In interpreting Kate Chopin's short story, "A Pair of Silk Stockings," consider the following.The author describes her as "Little Mrs. Sommers."  We are given a few further details about...

In interpreting Kate Chopin's short story, "A Pair of Silk Stockings," consider the following.

The author describes her as "Little Mrs. Sommers."  We are given a few further details about her—four children, no mention of a husband or job, and a future she regards as a "dim, gaunt monster."  She lacks the time to recall her "better days."  What do you think of the character of Mrs. Sommers?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kate Chopin, in "A Pair of Silk Stockings," gives several meaningful clues with regard to "Little Mrs Sommers." One clue is that the neighbors hint at better days Mrs Sommers had at one time enjoyed—before she married. However, our protagonist gives herself no time to reflect on better days for there are too many other more important things that take up her time: we can assume this to mean the welfare of her children.

The neighbors sometimes talked of certain ‘better days’ that little Mrs Sommers had known before she had ever thought of being Mrs Sommers.  She herself indulged in no such morbid retrospection.  She had no time – no second of time to devote to the past.  The needs of the present absorbed her every faculty.

We also learn that Mrs Sommers is feeling faint in the story: in all that she has done for others that day, she has done nothing for herself; she has not even had lunch. In one unguarded moment, Mrs Sommers actually finds herself thinking about herself. The silk stockings represent a freedom to indulge a whim: to buy something that is not functional, but lovely. For it is certain that Mrs Sommers no longer sees herself as anything but "functional."

Once she begins, it seems that Mrs. Sommers cannot stop. She is practical in terms of spending wisely on the items she purchases, but we do not get the sense that she is guilty over her purchases; however I find that the complacency that has fallen over Mrs Sommers for all the years she has had to scrimp, save, patch and repair, has been lifted.

Similar to Chopin's "Story of an Hour," where the protagonist has no way to go back to who she was the day before, I get the same sense with Mrs Sommers. Although we do not, as readers, get a sense of tragedy at the story's end, we are aware of a clear sense of sadness and the inevitable. She will go back, though she wishes she did not have to.

The man who looks at Mrs Sommers notices nothing unusual or noteworthy, the author tells us. Perhaps Chopin is inferring that where women are concerned, men of that time noticed little of a woman's world apart from how it related to a man:

A man with keen eyes, who sat opposite to her, seemed to like the study of her small, pale face.  It puzzled him to decipher what he saw there.  In truth, he saw nothing...

Chopin goes on, however, to note that had the man been a "wizard," someone with extraordinary powers, he might have seen something very "telling" in the way Mrs Sommers looked riding the cable car, that she wished she could continue the ride forever, never having to return to the drudgery and penury of her life.

...unless he were wizard enough to detect a poignant wish, a powerful longing that the cable car would never stop anywhere, but go on and on with her forever.

It would seem that the silk stockings allow a fervent wish to come to Mrs Sommers' mind that she might be delivered from the hardships of her life to enjoy simple pleasures without worries or struggles. In that no husband is mentioned, her situation is that much more difficult, for this society was supportive of married women, where a man was in charge. However, we can infer by the story's end, that although she might wish for an easier life, she will go home to take care of her children, and survive as she has all along.

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A Pair of Silk Stockings

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