The story begins with an inciting incident: Mrs. Mallard's sister (Josephine) and Richards gently breaking the news to Mrs. Mallard. Her husband has died.
Exposition, or explanation of what has occurred previous to the narrative, is very concisely woven throughout the story. It is found in the first sentence, where readers are told that Mrs. Mallard has had heart trouble. In the second paragraph, there is exposition explaining the accident and how Richards first received word of Brently Mallard's death. These pieces of exposition serve to fill in the plot. Readers know why Mrs. Mallard thinks her husband has died, and they know why she ends up having a heart attack. Later in the story, exposition is woven in again to give readers insight into Mrs. Mallard's relationship with her husband. In this instance, exposition helps readers to understand Mrs. Mallard's internal conflict. We discover that she has felt bent to her husband's well-meant but overbearing will and that, although he loved her, she had "loved him—sometimes" but "Often she had not."
Her internal conflict rests upon feeling conflicting emotions about her husband's death, and her contemplation of how she feels comprises most of the rising action in the story. As such, the rising action in the story is very subtle. Mrs. Mallard weeps. Then she sits in a comfortable chair in her own room and looks out the window with "a dull stare in her eyes." The "sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air" reach out to her, and she begins to experience an unexpected and foreign feeling. With her husband gone, she begins to feel a "monstrous joy" creep over her. She realizes that she will grieve the loss of her husband again at the funeral, but she also welcomes the life of independence that will follow: "'Free! Body and soul free!' she kept whispering," which shows how her internal conflict has led to her feeling a sense of liberation that brings her deep happiness.
The climax of the story is when Mrs. Mallard opens the door and goes out onto the staircase with Josephine. Josephine had been begging to be let in to Mrs. Mallard's room, and so Mrs. Mallard makes the fateful decision to exit the room. The climax is frequently explained as the turning point of a story. It can also be read as the moment in which the protagonist makes a decision that determines their fate. Exiting the room at the moment that she did is the decision that makes Mrs. Mallard's heart attack unavoidable.
The falling action in this story is very brief. The door opens to reveal that Brently is still alive and apparently has not even heard of the accident. Mrs. Mallard gives a "piercing cry," and Richards steps between Brently and his wife. But Richards, readers are told, was "too late." Mrs. Mallard has a heart attack.
The denouement of the story is equally short. Readers are told Mrs. Mallard has died of heart disease. Josephine, Richards, and Brently assume she has died of joy and shock, but only the reader knows she has died of disappointment.
Kate Chopin's story, "The Story of an Hour," takes place over the time period of an hour, when Mrs. Mallard receives information that her husband has been killed. Though the story itself is short, it follows a traditional plot line that can be viewed through Freytag's plot pyramid. In this plot, the beginning of the story is exposition, then comes the rising action where tension builds. The next moment is the climax of the story, followed by falling action, and a denouement or conclusion.
In Chopin's story, the exposition occurs when Mrs. Mallard hears the news of her husband's death. The rising action is when she confines herself to her room and weeps--at first the reader believes it is because she is devastated but later learns it is because she is happy. The climax of the story is when she sees that he is alive. The falling action in this story happens immediately after the climax when she dies. The denouement is the narrator's commentary that she died of love that kills.