Thematic of "The Story of a Hour" are the repressive conditions of Victorian women. Significantly, the one hour's time in which the narrative occurs covers marked changes in the life of Mrs. Louise Mallard who lives under the oppressive feme covert laws.
Among the upper classes of Victorian society, under feme covert law, women of property surrendered this property to their husbands after they were married. This legal subjugation enabled men to have dominance over their wives since without their husbands, they would become impoverished on their own as there were no lucrative jobs for women during this time. Therefore, many women who were unhappy in their marriages felt imprisoned. Such is the case with Mrs. Mallard, who "was afflicted with a heart trouble," the suffering of a repressed wife.
When she hears the news that her husband has been involved in a catastrophic train wreck, Mrs. Mallard weeps "at once, with sudden, wild abandonment," an emotional reaction in sharp contrast to most wives, who would have difficulty grasping the idea of the loss of their loved one. Instead, Mrs. Mallard reacts as one released from captivity or some other some other oppressive condition because now her wealth can be returned to her, as well as her freedom. Notably, she "would have no one follow her" as she wishes to experience this new independence on her own as she climbs the stairs to her bedroom, where she collapses from emotional exhaustion into her armchair.
At last from a face that "bespoke repression" something comes into her expression. There is an apparent struggle as she tries to control the emotions arising within her; however, Mrs. Mallard finally "abandons herself" to it, and nervously under her breath, she whispers, "free, free, free!" It is, then, "a monstrous joy" that Louise Mallard (note that the author switches to her first name to point to the growing independence of the character) now experiences as she realizes that she can fully enjoy life without repression, in a new
...self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!
This tremendous feeling of freedom is existential in Louise Mallard--a desire intrinsic and essential to all human beings, while repression is its antithesis. Thus, when Louise finally leaves her room, as she stands at the top of the stairs preparing to descend, she feels like "a goddess of Victory" and "breathe[s] a quick prayer that life might be long." It is then that Brently Mallard enters through the front door, and, having been far removed from the scene of the train wreck, he knows nothing of the disaster. Hearing his wife's sister's scream and his friend's quick movement to shield him from the sight, Brently stands in amazement as his dead wife falls before him, taken by a "joy that kills." Ironically, in her death Louise Mallard remains free from the oppression of her husband.