How is gender defined in Kate Chopin’s works?
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I think that any potential answer to this question is going to be larger than the space here will allow. Chopin's understanding of women's identity and, basically what it means, to be a woman is an integral part of her writing. At the same time, her expression of this flies into her depiction of men's understanding of women as one that is complex and intricate, only to be outdone by the woman understanding of her own sense of self. Gender is seen in this light in Chopin's work, something that she considers as nuanced as any beginning or start of the construction of reality:
The beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing.
For Chopin, exploring the world of gender is precisely one of those starts where there is a sense of the "vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing." For Chopin, the exploration of gender is precisely this, filled with characters that are only beginning to understand the full dimension of gender and its implications on their identity. This does not merely apply to women, but to men as well, for Chopin defines gender in her works as an exploration into "the beginning of things" in terms of a new way in how women and men relate to one another. In "The Story of an Hour," Brently Mallard cannot understand why his wife dies when she is killed by "a joy that kills" in learning about the prospect of living for herself. In The Awakening, Edna encounters a new reality of her own identity, one that is complex and unique and something that Robert is going to have to encounter with her. In "The Storm," Calixta's embrace of her own passion and Alcee's embrace of his construct a reality which, for a moment, is something so strange that only the desire of the flesh can comprehend. In these conditions, the notion of gender is one in which there is a "newness" to its exploration, reflecting in the challenging of presuppositions and sense of the awkward and discomfort that accompanies any such endeavor.
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Kate Chopin's short stories often include male and female gender roles that are sometimes challenged by the female characters in the stories. Most of her short stories, including "Desiree's Baby" and "The Story of an Hour," show females that undergo a transformation from weak and dependent on their husbands to stronger, more independent women.. Desiree from "Desiree's Baby" and Louise Mallard from "The Story of an Hour" are examples of women changing throughout the story. Kate Chopin's short fiction also often incorporated "resistance to patriarchal discourse," as discussed in Martha J. Cutter's essay. Still, some critics will always disagree with other critics, as does Karen Simon in her peice, "Kate Chopin on the Nature of Things".
Much of the criticism on Kate Chopin's works has focused on the race and ethnicity aspects in her writing. However, a few critics choose to write on the gender roles and feminism present in her works of literature.. These authors offer different perspectives that should assist the reader in analyzing the presence of gender roles and feminism in Kate Chopin's short stories.
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