In the short story "Ripe Figs," Chopin demonstrates different perspectives on the passage time. Time seems to pass slowly for young Babette; on the other hand, time seems to pass quickly for her godmother Maman-Nainaine. Through visual, tactile, and gustatory imagery, Chopin examines the characters’ interests with and relationship to time.
The ripening of figs marks the passage of time. Babette is impatient for the figs to mature so that she can see her cousins. Her godmother models and stresses patience by allowing the figs to ripen according to their natural schedule of development.
Early in the summer,
the leaves upon the trees were tender yet, and the figs were like little hard, green marbles.
These images evoke the girl’s youthful state. The “tender” leaves are delicate and immature. Similarly, the fruits themselves are small and not yet developed. Babette must obey her godmother’s command to wait, to her a “hard” rule like the “hard” figs. Their comparison to “marbles” or toys remind the reader that Babette is still a child. The passage of time allows for readers to feel the nurturing elements—“warm rains” and “strong sunshine" —that feed the figs.
Chopin contrasts the godmother’s maturity with the goddaughter’s restlessness through visual imagery:
Maman-Nainaine was as patient as the statue of la Madone, and Babette as restless as a humming-bird
The godmother is calm and worthy of reverence like the Madonna. She moves in a “stately” manner and appears holy with an “aureole about her white, placid face.” On the other hand, the girl dances and flits about nervously like a humming bird, anxiously checking on the figs’ progress each day.
When the figs finally ripen, Babette triumphantly presents them on a platter for her godmother:
a dozen purple figs, fringed around with their rich, green leaves.
No longer small, hard, and green, the soft figs are now purple and ready to eat. They look luscious and mouthwatering. Their “tender” leaves have grown “rich.” Maman-Nainaine savors the fruit by carefully peeling
the very plumpest figs with her pointed silver fruit-knife
The godmother shows reverence for the mature fruit and uses a decorative, almost ceremonial “silver fruit-knife” to skin them. She appreciates time and patience, as it brings rewards, such as a delicious treat to be enjoyed. To her, the figs have ripened early. As an older person, time seem to pass quickly.
To the younger and more impatient Babette, however, the figs have ripened “very late.” Time passes more slowly for the young.
Finally, the older woman continues to mark time with plants; she will not see Babette’s aunt until chrysanthemums—an autumn flower—are in bloom. She does not rush time and action like the young girl does.