Mrs. Mallard's tears are tears of joy and relief, she cannot believe her good fortune at being freed from the constraints of marriage. Although she would not wish anything bad on her husband, she is nonetheless, relieved when she is told that he has been killed in an accident.
"She recognizes that she had loved her husband sometimes, but that now she would be "Free! Body and soul free!" She begins to look forward to the rest of her life when just the day before she shuddered at the thought of it."
The reason the Mrs. Mallard cries herself to sleep and even into her dreams is because she cannot embrace the sense of freedom that she feels, she is a little afraid of what it means.
"Chopin deals with the issues of female self-discovery and identity in "The Story of an Hour." After Mrs. Mallard learns of her husband's death, she is initially overcome with grief. But quickly she begins to feel a previously unknown sense of freedom and relief. At first, she is frightened of her own feelings"
She ponders the choices that she will now have, no longer required to do as her husband desired.
"Her character represents feminine individuality, she is a strong-willed, independent woman excited by the prospect of beginning her life again after the reported demise of her husband."
More than anything, Chopin is making a statement on 19th century marriage and how little individual freedom women of this period actually had. Identity and the exploration of personal freedom did not exist within the confines of the institution of marriage in the 19th century.
When Chopin introduces Mrs. Mallard in the story, the protagonist is overwrought with emotion upon hearing of her husband's death. She sobs uncontrollably in her sister's arms and then retreats to her room. As she stares out the window at the gorgeous spring day, she,
"[sits] with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob [comes] up into her throat and [shakes] her . . ."
Most readers have witnessed a child who has thrown a temper tantrum or who has gone to sleep after tiring itself from sobbing. This is the image Chopin creates. At this point in the story, the reader would most likely interpret the image as a portrayal of Mrs. Mallard's extreme grief. She is so spent with emotion, that she cannot move from the chair or think of anything else. It seems that she, like many humans, suspends reality in the hopes that she will wake up to find that reality was only a nightmare.
However, Chopin's surprise ending should encourage readers to rethink this scene. When Mrs. Mallard hears of her husband's death and illustrates the normal reaction to the death of a loved one, she then begins to think of how her life will be different in a good way. She is as a child who is about to begin life anew, and instead of waking up and still being in a nightmare, she "wakes" up to reality and begins to realize all the positives that await her.