illustrated portrait of American author Kate Chopin

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What is the theme of "The Kiss" by Kate Chopin?

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The main theme of the story is that a woman cannot possibly expect both passion and wealth in marriage: she must choose one. Chopin often writes about the untenable choices women had to make during the late Victorian era. Miss Nathalie waits for the "rather insignificant and unattractive Brantain" to declare his love and propose to her because he is "enormously rich," and she both "liked and required the entourage which wealth could give her." There is never any discussion of Nathalie's feelings for Brantain, and she does not appear to have any strong feelings about him whatsoever; his money, on the other hand, is a different story.

Instead of keeping a discreet distance and observing proper decorum, as Brantain does, Harvy—when he enters the room—goes immediately to Nathalie for a kiss, which he boldly takes. Nathalie later explains to Brantain that Harvy is a good friend of the family, like a brother to her, and that he sometimes takes familial liberties of that nature. Her face, after Brantain accepts this explanation of Harvy's behavior, is "triumphant," indicating that she feels she has won something, and Brantain even sends Harvy to kiss Nathalie on the couple's wedding day. Nathalie has clearly been manipulating Brantain so that she can continue whatever romantic relationship she has with Harvy without jeopardizing her marital relationship with Brantain, as

She felt like a chess player who, by the clever handling of his pieces, sees the game taking the course intended.

We understand now what Nathalie feels she's won: both passion and wealth. She looks "hungry" for the kiss from Harvy, but he explains that he's stopped kissing women because it is "dangerous." The narrator explains,

Well, she had Brantain and his million left. A person can't have everything in this world; and it was a little unreasonable of her to expect it.

In the end, Nathalie finds that she cannot have both passion with Harvy, who evidently has no fortune, or wealth with Brantain, who is unattractive. She has made her choice, however, and now she will have to live with it.

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The theme of this story is that choices have consequences. Nathalie likes and "require[s]" Mr. Brantain's wealth and position and is determined to marry him, even if she is not in love with him. She knows—or believes—he is in love with her. However, she is apparently keeping a lover on the side, Mr. Harvy. When Mr. Harvy, not seeing Mr. Bratain in the room, boldly comes into her house and kisses her, this makes her very angry, for she fears it will ruin her chances with Mr. Bratain.

After Nathalie smooths everything over and marries Mr. Bratain, Harvy is given permission by Bratain to kiss the bride—but he refuses. Nathalie begins to realize at that moment that she can't have both Bratain (and the money and status he represents) and her lover. She has made her choice and has to live with it. She consoles herself that she now has her...

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millions. However, the implication is that Bratain has triumphed and now has control over her—after all, he has decided when and if Harvy can kiss her.

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Many of Kate Chopin's short stories deal with the experiences of women in a culture dominated by men. So it is with this story. A young woman, Nattie, is intent on making a match for herself with a rather "insignificant and unattractive" but extremely rich young man named Brantain. She is sitting with him in the parlour when an attractive, brash young man named Mr. Harvy comes in and kisses her square on the lips. She is embarassed and explains to Brantain that he is an old family friend, a pal of her brother's, and that he really means nothing to her. He just thinks he is one of the family.

Nattie marries Brantain but at her wedding, Harvy comes over to her and tells her that Brantain has sent him over to kiss her for her wedding day. He smiles and tells Nattie he has given up kissing women because it is dangerous, and as the story ends, it indicates that Nattie is sorry to not have received the kiss, because she obviously was "anticipating" it. But, she concludes, she still has her millions.

Perhaps Nattie was planning to be one of those women who could have her cake and eat it too -- be the wife of a rich man but the lover of a poor man, whom she loved.

The story is a comment on the types of marriages that were often common among the wealthy aristocrats that people Kate Chopin's stories. People of class often must marry for social position, for money, not love. When Nattie concludes, with resignation, that sometimes "you can't have everything" this indicates that she has accepted her choice - money over love.

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