Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In “Madame Célestin’s Divorce,” Chopin explores one of her perennial themes: a woman’s struggle between the constraints a closed society places on her versus her quest for self-identity. As in most of Chopin’s work, that struggle is situated in Louisiana’s Creole community, which differs greatly from nineteenth century mainstream Anglo-American society. The barriers between these two cultures often produce conflicts for the characters, who are at odds with themselves and one another.

Madame Célestin’s vivaciousness, mild flirtatiousness, honesty, and self-sufficient attitude reflect the more relaxed gender roles among the French Creoles, which allowed a certain frankness between men and women about personal matters. The general openness among Creoles is best expressed by Madame’s daily public appearance dressed in what amounts to a robe or housecoat. The close-knit Creole community supported Madame and her children by giving her work when her husband all but deserted her. In addition, it remained nonjudgmental about her marital problems or her friendship with Paxton. Nevertheless, Madame is restricted from following her natural instincts to free herself from Célestin because of her strong ties to that same community. Her family and her religion forbid divorce; more important, she retains certain emotional and conjugal attachments to her husband, despite the fact he is a reprobate. Madame must also consider her maternal obligations to...

(The entire section is 497 words.)