In "Odalie Misses Mass," by Kate Chopin, what does the author say about the Southern region? Is she being sentimental, ironic, or muckraking?    

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Given the three choices, I would argue that Kate Chopin is being sentimental about the Southern region in this story.

Now, we'll examine the reasons why. First, Chopin excelled in short fiction in the tradition of Guy de Maupassant. She focused on character rather than plot, and her works were imbued with the kind of psychological realism that shocked the readers of her time. Additionally, her seemingly amoral stance on social issues and innovative distillation of the Southern female experience characterized many of her stories. Odalie Misses Mass represents one such story in her radical pantheon of works. 

In the story, Odalie misses church in order to sit with Aunt Pinky, a senile, elderly black woman. The young Odalie is only thirteen years old. Like many girls her age, she revels in dressing up and looking her best on special days. Yet, despite her desire to show off her finery at church, Odalie decides to keep Aunt Pinky company when she realizes that everyone else has deserted her old friend. 

Now, in many respects, Odalie is the typical Southern young lady. Her locus of influence encompasses the domestic sphere, and her character represents all that is revered in Southern femininity. In the story, Odalie speaks in the Creole dialect of her region, and her sincerity is both endearing as well as disarming. Despite charges of racism, Chopin didn't try to hide what Odalie and Aunt Pinky would have sounded like in real life. When Aunt Pinky reminisces about vaguely unsettling experiences from the past, Odalie takes on the mantle of a fictitious personality. She becomes "Paulette," someone "who seemed to have held her place in old Pinky's heart and imagination through all the years of her suffering life."

Odalie's behavior is typical of many of Chopin's heroines, who often sacrifice their own comfort for the happiness of others. In Chopin's South, the completely feminine woman is faithful and self-sacrificing. Odalie's attitudes contrast with that of Edna Pontellier, Chopin's revolutionary heroine from The Great Awakening. Through Edna, Chopin highlights the dilemma of a woman torn between her sensual nature and her domestic role. Chopin's Edna was a radical departure from the traditional Southern heroine. While The Great Awakening gave us an unflinchingly honest insight into the feminine psyche, Odalie Misses Mass firmly remains within the realms of Southern conventionality.

Odalie's relationship with Aunt Pinky is a sentimental portrayal of Southern unity. In the story, Chopin highlights a unique fellowship untarnished by generational conflict and feminine friction. She also explores the possibility of camaraderie between the races. Odalie Misses Mass may be sentimental in nature, but it is also radical in its implications.

Sources:

1) The Southern Woman in the Fiction of Kate Chopin by Marie Fletcher, Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Spring, 1966), pp. 117-132.

2) Unveiling Kate Chopin by Emily Toth.

teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To answer your question, Kate Chopin may have written Odalie Misses Mass as a literary experiment. Chopin wrote in the 19th century, when stories about female friendships were rare. In fact, stories about female friendships across the color line were even rarer. In her time, Chopin was a maverick; she explored issues other authors stayed far away from.

Emily Toth points out that, in Chopin's time, many white authors wrote stories about black mammies who were devoted to their masters' white offspring. However, there were few stories detailing the devotion of whites towards their black peers. Chopin explores this possibility in Odalie Misses Mass. Essentially, Chopin experiments with removing not just the color barrier in the story but also the generational one. Odalie is a young teen, while Aunt Pinky is an elderly black woman.

You're right that everyone can learn a lot from Odalie. Perhaps in Chopin's 19th century South, there were relationships that mirrored Odalie and Aunt Pinky's. However, they were rarely mentioned in print. Although the Civil War led to social changes, a lack of trust persisted between whites and blacks. The introduction of the Jim Crow laws made things worse.

So, Chopin uses her literary voice to highlight the possibilities of a warm connection between two females, a connection that transcends racial and generational bigotry.