A Pair of Silk Stockings

by Kate Chopin
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A Pair Of Silk Stockings Theme

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

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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...

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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.

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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 care of her children despite all of her present difficulties.

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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. 

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