Discuss specific examples of Kate Chopin's word choice in "A Respectable Woman."

In "A Respectable Woman" by Kate Chopin, the author's careful word choice leads readers through her emotional relationship with Gouvernail. First she considers him "lovable" and "inoffensive," and then she finds him puzzling, tiring, and somehow attractive. Finally, she feels drawn to him in a sensuous way. The last line of the story suggests that she may be planning to have an affair with him.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

To be able to complete this assignment about the author's word choices in the short story "A Respectable Woman" by Kate Chopin, it is important to understand the story's progression and ambiguous ending. As the story opens, Gaston Baroda has informed his wife, Mrs. Baroda, of the imminent visit of his friend Gouvernail. Mrs. Baroda disapproves; they have been entertaining "a good deal during the winter" and have taken a trip to New Orleans, where they indulged in "mild dissipation." In this phrase, Chopin indicates that they have been partying but perhaps not too vigorously.

When Gouvernail arrives, Mrs. Baroda is puzzled by him at first, but she likes him. She considers him "a lovable, inoffensive fellow." This innocuous phrase indicates that she accepts his presence. She tries "to penetrate the reserve in which he had unconsciously enveloped himself." This wording indicates that she is attempting to get to know him better. In other words, she finds him puzzling but attractive.

Mrs. Baroda has a conversation with her husband about Gouvernail. At first she says that "he tires me frightfully," then says that she "expected him to be interesting." Then she announces her intention to visit her aunt until Gouvernail is gone. Here we see that she is being evasive. In fact, Gouvernail has begun to fascinate her, but Chopin expresses this indirectly by allowing Mrs. Baroda to voice her frustrations.

Next, Mrs. Baroda sits on a bench under an oak tree at night. Chopin writes that "she had never known her thoughts or her intentions to be so confused." This is the author's way of saying that she has begun to develop feelings for Gouvernail. When Gouvernail sits down, he quotes from section 21 of Walt Whitman's poem "Song of Myself." He says a few lines and then stops. The next lines after these are more openly sensuous; they speak of "the bare-bosomed night," the "close magnetic nourishing night," and the "mad naked summer night." Chopin probably expected the more well-read of her readers to pick up on this reference.

There on the bench in the dark, Gouvernail finally opens up. He talks about himself, and as he does, Mrs. Baroda feels strongly attracted to him. In this instance, Chopin uses obviously sensual and provocative prose:

She wanted to reach out her hand in the darkness and touch him with the sensitive tips of her fingers upon the face or the lips. She wanted to draw close to him and whisper against his cheek—she did not care what —as she might have done if she had not been a respectable woman.

This brings us to the title of the story, which is somewhat ironic. Although she is a respectable woman in deeds, Mrs. Baroda is thinking thoughts that would not be considered respectable. At the end, when she says, "This time I will be very nice to him," readers wonder whether she will forsake her respectability and have an affair with Gouvernail.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial