Let's begin with a survey of some of the figurative language Kate Chopin uses to enhance her short story “The Story of an Hour.” Right away in the second paragraph, we read that Josephine tells Mrs. Mallard of her husband's death in “broken sentences” and with “veiled hints.” Mrs. Mallard responds with a “storm of grief.” These images are both metaphoric and vivid, and they enhance our experience of the story, helping us picture the scenes and words contained therein.
As the story continues, we read that Mrs. Mallard is “haunted” by “physical exhaustion,” as she sinks into her chair. The metaphor helps us imagine Mrs. Mallard's pale face and weak limbs as we envision exhaustion wrapping around her like a ghostly cloud. Mrs. Mallard sobs quietly “as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams.” This simile shows us that Mrs. Mallard is in a dream-like state, that she feels detached from the world around her.
As she sits, she feels something approach. This is not literal, of course, but something is “creeping out of the sky” towards her. She battles against it with her will for a few moments before she abandons herself to the freedom that has come upon her. This metaphor of freedom as almost a monster that captures Mrs. Mallard raises the tension of the story. We wonder what is going on, what Mrs. Mallard is seeing, until we, along with Mrs. Mallard, realize that this “monster” is a new experience of herself and her life that brings her “monstrous joy.”
Mrs. Mallard stands at the open window “drinking in the very elixir of life.” The metaphor shows us how Mrs. Mallard's new found freedom is flowing through her like a magical, life-giving potion, reaching into every part of her body and rousing her into a great state of excitement and energy. She feels like “a goddess of Victory,” ready to take on the world.
Then the shock hits as Mrs. Mallard's husband walks through the front door. Mrs. Mallard drops to the floor, dead in an instant. The story ends on a paradox; Mrs. Mallard has died “of the joy that kills.” The doctors think that the joy of suddenly seeing her husband is too much for her heart, but we readers understand the depth of this phrase. Mrs. Mallard's true joy has been swept away by her husband's sudden appearance, and her heart cannot take the shock. The paradox is apt on more than one level.