KATE CHOPIN: BOLD WRITER - AHEAD OF HER TIMECHOPIN'S LITERATURE: THE AWAKENING, ATHENAISE: A STORY OF A TEMPERAMENT, AT THE 'CADIAN BALL, & THE STORM Elizabeth Fox Genovese of Emory University shared in a PBS interview that "She [Kate Chopin] was very important as one of the earliest examples of modernism in the United States or, if you wish, the cutting edge of modernism in American literature" (PBS - Interviews). Kate Chopin published At Fault, her first novel, in 1890 and The Awakening, her last novel, in 1898 (Guilds 924). During these years Chopin wrote numerous other works and most, like At Fault and The Awakening, centered around upper-middle class Creole or French women involved in womanly uncertainties; such as, extramarital affairs, acceptable behavior in society for females, duties as a wife, responsibilities as a mother, and religious beliefs. Chopin was an extraordinary woman, and no indication was made, during the investigation of this research paper, reflecting her having regrets regarding her position as a wife or mother. This document is an attempt at comparing the issues the main characters experienced and presenting Chopin's unique skill in writing about the culture she observed during her years of living in Louisiana. The tragedy of this author's existence is that during her life the literary world did not recognize such exceptional skill.
This author was born Katherine (Kate) O'Flaherty Chopin in February of 1850 to a father of Irish descent and a Creole (French settlers of the southern United States, esp. Louisiana) mother (Guilds 293). Chopin was a bi cultural mixture of strength. Due to measures beyond her control, she grows up in a life surrounded by strong willed women. These ladies were passionate women Chopin loved and respected; her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother. They each added their individual spice of life to a brew of pure womanhood.
Thus, seasoning a woman that would become one of the most influential, controversial female authors in American history. Kate Chopin created genuine works exposing the innermost conflicts women of the late 1800's were experiencing. The heroines of her fictional stories were strong, yet confused, women searching for a meaning behind the spirit that penetrated their very souls. Living a normal youth, Chopin immediately suffers the loss of her father in 1855, at the young age of five. This is later followed by another extremely difficult year in 1863 when she loses two people she loved very much, her great-grandmother, Victoire Verdon Charleville, and her half-brother, George O'Flaherty, a Confederate soldier. Chopin goes on to marry at the age of 20 to Oscar Chopin and bears 6 children.
Mr. Chopin dies of malaria after 12 years of marriage and, lastly, her mother passes three years after Mr. Chopin. Chopin is devastated, left to raise 6 young children alone.
Thus, began a writer's career based on an essential need to support her family. The Awakening was Chopin's major work and the most recognized in the literary world. This story centered around Edna Pontellier, a woman searching for meaning of 'self' in a society that held distinct understandings of a woman's role in life, as a wife, mother, and woman. Edna didn't excel in any of these areas by any stretch of the imagination. Chopin wrote this character in a form that was difficult to accept during the year it was published, 1899. This fact caused most critics to negatively examine her best work.
Chopin endured extreme humiliation for a creation that is in current day considered an excellent novel. The intriguing characters supporting the lead role are a clear array of life during this era and the location it is written about. Leonce Pontellier loved his wife, although, his concern for her was questionably expressed by the author. Leonce valued his wife as property and he consider her the sole object of his existence (Culley 7). He felt he had made a good decision in his choice of a wife, taking pride in the children she bore him and his life as a whole. In a part where Mr.
Pontellier noticed his wife had a sunburn, Chopin shared, "[Pontellier] looked at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of property which has suffered some damage" (Culley 4). Edna didn't share the same devotion towards her husband and merely accepted marriage as one accepts gravity - it's a fact of life. She found delight in the company of other men and frequented flirtation nonchalantly. The characterization Chopin shared with respect to the position of a wife in this aspect was ill received. The reasoning behind the critics of The Awakening for this issue is available in a Dorothy Dix article, written in 1898, on the American wife stating "the average American wife...
She must be a paragon of domesticity, an ornament in society, a wonder in finance and a light in the literacy circle to which she belongs" (Culley 144). Edna Pontellier's role as a mother also left much to be desired. Her two sons, ages four and five, were an inconvenience to Edna and were constantly found in the care of their nanny. Chopin wrote into her novel Leonce Pontellier reproached his wife with her inattention, her habitual neglect of the children (Culley 7); and also, "In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman" (Culley 9). Another example in The Awakening, "Edna was fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way.
She would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart; she would sometimes forget them" (Culley 19). But this was not Chopin's only visit to the topic of motherhood. Kate herself was an astonishing mother and excelled as a writer because of her dedication to supporting her children in the manner in which they were accustomed. In 1896, Chopin wrote the short story, Athenaise: A Story of A Temperament (Guilds 295).
The lead spirit is the character, Athenaise Cazeau, a young woman that marries a man who courts her, loves her, and improves her position in society. Yet Athenaise, who originally consented to her marriage, is not satisfied and finds, after only two months into this marriage, she has made a terrible mistake and strongly believes she immensely dislikes the man she married. With the help of her brother, she leaves her newlywed home and hides in a town some distance away, New Orleans. Here she finds respite from her miserable marriage and settles into a life of seclusion along with a new gentleman friend, Gouvernail. As the story progresses, a reader is expecting the grand finale of finding this woman breaking her vows by joining in an extramarital affair. The last chapter sprung into excitement and the ending was excellent.
Athenaise found she was to become the mother of Cazeau's child. This changed her whole attitude. She realized her life had a deeper destiny to follow and this transformation assisted in her realization that she did love the man she exchanged vows with. Chopin brought another spectrum of motherhood to literature.
This author was considered, by many, as the very first woman to boldly express sexual innuendo in her works. Chopin's literature was exciting because of the sexual freedom many of her characters personified. She was very interested in the works of Maupassant and it was he who was credited with influencing Chopin's ability to write sexually candid fiction in her later works. Linda Wagner-Martin wrote, "she was writing stories of the sexual - in an age that pretended the attraction that led to marriage was more intellectual than physical" (Petry 197). Chopin's views of men reflected many different sorts with each male character being the embodiment of her scrutiny of how men interpret womanhood, feminine responsibilities, the use for women, and women's roles in life. The husband characters - Leonce Pontellier, The Awakening; Cazeau, Athenaise; Bobinot and Al cee Laballiere; At the 'Cadian Ball and The Storm - were each different physically but their understanding of wifehood was not (Culley, Guild, Norton).
They all loved the women in their lives for the accolade they represented to them. These men expected the institution of 'wife' these women represented. The women involved in each story were thought of negatively because they didn't fit the mold by which society measured wives. Another positive feature in Chopin's literary works is her ability to create a precise picture of certain characters with her application of the authentic languages and dialects used. Chopin was bilingual, speaking, both, French and English, and at one point held a position in which she translated French fiction into English. Her bilingual skill was founded within two different cultures - wealthy, sophisticated, English-speaking communities in St.
Louis, New Orleans, and northwest Louisiana, and wealthy, sophisticated, French-speaking communities in these same areas (Koloshi xi). This gives her audience a well-defined view of these characters. The southern Negro characters were written speaking in the slang used by Negro's of this locale and era (i. e. , Sylvie of Athenaise). This style of writing by Chopin is also found in Bayou Folk (U.
of North Carolina 1), which was published in 1894. This book includes a number of short stories by Chopin. The best story to experience Chopin's technique of Negro language can be found in the story A Rude Awakening (U. of North Carolina 126). She also proficiently creates characters with the use of the French language, predominantly found throughout most of her novels and short stories. Lastly, Chopin included the issues taking place during the times her stories were written and described the setting for each story in real time imagery.
Women and Negroes of this time in history were involved in equal rights movements. She was noted to have intelligent friends that were involved in feminism and suffrage, although Chopin herself never participated and her views on these issues were never documented. Chopin did have a deep belief in the rights of freedom for women but not in the same context as active feminist. She expressed her interests were more aligned with freedom of self with regard to the roles women's lives were involved in and the strength women had by standing by their belief in this freedom. David Chopin, Kate's grandson, and Ms. Genovese shared their understanding of how Chopin sympathized with the Confederate South believing in a separation of socially positioned people (PBS - Interviews).
Ms. Genovese went on to further explain that Chopin held a high regard for humanity but was comfortable with denoting social standings of humanity because of her Catholic beliefs. She was not considered racist because of her respect for humankind in all cultures, believing God loved all his people regardless of social position. Her fictitious accounts were written with this regard of individuals.
Kate Chopin used all the materials made available to her through her experiences in the rich lands of Louisiana. The cultures, places, and people that she knew and experienced were tightly woven into masterpieces of fiction. She took paper and pen and built her literary magnum opus, reflecting an era we wouldn't have been able to explore had it not been for the artistic style from this great woman's mind. ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY Chopin, Kate.
"At the 'Cadian Ball." The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 5 th ed. 2 vols. Ed... Nina Baym. New York: W.
W. Norton, 1998. 457-463. The introduction of Chopin's sensuous character, Calixta, in this short story gives readers a strong sampling of this authors ability to write fiction right on the edge of permissible scandalous literature. This piece was first published in 1892, seven years before Chopin's most criticized and best work, The Awakening. Chopin, Kate.
"The Storm." The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 5 th ed. 2 vols. Ed... Nina Baym.
New York: W. W. Norton, 1998. 464-467. Chopin wrote the sequel to At the 'Cadian Ball in 1898, but it was not published until 1969, sixty-five years after her death. Calixta returns in this story and the flame for a lost love is rekindled, despite her marital position.
Culley, Margo. A Norton Critical Edition - Kate Chopin "The Awakening", 2 nd Ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. , 1994.
Chopin's major work, The Awakening was and still is one of the most influential pieces of literature written by an American woman. Critics have discussed this book's contents both in a negative and positive manner. The story is focused on Edna Pontellier, a bold yet confused woman with a somewhat questionable character considering the era she resides in. The perplexing issue is how some readers consider Pontellier the epitome of a bad wife, mother, and woman; yet, others characterize her as bold, strong, and determined.
Guilds, John Caldwell. "Nineteenth-Century Southern Fiction" Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company, Columbus, OH, 1970. This book is a collection of short stories from artists that come from the south. Chopin's Athenaise: A Story of A Temperament is included in this source. Koloshi, Bernard.
'KATE CHOPIN - A Study of the Short Fiction' T wayne Publishers, New York, 1996 Bernard Koloshi's gives an analysis of Chopin's works from a variety of approaches as literature was identified with in the early 1900's. He gives details of Chopin's three volumes of short stories, her 30 or so children's stories, and a few of her major literary accomplishments. PBS: Kate Chopin - A Re-Awakening: Interviews. Louisiana Educational Television Authority, 1998, n.
page. web site, based on a television presentation by the PBS, gives further information on Chopin. In contains a transcript of the television presentation, a chronology of major events in Chopin's life, interviews with Chopin's grandson, David Chopin and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese of Emory University, and shares links on the author. Petry, Alice Hall. "Critical Essays on KATE CHOPIN." G. K.
Hall & Co. , New York, 1996. Alice Petry Hall gives readers of Kate Chopin's works an exceptional overview of this author's life, sharing Chopin's understanding of fundamental issues based on critical essays, interviews, criticisms, and Chopin's personal notes. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries.
Documenting the American South: Chopin, Kate. Bayou Folk. Boston, 7 Nov. 2000.
New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company; Cambridge [Mass. ]: The Riverside Press, 1894. Electronic Ed. web facilitators of this website have posted Chopin's Bayou Folk in it's entirety. This book contains 23 of Chopin's short stories / essays.
It is an exceptional representation of Chopin's writing and the variety of style she accomplished.