Chopin, Kate (Short Story Criticism)
Kate Chopin 1851–-1904
(Born Katherine O'Flaherty) American novelist, short story writer, poet, essayist, diarist, and memoirist.
The following entry presents criticism on Chopin's short fiction from 1988 through 2002. For criticism of Chopin's short fiction published prior to 1988, see SSC, Vol. 8.
A popular local colorist during her lifetime, Chopin is best known today for her psychological novel The Awakening (1899) and for such often-anthologized short stories as “Désirée's Baby” and “The Story of an Hour.” In these, as in many of her best works, she transcended simple regionalism and portrayed women who seek spiritual and sexual freedom amid the restrictive mores of nineteenth-century Southern society. Chopin is today recognized for her pioneering examination of sexuality, individual freedom, and the consequences of action—themes and concerns important to many contemporary writers.
Chopin was born to a prominent St. Louis family. Her father died in a train accident when Chopin was four years old, and her childhood was profoundly influenced by her mother and great-grandmother, who descended from French-Creole pioneers. Chopin also spent much time with her family's Creole and mulatto slaves, becoming familiar with their unique dialects. After her graduation from a convent school at the age of seventeen, she spent two years as a belle of fashionable St. Louis society. In 1870 she married Oscar Chopin, a wealthy Creole cotton factor, and moved with him to New Orleans. For the next decade, Chopin pursued the demanding social and domestic schedule of a Southern aristocrat, her recollections of which would later serve as material for her short stories. In 1880, financial difficulties forced Chopin's growing family to move to her father-in-law's home in Cloutierville, a small town in Natchitoches Parish located in Louisiana's Red River bayou region. There, Chopin's husband oversaw and subsequently inherited his father's plantations. Upon his death in 1883, Chopin insisted upon assuming his managerial responsibilities, which brought her into contact with almost every segment of the community, including the French-Acadian, Creole, and mulatto sharecroppers who worked the plantations. The impressions she gathered of these people and Natchitoches Parish life later influenced her fiction.
In the mid-1880s Chopin sold most of her property and left Louisiana to live with her mother in St. Louis. Family friends who found her letters entertaining encouraged Chopin to write professionally, and she began composing short stories. After an apprenticeship marked by routine rejections, Chopin began having her stories published in the most popular American periodicals, including America, Vogue, and the Atlantic. Between 1894 and 1897 she published the collections Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie, the success of which solidified her growing reputation as an important local colorist. Publishers later rejected a novel and short story collection, A Vocation and a Voice (finally published in 1991), on moral grounds, citing what they considered their unseemly promotion of female self-assertion and sexual liberation. Moreover, the hostile critical and public reaction to her later novel The Awakening largely halted Chopin's career; she had difficulty finding publishers for later works and was ousted from local literary groups. Demoralized, she wrote little during her last years. A cerebral hemorrhage abruptly ended her life at the age of fifty-three.
Major Works of Short Fiction
The stories of Bayou Folk, Chopin's first collection, largely reflect her skills as a local colorist and often center on the passionate loves of the Creoles and Acadians in her adopted Natchitoches Parish. For example, “A Lady of Bayou St. John” portrays a young widow who escapes the sexual demands of a suitor by immersing herself in memories of her dead husband, while “La Belle Zoraïde” chronicles a mulatto slave's descent into madness after her mistress sells her lover and deprives her of their child. In A Night in Acadie Chopin continued to utilize the Louisiana settings that figured in Bayou Folk. However, the romanticism of the earlier collection is replaced by a greater moral ambivalence concerning such issues as female sexuality, personal freedom, and social propriety. In “A Respectable Woman” a happily married woman becomes sexually attracted to Gouvernail, a family friend invited by her husband to visit their home for a week. Disturbed by her feelings, she is relieved when Gouvernail leaves, but as the following summer approaches, she encourages her husband to invite him to visit again. Chopin later expanded upon this essentially amoral perception of adultery in “The Storm,” a story written near the end of her career, which portrays a woman's extramarital affair as a natural impulse devoid of moral significance.
Early reviewers of A Night in Acadie objected to the volume's sensuous themes. Similar concerns were later raised by publishers who rejected Chopin's next volume, A Vocation and a Voice. In these stories Chopin largely abandons local setting to focus upon the psychological complexity of her characters. Tales such as “Two Portraits,” “Lilacs,” and “A Vocation and a Voice” examine contrary states of innocence and experience and ways that society divides rather than unites the two. In “The Story of an Hour,” the best-known work in the collection, Chopin returns to the issue of marriage and selfhood in her portrayal of Mrs. Mallard, a woman who learns that her husband has died in a train accident. Initially overcome by grief, she gradually realizes that his “powerful will” no longer restricts her and that she may live as she wishes. While she joyfully anticipates her newfound freedom, however, her husband returns, the report of his death a mistake, and Mrs. Mallard collapses and dies of heart failure.
Although reviewers and readers throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries condemned Chopin's frank treatment of such then-taboo subjects as female sexuality, adultery, and miscegenation, since the 1950s serious critical attention has been focused on her pioneering use of psychological realism, symbolic imagery, and sensual themes. While their psychological examinations of female protagonists have made Chopin's short stories formative works in the historical development of feminist literature, they also provide a broad discussion of a society that denied the value of sensuality and female independence. Once considered merely an author of local color fiction, critics contend that she explored universal thematic concerns in her novels, short stories, and essays. Commentators have noted her influence on later feminist writing and consider her a major American short story writer.
Bayou Folk 1894
A Night in Acadie 1897
The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. 2 vols. (novels, short stories, poetry, and essays) 1969
Kate Chopin: The Awakening, and Other Stories (novel and short stories) 1970
The Storm, and Other Stories, with The Awakening (short stories and novel) 1974
The Awakening, and Selected Short Stories of Kate Chopin (novel and short stories) 1976
A Vocation and a Voice 1991
Matter of Prejudice & Other Stories 1992
A Pair of Silk Stockings and Other Stories 1996
At Fault (novel) 1890
The Awakening (novel) 1899
A Kate Chopin Miscellany (letters, essays, diary entries) 1979
Kate Chopin's Private Papers (memoirs) 1998
(The entire section is 93 words.)
SOURCE: Toth, Emily. “Kate Chopin's New Orleans Years.” New Orleans Review 15, no. 1 (spring 1988): 53-60.
[In the following essay, Toth explicates biographical aspects of Chopin's stories set in New Orleans.]
“N. Orleans I liked immensely; it is so clean—so white and green. Although in April, we had profusions of flowers—strawberries and even black berries,” Kate O'Flaherty of St. Louis wrote in her diary for May 8, 1869.1
She had just returned from a two-month trip with her mother, cousin and friends—her first long venture from home. Exactly thirteen months later, Kate O'Flaherty would be marrying Oscar Chopin of Louisiana and going to live in New Orleans. The Chopins would stay in New Orleans for the first nine years of their marriage—formative and inspiring years for the future writer.
Two decades later, Kate Chopin would begin publishing novels and short stories set in New Orleans and in the Cane River country of Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. By the mid-1890s, Chopin would win national acclaim as a Louisiana writer—but by then she had long since left the state.
Kate Chopin, a widow in St. Louis, wrote about Louisiana from memory, from emotion recollected in tranquility: she wrote about Louisiana as a way of meditating on her own past. During her years in New Orleans, 1870-1879, Chopin had given birth to all but one of...
(The entire section is 5693 words.)
SOURCE: Foy, Roslyn Reso. “Chopin's ‘Désirée's Baby’.” The Explicator 49, no. 4 (summer 1991): 222-23.
[In the following essay, Foy asserts that “Désirée's Baby” is an exploration of the dark side of the protagonist's personality.]
In Kate Chopin's “Désirée's Baby,” Armand's ruthlessness is more psychologically complicated than it appears on first reading. His cruelty toward the slaves, and ultimately toward his wife and child, is not simply a product of nineteenth-century racism. The story transcends its social implications to explore the dark side of personality.
Armand is a man who must deal with a demanding social climate, uphold a position of noblesse oblige, and eventually come to terms with his own heritage. Early in the story, Chopin reveals that Armand was eight years old at the crucial turning point in his life when his mother died and he left Paris with his father. She states that Armand's mother had “loved her own land too well ever to leave it”1 but intimates that there was a reason why she never served as mistress of L'Abri.
Armand was certainly old enough to remember his mother, but circumstances have caused him to suppress the past. Although Chopin offers these clues to Armand's dark side and to his psychological confusion, she leaves it to the reader to decide whether Armand's cruelty springs from social...
(The entire section is 591 words.)
SOURCE: Blythe, Anne M. “Kate Chopin's ‘Charlie’.” In Kate Chopin Reconsidered: Beyond the Bayou, edited by Lynda S. Boren and Sara deSaussure Davis, pp. 207-15. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.
[In the following essay, Blythe counters the prevailing Freudian interpretation of “Charlie” and asserts that it “be read as an exceptionally strong and forthright story of the growth into womanhood of a young girl of unusually fine qualities and potential.”]
Kate Chopin's story “Charlie”—written in 1900, the year following the publication of The Awakening, but not published until 1969—has been almost completely neglected by critics, and what attention it has received has done it little justice. The longest and one of the strongest and most moving of her stories, “Charlie” has with few exceptions been misread and misunderstood by literary critics since it was first made generally available in Per Seyersted's 1969 edition of Chopin's writings (CU, 638-70).
Seyersted began the critical misreading of the story when he dealt with it briefly in his 1969 biography of Chopin. Discussing it in light of Chopin's theme of “female self-assertion,” Seyersted says that the author “allows herself to disable a man … thus subtly hitting back at the males who labeled her a disgrace and silenced her literary gun because she had represented a...
(The entire section is 3840 words.)
SOURCE: Ellis, Nancy S. “Insistent Refrains and Self-Discovery: Accompanied Awakenings in Three Stories by Kate Chopin.” In Kate Chopin Reconsidered: Beyond the Bayou, edited by Lynda S. Boren and Sara deSaussure Davis, pp. 216-29. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1992.
[In the following essay, Ellis delineates the role of music in “After the Winter,” “At Cheniere Caminada,” and “A Vocation and a Voice.”]
In The Awakening, Mlle. Reisz's piano music triggers Edna Pontellier's first emotional arousing: “The very first chords … sent a keen tremor down Mrs. Pontellier's spinal column. It was not the first time she had heard an artist at the piano. Perhaps it was the first time she was ready, perhaps the first time her being was tempered to take an empress of the abiding truth. … The very passions themselves were aroused within her soul, swaying it, lashing it, as the waves daily beat upon her splendid body. She trembled, she was choking, and the tears blinded her” (Kate Chopin's Awakening, 27). Throughout the novel, Edna continues to be awakened in various ways, one of which is Mlle. Reisz's music. Another is the consciousness of physical touch, which Chopin expresses frequently with hand imagery.
But Edna is not the first of Chopin's characters to be stirred to an emotional awakening by music. In an early story, “With the Violin,” she uses...
(The entire section is 5560 words.)
SOURCE: Shurbutt, Sylvia Bailey. “The Can River Characters and Revisionist Mythmaking in the Work of Kate Chopin.” The Southern Literary Journal 25, no. 2 (spring 1993): 14-23.
[In the following essay, Shurbutt maintains that in her fiction Chopin “revises accepted myths about duty, marriage, and sexuality in order to achieve a more realistic understanding of the human condition.”]
One of the threads weaving its way through the writing of women from Amelia Lanier to Virginia Woolf is the attempt to recast into a more palatable form traditional Western myth with its patriarchial point of view—a point of view which molds our realities, fixes our values, and limits the vision of individual possibilities. A sizable portion of feminist literary criticism in recent years has been devoted to discovering and decoding those female retellings of archetypal human experience and to explaining how the process of revisionist mythmaking works as women from the past have tried to “rewrite” their stories.
In “The Thieves of Language: Women Poets and the Revisionist Mythmaking,” Alicia Ostriker explains the process of revisionist mythmaking: “Whenever a poet employs a figure or story previously accepted and defined by a culture, the poet is using myth, and the potential is always present that the use will be revisionist: that is, the figure or tale will be appropriated for altered...
(The entire section is 4234 words.)
SOURCE: Cutter, Martha J. “Losing the Battle but Winning the War: Resistance to Patriarchal Discourse in Kate Chopin's Short Fiction.” Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers 11, no. 1 (1994): 17-36.
[In the following essay, Cutter traces the development of Chopin's resistance to patriarchal authority as evinced in her short fiction.]
In “‘A Language Which Nobody Understood’: Emancipatory Strategies in The Awakening,” Patricia S. Yaeger argues that The Awakening describes “a frightening antagonism between a feminine subject and the objectifying world of discourse she inhabits” (211).1 This antagonistic relationship also is present in Chopin's short fiction, which depicts women's inability to voice their own experiences. And yet, although Chopin continually demonstrates the way patriarchal forces exclude women from discourse, a comparison of Chopin's early and later short works shows her moving towards a clearer understanding of how women most effectively can resist patriarchal suppression. In her earlier works, Chopin frequently depicts both silent, passive women—women who seem incapable of expressing themselves or their desires—and women who overtly attempt to enunciate their desires and experiences only to have their voices labelled meaningless or “insane.” Early works such as “At the ‘Cadian Ball,” “Wiser than A God,” and particularly...
(The entire section is 10079 words.)
SOURCE: Green, Suzanne D. “Fear, Freedom, and the Perils of Ethnicity: Otherness in Kate Chopin's ‘Beyond the Bayou’ and Zora Neale Hurston's ‘Sweat’.” Southern Studies 5, nos. 3-4 (fall-winter 1994): 105-24.
[In the following essay, Green finds parallels in the portrayal of marginalized women in “Beyond the Bayou” and Zora Neale Hurston's “Sweat.”]
In the short fiction of Kate Chopin and Zora Neale Hurston, we often see women—particularly women of color—portrayed as a microcosm of society in which we are to view them not only as individuals, but as symbolic representations of the universal problems that women face. Within the microcosm that each writer creates, their female characters deal with issues that range from guilt and fear to racism and Otherness. These issues direct their lives and their interactions with their communities. Women are often marginalized because of their gender, and this separation places them in a position that is by definition divorced from the mainstream. Societal control by a dominant gender or race leads to the exclusion or suppression of those that are not part of the controlling group, and the result is the disempowerment of the nondominant group. The disempowered are placed in the category of Other—literally, that which is Other than the One dominant societal group. While any hierarchically structured society may create a One vs. Other...
(The entire section is 9170 words.)
SOURCE: Kirk Thomas, Heather. “Kate Chopin's Scribbling Women and the American Literary Marketplace.” Studies in American Fiction 23, no. 1 (spring 1995): 19-34.
[In the following essay, Thomas examines “Miss Witherwell's Mistake,” The Awakening, and “Elizabeth Stock's One Story” in which Chopin satirized the life and career of the typical nineteenth-century American woman fiction writer.]
“I want the book to succeed,” Kate Chopin wrote in an 1894 diary entry about her short story collection, Bayou Folk. Five years later—despite disappointing reviews of her novel, The Awakening—she nonetheless queried her publisher, Herbert Stone, “What are the prospects for the book?”1 Chopin's private and public writings confirm that she considered herself a professional writer. But her sense of herself as a woman writer, her comprehension of women's literary tradition, and her relationship with her literary foremothers—that “d_____d mob of scribbling women” Hawthorne lamented in the 1850s—are other, perhaps more interesting, questions.2
In Private Woman Public Stage, Mary Kelley documents the publishing travails of mid-nineteenth-century scribbling women, the “literary domestics” whose professional identities were upstaged by “their primary self-identification as private domestic women.”3 And in Doing...
(The entire section is 5922 words.)
SOURCE: Gunning, Sandra. “Kate Chopin's Local Color Fiction and the Politics of White Supremacy.” Arizona Quarterly 52, no. 3 (autumn 1995): 61-86.
[In the following essay, Gunning examines issues of class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and male aggression in “In Sabine,” “La Belle Zoraïde,” and “A No-Account Creole.”]
In Kate Chopin's 1894 local color story “A No-Account Creole,” Euphrasie Manton charts a course to economic and romantic happiness with Wallace Offdean, the New Orleans businessman whose company holds the mortgage on a local plantation in Manton's native Natchitoches parish. But while Chopin seemed to have originally conceived her story around the life of a woman, the plot centers squarely on a man's struggle with destiny and (dis)empowerment, since Euphrasie's discarded Creole lover, the plantation's former owner, Placide Santien, produces much of the story's emotional force. Indeed Placide holds the story hostage when, gun in hand, he sets out to murder the Yankeefied Offdean for winning both his family's land as well as his childhood sweetheart.1 Bloodshed is narrowly averted when, as an ultimate demonstration that no one but a Creole knows “how to love,” Placide decides to free Euphrasie from all romantic obligations (Collected Works [The Complete Works of Kate Chopin] 101).
Chopin's story might well function as simply a...
(The entire section is 10111 words.)
SOURCE: Berkove, Lawrence I. “‘Acting Like Fools’: The Ill-Fated Romances of ‘At the 'Cadian Ball’ and ‘The Storm’.” In Critical Essays on Kate Chopin, edited by Alice Hall Petry, pp. 184-96. New York: G. K. Hall & Co., 1996.
[In the following essay, Berkove elucidates Chopin's attitude toward adultery and morality as evinced through her stories “At the 'Cadian Ball” and “The Storm.”]
Since its long-delayed publication in 1969, “The Storm” has generally been read as Kate Chopin's protest at the narrow and unnatural morality of turn-of-the-century America. The story's startling last sentence in particular has been taken to be her boldly amoral stand on an adulterous affair between two young and willing participants. This critical position is not hard to understand, considering the revolutionarily frank sensuality of the story's scene of passion. Inasmuch as Chopin's novel The Awakening, which was completed in 1898, the same year as “The Storm,” is widely regarded as an affirmation of women's sensuality, “The Storm” would seem to be a reinforcement of this position. Chopin was, without doubt, an extraordinarily bold writer, but she was better than bold; she was thoughtful. “The Storm” is even better than its advocates have heretofore realized, for instead of writing merely a daring defiance of established morality, Chopin has even more daringly emplaced a...
(The entire section is 6472 words.)
SOURCE: Thomas, Heather Kirk. “‘The House of Sylvie’ in Kate Chopin's ‘Athénaïse’.” In Critical Essays on Kate Chopin, edited by Alice Hall Petry, pp. 207-17. New York: G. K. Hall & Co., 1996.
[In the following essay, Thomas explores Sylvie's narrative function in “Athénaïse.”]
The imagination that produces work which bears and invites rereadings, which motions to future readings as well as contemporary ones, implies a shareable world and an endlessly flexible language.
—Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark1
Per Seyersted, perhaps Kate Chopin's most influential critic, considers her lengthy story “Athénaïse” among her “most important efforts.”2 Written 10-28 April 1895 and published in the fall of 1896 in the Atlantic Monthly, the story not only exhibits the Cane River and New Orleans settings that earned Chopin acclaim in Bayou Folk (1894) but, more significantly, anticipates the overtly sexual themes of her mature work.3 For these reasons Helen Taylor, among others, views “Athénaïse” as a precursor to Chopin's 1899 novel The Awakening, and both the story and its title character have received sustained critical attention.4 By contrast, Chopin's characterization of Sylvie, the hard-working, middle-aged, black woman who runs...
(The entire section is 5449 words.)
SOURCE: Wolf, Elizabeth Ann. “The Politics of Rhetorical Strategy: Kate Chopin's ‘La Belle Zoraïde’.” Southern Studies 8, nos. 1 & 2 (winter-spring 1997): 43-51.
[In the following essay, Wolf contends that Chopin's indirect rhetorical strategy functions to attack prevailing myths of racial superiority and Southern womanhood in “La Belle Zoraïde.”]
The large body of Kate Chopin's fiction was written in the 1890s, during a critical transition in the history of the social and legal classification of Creole identity in Louisiana1. This point does not assume its full significance, however, until it is considered in the context of Louisiana's legislation of race and gender relations during the same period2. Surprisingly, that context has received little critical attention.
At the close of the centennial celebration of Chopin's writing, scholarship has certainly been extended into areas of inquiry formerly ignored or under-analyzed in Chopin studies. Both Elizabeth Ammons and Michelle Birnbaum have written exemplary essays on class, race, and women's rights. Brook Thomas and Wai-chee Dimock have made remarkable contributions with essays on social contract, possessive individualism, and the “promise” one generation makes to the next. Critics of the novel have, however, remained singularly silent on Chopin's representation of the “human landscape”...
(The entire section is 3179 words.)
SOURCE: Brown, Pearl L. “Awakened Men in Kate Chopin's Creole Stories.” American Transcendental Quarterly 13, no. 1 (March 1999): 69-82.
[In the following essay, Brown discusses Chopin's depiction of men who experience liberation from cultural restrictions in their relationships with women.]
Much has been written about Kate Chopin's defiant women. Not only Edna Pontellier, the rebellious heroine in The Awakening, but also the independent-minded women in her Creole stories have received extensive commentary. However, very little has been written about Chopin's defiant men, some of whom have experiences that parallel those of the women. Just as a woman in an intimate moment with a man awakens to an inner self buried beneath a culturally sanctioned social one, so does a man in an intimate moment with a woman discover a subjective self buried beneath a public persona. Just as women defy social expectations for women in the Creole culture, so do men defy that culture's masculine norms. In fact, in Chopin's Creole stories revolving around an intimate moment between a man and a woman, whether a story is told from a male or a female perspective, the narrative follows a similar pattern of discovery. For both men and women such epiphanies lead to self-knowledge as well as a better understanding of cultural norms and of the ways these norms do not satisfy psychological needs. As a consequence, these...
(The entire section is 6045 words.)
SOURCE: Berkove, Lawrence I. “Fatal Self-Assertion in Kate Chopin's ‘The Story of an Hour’.” American Literary Realism 32, no. 2 (winter 2000): 152-58.
[In the following essay, Berkove views the character of Louise Mallard in “The Story of an Hour” as “an immature egotist and a victim of her own extreme self-assertion.”]
Kate Chopin's thousand-word short story, “The Story of an Hour,” has understandably become a favorite selection for collections of short stories as well as for anthologies of American literature. Few other stories say so much in so few words. There has been, moreover, virtual critical agreement on what the story says: its heroine dies, ironically and tragically, just as she has been freed from a constricting marriage and has realized self-assertion as the deepest element of her being. Confidence in this interpretation, however, may be misplaced, for using the standard proposed for the story by Toth and Seyersted—“every detail contributes to the emotional impact”1—there is evidence of a deeper level of irony in the story which does not regard Louise Mallard as a heroine but as an immature egotist and a victim of her own extreme self-assertion. This self-assertion is achieved not by reflection but, on the contrary, by “a suspension of intelligent thought” masked as “illumination.” As a result, a pattern of basic contradictions and abnormal...
(The entire section is 3262 words.)
SOURCE: Staunton, John A. “Kate Chopin's ‘One Story’: Casting a Shadowy Glance on the Ethics of Regionalism.” Studies in American Fiction 28, no. 2 (autumn 2000): 203-34.
[In the following essay, Staunton considers Chopin's attitude toward regionalism and local color fiction and discusses her short fiction as regionalist writing.]
In Kate Chopin's first two critical essays, both written in 1894, the same year her first collection of short fiction, Bayou Folk, was published, the St. Louis-born writer—who was best known for her Louisiana fictions—demonstrates the ambivalence with which many nineteenth-century American authors approached terms like regionalism and local color. The essays are brief but incisive accounts of the strengths and weaknesses of regional writing and offer a quick glance at the literary conflicts at the end of the century. The first reports on the Western Association of Writers, a mostly Indiana group that Chopin chides for “clinging to past and conventional standards, [for] an almost Creolean sensitiveness to criticism and a singular ignorance of, or disregard for, the value of the highest art forms.”1 The group's provincialism, Chopin suggests, prevents it from realizing that “there is a very, very big world lying not wholly in northern Indiana.” But to ensure that her criticism of local writing here is not itself read provincially, Chopin...
(The entire section is 13863 words.)
SOURCE: Crosland, Andrew. “Kate Chopin's ‘Lilacs’ and the Myth of Persephone.” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews 14, no. 1 (winter 2001): 31-4.
[In the following essay, Crosland explores Chopin's use of the Persephone myth in her story “Lilacs.”]
The myth of Persephone provides a framework for Kate Chopin's 1894 story “Lilacs,” a tale of ambiguous good and evil subtly defined through mythological allusion. Chopin's use of myth in her other writing, the prominence of mythology in the literary magazines of her day, her familiarity with authors who employed it, and evidence in the story itself all argue for her reliance on it in “Lilacs.”
Critics have shown that Chopin used mythology in her most studied work, The Awakening. Lawrence Thornton bases his analysis of the novel on the myth of Icarus (138); taking another approach, Rosemary F. Franklin draws parallels between protagonist Edna Pontellier and Psyche (144). Sandra Gilbert regards Chopin as a precursor of James Joyce, whose Ulysses superimposes a modern plot on a structure of mythology. She examines Chopin's use of Aphrodite, focusing on the “mythic radiance that might at any moment flash through ordinary reality” in The Awakening (46). These essays demonstrate that myth is a tool in Chopin's creative repertoire. It is also an instrument she hones in...
(The entire section is 1678 words.)
SOURCE: Weinstock, Jeffrey Andrew. “In Possession of the Letter: Kate Chopin's ‘Her Letters’.” Studies in American Fiction 30, no. 1 (spring 2002): 45-62.
[In the following essay, Weinstock contrasts the treatment of female sexuality in Chopin's “Her Letters” and The Awakening.]
The scandal surrounding the publication of Kate Chopin's 1899 The Awakening tarnished its author's reputation and “effectively removed the novel from wide circulation and influence for fifty years following its publication.”1 The book was derided by Chopin's contemporaries as “trite and sordid,”2 and the behavior of its heroine, Edna Pontellier, was described by reviewers as “shocking,” “sickening,” and “selfish.”3 The second half of the twentieth century has witnessed a dramatic reappraisal of the text and of its main character, and a regeneration of Chopin's reputation. In particular, feminist critics such as Elaine Showalter have embraced the text as one which depicts and contests restraints upon female expression and behavior. Showalter asserts for instance that in The Awakening, “Chopin went boldly beyond the work of her precursors in writing about women's longing for sexual and personal emancipation,” and thus she characterizes the text as “a revolutionary book.”4
Given all the attention to and debate surrounding...
(The entire section is 7681 words.)
Beer, Janet. “‘Dah you Is, Settin' Down, Lookin' Jis' Like W'ite Folks!’: Ethnicity Enacted in Kate Chopin's Short Fiction.” In Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 24-39. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1997.
Attempts to demonstrate that “Chopin's Louisiana is a post-colonial rather than an American post-bellum society. …”
Boren, Lynda S. and Sara deSaussure Davis, eds. Kate Chopin Reconsidered: Beyond the Bayou, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992, 248 p.
Collection of essays on Chopin's novels and short stories.
Branscomb, Jack. “Chopin's ‘Ripe Figs.’” The Explicator 52, no. 3 (spring 1994): 165-66.
Discusses the importance of time in “Ripe Figs.”
Foster, Derek W. and Kris LeJeune. “‘Stand by Your Man …’: Desirée Valmonde and Feminist Standpoint Theory in Kate Chopin's ‘Desirée's Baby’.” Southern Studies VIII, no. nos. 1-2 (winter-spring 1997): 91-7.
Contends that the character of Desirée in “Desirée's Baby” “is an example of someone who practices standpoint theory.”
Llewellyn, Dara. “Reader Activation of Boundaries in Kate Chopin's ‘Beyond the Bayou’.” Studies in Short Fiction 33,...
(The entire section is 431 words.)