The author states in the opening sentence that Louise Mallard has heart trouble. This should warn the reader that the heroine is likely to die, especially since this is such a short story, taking place in a single hour.
If she were to die, the reader would expect the cause of death to be her grief over the loss of her husband. This was what was feared by her husband's friend Richards, as well as by her sister Josephine.
The tone of the story takes a truly surprising turn. It is reminiscent of some of the ironic stories of Guy De Maupassant, whom Kate Chopin admired and emulated. When Louise first hears the news of her husband Brently's death she is genuinely grief-stricken.
She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister's arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone.
But when she is alone in her room the tone changes. This change, resulting from her realization that, like many experiences in life, her loss has compensations. She hardly dares admit to herself--much less to her sister or anyone else--that she is relieved to be free of the bondage of matrimony.
Marriage is a mixed blessing for many people. Leo Tolstoy writes his views oof marriage in his famous story "The Kreutzer Sonata," which includes this pessimistic passage:
"We were like two convicts fastened to one chain, hating each other, each poisoning the life of the other and strivinig not to recognize the fact. I did not then realize that ninety-nine per cent of the married people live in the same hell as mine, and that it must be so. Nor did I then realize that it was so of others or true of myself."
The tone of "The Story of an Hour" changes like the sun breaking through the clouds.
There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.
Her epiphany peaks with the words she keeps whispering to herself.
"Free! Body and soul free!"
Kate Chopin lived from 1850 to 1904. No doubt she would have had more to say regarding Louise's body if she had lived in more recent times. One of the things women felt was repugnant about marriage was their being owned like slaves and used for their husbands' sexual gratification without regard to their own wishes or feelings.
The tone of joy and renewal comes to an abrupt end. Brently comes home alive! Louise does indeed die of a heart attack--but only the reader knows her death was caused by the horror of realizing that her freedom was lost. She had enjoyed it for only one hour.
When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease--of joy that kills.
It is especially ironic that Louise actually did love her husband and yet died of emotions that were very much the opposite of joy when she saw that he was still alive and that she was still trapped in a suffocating relationship. The tone of joy expressed in the middle part of this story shows that the author has a negative attitude towwards marriage. The same attitude is expressed in Kate Chopin's chief work, her novel The Awakening.