How would you compare Kate Chopin's writing style with other authors of her time?How would you compare Kate Chopin's writing style with other authors of her time?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As Morrol has suggested, Chopin's style tends to seem simple, clear, straightforward, and economical. She describes people and objects lucidly and seems to waste no words.  This is not to say, however, that her phrasing is simplistic, superficial, or lacking in complex implications.  Consider, for example, the opening sentence of "The Story of an Hour":

Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband's death.

It would be hard to ask for clearer phrasing, even though the sentence is somewhat ungrammatical since it lacks a subject for the verb "Knowing" (who is knowing?). Nevertheless, despite the sentence's apparent simplicity, it seems especially rich when it is examined in light of the ensuing story.

Thus, this story opens by emphasizing knowledge about Mrs. Mallard's heart, and the story also closes by emphasizing (supposed) knowledge about Mrs. Mallard's heart.

The fact that the main character is called "Mrs. Mallard" is appropriate to a story in which marriage will be a major theme. If the main character had been called "Louise" right from the start, her sense of being a mere appendage to her husband would have been lost.

The reference to her "heart trouble" is of course double-edged: she has a literal, physical heart condition, but she is also suffering from an emotionally troubled heart.

In addition, the immediate emphasis on her heart condition helps prepare us for the heart attack at the very end of the story, so that that event does not seem entirely unexpected.

The use of the passive voice (as in "great care was taken") has the effect of leaving Louise isolated in this sentence; no other living human being is yet mentioned. Our focus is almost entirely on Mrs. Mallard here.

Finally, Chopin nicely delays the crucial words until the very end of the sentence: "her husband's death." Knowledge of the death therefore comes as much as a suprise to us as to Louise. (Imagine if the sentence said this: "Because Mrs. Mallard's husband had died, and because of her heart trouble,  . . . .)

As this one sentence demonstrates, Chopin's style is richer and more complex than we might at first assume, but it certainly differs from the style of another American writer of the period, Henry James.  His sentences tend to be long; his sentence structure tends to be highly complex; his vocabulary is often unusual and learned; and he seems to write in order to call explicit attention to his complexity. Consider, for example, the opening sentence of his story "The Beast in the Jungle":

What determined the speech that startled him in the course of their encounter scarcely matters, being probably but some words spoken by himself quite without intention -- spoken as they lingered and slowly moved together after their renewal of acquaintance.

Chopin rarely if ever writes sentences such as this. [Editorial comment: thank goodness!]

morrol eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kate Chopin's writing is extremely direct. Her pointed writing style is atypical for writers of her time period. "Desiree's Baby" begins without fanfare, "As the day was pleasant, Madame Valmonde drove over to L'Abri to see Desiree and the baby." Simple statements like this one allow the reader to simply read her stories without fear of being lost or confused. This style is a departure from the Senecan ambling of Thomas Hardy or Oscar Wilde, other late Victorian authors.

Read the study guide:
The Story of an Hour

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