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Mrs. Mallard has a heart condition, which means that if she's startled she could die. So, when news comes that her husband's been killed in an accident, the people who tell her have to cushion the blow.
Mrs. Mallard's sister Josephine sits down with her and dances around the truth until Mrs. Mallard finally understands what happened. The deceased Mr. Mallard's friend, Richards, hangs out with them for moral support.
Richards originally found out because he had been in the newspaper headquarters when a report of the accident that killed Mr. Mallard, which happened on a train, came through. Richards waited for proof from a second source before going to the Mallards' to share the news.
When Mrs. Mallard finds out what happened she acts differently from most women in the same position, who might disbelieve it. She cries passionately before deciding to go to her room to be by herself.
In her room, Mrs. Mallard sits down on a comfy chair and feels completely depleted. She looks out the window and looks out at a world that seems alive and fresh. She can see the sky coming between the rain clouds.
Mrs. Mallard sits still, occasionally crying briefly like a kid might.
The narrator describes her as youthful and pretty, but because of this news she looks preoccupied and absent.
She seems to be holding out for some kind of unknown news or knowledge, which she can tell is approaching.
Mrs. Mallard breathes heavily and tries to resist before succumbing to this unknown thing, which is a feeling of freedom.
Acknowledging freedom makes her revive, and she doesn't consider whether she should feel bad about it.
Mrs. Mallard thinks to herself about how she'll cry when she sees her husband's dead body and how much he loved her. Even so, she's kind of excited about the chance to make her own decisions and not feel accountable to anyone.
Mrs. Mallard feels even more swept up by the idea of freedom than the fact that she had felt love for her husband. She focuses on how liberated she feels.
Outside the locked door to the room, her sister Josephine is pleading to her to open up and let her in.
Mrs. Mallard tells her to go away and fantasizes about the exciting life ahead.
Finally, she goes to her sister and they go downstairs.
Suddenly, the door opens and Mr. Mallard comes in. He's not dead and doesn't even know anyone thought he was.
Even though Richards and Josephine try to protect Mrs. Mallard from the sight, they can't. She receives the shock they tried to prevent at the beginning of the story.
Later, the medical people who examine her say that she was full of so much happiness that it murdered her.