives attached to being a widow and embraces her future as an independent woman, no longer confined by her marital obligations or society's oppressive standards.

Louise then softly begins to repeat the phrase, "free, free, free!" Louise's words reflect her desire to experience an independent life and live for herself instead of bending to the will of her husband. Louise continues to contemplate her future and newfound autonomy by saying, "Free! Body and soul free!" Ironically, Louise's sister thinks that she is making herself sick inside the room, when Louise is actually "drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window." Louise then says a short prayer for a long, fulfilling life as she descends the stairs like the "goddess of Victory," only to discover that Brently is alive and her dreams are ruined.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 16, 2020
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Louise Mallard's first reaction to the news of her husband's death is a "storm of grief" that spends itself quickly; she then retreats to her bedroom, alone. We learn, from the narrator's description of this response, that Louise had reacted unusually: "She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance." In other words, Louise doesn't react the way most other women have or would have.

As she sits, alone in her room, the narrator describes all the signs of "new spring life" that Louise sees outside of the window. This is another clue to Louise's unusual reaction: she notices only the pleasant things. She sees the "tops of trees that were all aquiver" and the smells "delicious breath of rain . . . in the air." She hears someone singing far away as well as the "countless sparrows . . . twittering in the eaves," and she sees that there are "patches of blue sky" showing through the clouds. It is as though what is happening outside, the signs of the rebirth of nature in spring, is echoing what is happening to Louise inside: she is realizing that she has been reborn, so to speak, as a free woman. The only words she says for quite a while are "'free, free, free!'" Rather than feeling any stress or tension, "Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body."

Louise's last words are to her sister, assuring Josephine that she is not making herself sick inside the room alone. Finally, she descends the stairs "like a goddess of Victory," reveling in her new freedom. That is, until she sees her husband, very much alive, walk through the door, effectively closing the door on the freedom she dreamed she had.

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In Chopin's "The Story of an Hour," Mrs Mallard first cries at the news of her husband's death:

She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance.  She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister's arms. 

But her despair later changes.  The change comes upon her in stages:

There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. 

When she realizes what the thought is that is "coming to her," she whispers:  "...free, free, free."  She thinks of "...a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely.  And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome."

She whispers again:

Free!  Body and soul free!

The progression that occurs in Mrs. Mallard's mind is mostly revealed by the narrator in the form of Mrs. Mallard's thoughts.  But she does use the above words to express her thoughts, as well.

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Because of Mrs. Mallard's "heart condition," the news about her husband's death was broken to her gently in Kate Chopin's short story, "The Story of an Hour." First, she "wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister's arms." Then she withdrew to her bedroom, where she sank into her "comfortable, roomy armchair." From the open window, she could smell the "delicious breath of rain" in the air; the tops of the trees were alive with "new spring life." From her favorite chair, she whispered over and over "free, free, free." Her pulse beat fast, warming her blood, and a "monstrous joy" overcame her.

"Free! Body and soul free!" she kept whispering. 

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