How does the short story "A Respectable Woman" demonstrate the universal truth of pride?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Kate Chopin's short story, "A Respectable Woman," has several themes, to be expected from an author with such strong female protagonists. However, the story may also demonstrate the universal truth of pride.

Mrs. Baroda, our antagonist, is a strong woman. She has a solid marriage and lives a comfortable life. When her husband, Gaston, invites an old college friend, Gouvernail, to stay for several weeks, she is not pleased, having hoped to spend some quiet time with her spouse, with no need to entertain.

Mrs. Baroda has a preconceived idea of the kind of man Gouvernail is, even before he arrives: she credits him with a cynical, studious appearance, when in fact, he is anything but that. And above all, he is no bother: he makes no demands on their time, but simply enjoys the opportunity to live in the moment.

This bothers Mrs. Baroda, as she cannot seem to figure him out, and wishes he would leave. Eventually, she decides to take care of dressmaking concerns out of town and allow the men the rest of their visit alone.

However, the night before she leaves, Gouvernail strolls out and sits beside her on a bench and begins to speak of many things. For a moment, she longs to touch his face and whisper to him, not of anything specific, but to make a connection. Being a "respectable woman," she will not do so. She leaves the next day, and for some time, resists her husband's attempts to have him visit again.

Eventually, Mrs. Baroda changes her mind, allowing that should Gouvernail visit again, she will be very nice to him.

Looking for a universal theme of pride in mind, it is important to recall the types of guests Mrs. Baroda has been accustomed to in the past. She is used to being able to understand the people who visit. She has a sense of what they are thinking, and she knows how to organize household affairs to be a good hostess. With Gourvernail, none of these things matter. He is not demanding. He is rather private. He has no desire for special attention. If she is present, he is satisfied, and if she absents herself, he is equally satisfied.

Perhaps her pride is a requirement of women of society at the time, in that the expectation is there that the social gatherings in the home revolve around her, her plans for entertainment, and her attentions to guests. This man does not look for any of these things. And though she likes him well enough, she is not happy with him because she cannot fulfill her social duties.

Had Mrs. Baroda been trained differently, perhaps she would not have taken Gouvernail's "distance" so personally. However, it gets under her skin and irritates her that he does not follow the conventions of "polite" society.

The universality of pride can be seen in the need of most people to believe the world revolves around them. And as society has placed this expectation upon Mrs. Baroda, it still does with people today, in some ways. We often feel insecure, worrying that others will find us coming up short in some way. We may demand attention from others. We may have unfair expectations of others and how they treat us.

Instead of needing to be the center of the social activity within her house, seeing to Gouvernail's comfort, regardless of his attention to her, should have been more important than trying to discover what lies beneath his quiet exterior.

 

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