A Pair of Silk Stockings

by Kate Chopin

Start Free Trial

A Pair Of Silk Stockings Theme

What are two themes in Kate Chopin's "A Pair of Silk Stockings"?

The theme in this story is the role of motherhood and how it can be interpreted in different ways.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One theme of "A Pair of Silk Stockings" is that it is good to take care of oneself and treat oneself to a few luxuries now and then—and that it doesn't take all that much to feel good. Mrs. Sommers pays no terrible price and suffers no retribution when she takes a tiny bit of windfall she has come into and buys herself silk stockings, good shoes, a pair of gloves, magazines, a meal out at a nice restaurant, and a ticket to a play. In every way, she uncoils and enjoys herself. As she takes the trolley home, she thinks,

It was like a dream ended.

She wishes the trolley ride could go on forever. However, what is notable is that a fairly modest day out satisfies her as much as if she had become a princess.

A second theme is that it is hard for a woman to practice self care. When Mrs. Sommers comes into her money, the first people she thinks of are her children: she will buy Janie better shoes, make them all clothes of new material, and purchase sailor hats for them so that they can look "fresh and dainty."

Even after she gets to the department store, she isn't at first imagining buying herself luxuries. Initially, with the silk stockings, it takes her a long time to convince herself she can allow herself this small luxury. But once having broken the barrier, she is able to keep on going.

Mrs. Sommers is a woman used to thinking about others and struggling all the time to save money and stretch dollars so that her "brood" can have what they need. It does not come naturally to her to consider herself—Chopin suggests that many woman are like Mrs. Sommers and are too used to be self sacrificial—but that this isn't the best idea.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is difficult to resist temptation, especially when one is accustomed to never treating oneself. When Mrs. Sommers finds herself absent-mindedly stroking the silk stockings at the counter in the store, the narrator describes them as "serpent-like" in the way they glide through her fingers. Serpents are often symbols of temptation as a result of the serpent who tempted Eve in the garden of Eden. Mrs. Sommers is tempted by the sale and then by the touch of these silken hose, and, after purchasing them, she "seemed for the time to be taking a rest from that laborious and fatiguing function" of thinking and "abandoned herself" to be free of responsibility.

One must live in the present, as it does not do to dwell on the past . Mrs. Sommers, the narrator tells us, used to know "better days," back before she ever thought of getting married or having children of her own. However, Mrs. Sommers does not allow herself to think about these old times because she knows that it will profit nothing to do so. She has to keep her head up and continue to take...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

care of her children despite all of her present difficulties.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Kate Chopin's short story, "A Pair of Silk Stockings," Mrs. Sommers  spends a day luxuriating in her freedom and in the enjoyment of having money to spend on herself.  At the end of the afternoon, when she yet has some money in her purse, Mrs. Sommers enters a theater in order to watch a play:

There were many others who were there solely for the play and acting. It is safe to say there was no one present who bore quite the attitude which Mrs. Sommers did to her surroundings. She gathered in the whole--stage and players and people in one wide impression, and absorbed it and enjoyed it.

This passage is central to the themes of Chopin's story:

Nostalgia and Longing for Conditions of the Past.

Mrs. Sommers wishes to escape a life of what one critic calls "enforced frugality."  Since she has become a mother, Mrs. Sommers has had to think first of the needs of her children.  But, with the surplus money, Mrs. Sommers delights in pampering herself as she has done before her marriage and motherhood; she buys gloves and silk stockings and new pointed-tipped boots, reveling in the pleasure that each object brings her.

Repression and the need for self-assertion

Made powerless by her economic situation, Mrs. Sommers becomes imprisoned in a dull routine as she is responsible for nurturing her children and has little time for herself. In fact, her life is so unhappy that she merely focuses upon living through one day at a time.  Her need for freedom is clearly symbolized in Mrs. Sommers's resting her hand upon the counter where she feels "something very soothing, very pleasant to touch."   This encounter of her hand with the raw silk of the stockings awakens the repressed soul of Mrs. Sommers.  Her hunger for the small indulgences of the past stirred, Mrs. Sommers strives for some independence, if only for a day. Consequently, she purchases the luxurious stockings, the gloves, and attends a play  in the theatre where she acts herself as she pretends that she is autonomous. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What's the theme in "A Pair of Silk Stockings" by Kate Chopin?  

One can also explore the role of motherhood in this story, another theme that Chopin tends to explore in her other works, like The Awakening.  A mother is supposed to give up her whole self for her children, putting herself last before them.  In the story, for instance, Mrs. Sommers recollects: 

But that day she was a little faint and tired. She had swallowed a light luncheon--no! when she came to think of it, between getting the children fed and the place righted, and preparing herself for the shopping bout, she had actually forgotten to eat any luncheon at all!

In her rush to feed the children before her outing to buy them new clothes (of which there is not much mention of new clothes for Mrs. Sommers), she actually forgets to get herself anything to eat.  Later in the piece, Mrs. Sommers notes that, when it comes to food, "she would have stilled the cravings for food until reaching her own home, where she would have brewed herself a cup of tea and taken a snack of anything that was available," so the fact that she chooses to sit at the luncheon counter is certainly a shift in her normal character of mother.  

Chopin does not vilify Mrs. Sommers for this break from the traditional role.  Instead, the presentation of this break is simply laid out for the reader. A modern reader might have more empathy for her character than a reader from the turn of the century, but there are still many ways in which the role of motherhood has not changed from Chopin's time.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What's the theme in "A Pair of Silk Stockings" by Kate Chopin?  

The theme of "A Pair of Silk Stockings" is similar to that of other writing by Kate Chopin who explores the role of women in the home and society at the turn of the twentieth century.  In the story, the protagonist Mrs. Sommers is out shopping for clothing for her children.  Her family is not wealthy, so she must make every coin count.  To do this, she normally shops through the bargain bins; however, while at the store she is drawn to a pair of silk stockings.  She knows that if she buys the stockings, she will not have enough money to buy clothes for her children.  After battling this thought, she decides to buy the stockings and goes on to buy a pair of gloves and treat herself to an afternoon out on the town.  The story explores the tension between the expected role of women as providers for their families and the ideal role of women as autonomous citizens.  Chopin does not suggest through the story which is the "better" option--her goal is to highlight the tension between the two and question why the two roles seem to not be able to coexist.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What's the symbolism in this story?"A Pair of Silk Stockings" by Kate Chopin

In Kate Chopin's "A Pair of Silk Stockings" nearly every object and place has symbolic significance.  Thus, the symbols are integral to the story's meaning as the title itself denotes.

Here are some of the symbols:

  • the fifteen dollars - This amount that seems large to Mrs. Sommers represents "a feeling of importance such as she had not enjoyed for years" as, to her, it symbolizes her "better times."
  • the silk stockings - These "very soothing, very pleasant to the touch" stockings represent luxury to Mrs. Sommers as well as pleasure as she looks at the various shades of light bue,, lavender, black, tan, and gray.
  • the "shabby old shopping bag" - This reminder of her harder days is contrasted with the contents of the bag, the stockings. 
  • her cotton stockings - Mrs. Sommers changes from these and dons the silk stockings.  Placing the cotton stockings into the shabby bag is an act of freedom for Mrs. Sommers:

She...abandoned herself to some mechanical impulse that directed her actions and freed her of responsibility.

  • the gloves and boots - "It was a long time since Mrs. sommers had been fitted with gloves."  These gloves and new boots symbolize a return to again "belonging to the well-dressed multitude."
  • the magazines - Also reminders of the days when "she had been accustomed to other pleasant things."
  • the perfumed lacy hankie - This belongs to the "gaudy woman" at the theatre; it is a reminder that Mrs. Sommers "belonging to the well-dressed multitude" is incomplete
  • the cable car - The passage back to her normal life is one that Mrs. Sommers wishes "would never stop anywhere, but go on and on with her forever."
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on