At the very start of Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”, the author informs the reader that the main character, Mrs. Mallard, is already a woman of a weak physical nature. Adding to that, Chopin also explains that this woman is about to receive very bad news, and that those around her are quite concerned as to how to do it.
Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband's death.
This means that Kate Chopin’s purpose is certainly to feel pity or at least compassion for her character. However, this compassion will change, because the character will momentarily change as well.
When Mrs. Mallard receives the news…she is actually happy! She does not show it, but she went on her own to picture how her life will be now that she will finally be freed from the social imposition of her time: of having to serve as wife and lover to a man that she “once loved”, but that now signifies a burden for her.
This is another point of pity that comes as a surprise to the reader. Now we see the other side of Mrs. Mallard. She is no longer the weak and pitiful creature that has recently become a widow: she is now the woman who is desperately trying to find herself and exercise her independence. The reader can commiserate because it is obvious that the poor woman has lived a life where she has no control of her actions. That, alone, is worthy of great pity especially when we read the story through our modern eyes.
When Mr. Mallard shows up at the door and it is clear that he is not dead, both the reader and the main character deflate together. Those dreams of independence that the reader really wishes for her instantly disappear. All comes quick and shockingly, making the reader feel empty and defeated. That is exactly what Chopin wants to convey as preparation to the final shocking moment of the story: when Mrs. Mallard dies of a heart attack after seeing her husband and, ironically, she is thought to have died of the “joy that kills”.
The sudden end of the story brings all back to the beginning where Chopin had already conveyed upon the audience that feeling of sadness that permeates the entire story.