A Pair of Silk Stockings

by Kate Chopin

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What are some literary elements in "A Pair of Silk Stockings"?

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One literary element that plays a major role in this text is tone. Tone refers to the way the author feels about the subject. It is clear that Chopin views "little" Mrs. Sommers quite sympathetically from her descriptions. The sudden acquisition of fifteen dollars, a sum that feels like a small fortune to her, sends Mrs. Sommers into a "dreamy state" where she envisions all manner of uses to which she might put this money. It is telling that precisely none of those uses benefit her in any way; there are treats for the kids but not for her. She considers her children completely, and "the vision of her little brood looking fresh and dainty and new for once in their lives excited her and made her restless . . ."

We might imagine, then, that times are hard for Mrs. Sommers, a supposition confirmed by the description of her willingness to "stand for hours" to wait for an item "that was selling below cost" or by the revelation that "neighbors sometimes talked of certain 'better days' that little Mrs. Sommers had known before . . ." In fact, she's been so busy on the day on which the story is set that she'd even forgotten to eat. Of course she is exhausted. Due to the sympathy Chopin shows for Mrs. Sommers, we ought to find it very difficult to judge her for her one day of selfishness. We cannot begrudge her what she has so long denied herself, and tone plays a huge role in our interpretation of her character.

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Clearly, in any work of literature there are any number of literary elements for you to focus on and analyse. In this great short story, one clear literary element that stands out is the description of the stockings when Mrs. Sommers first feels them:

But she went on feeling the soft, sheeny luxurious things - with both hands now, holding them up to see them glisten, and to feel them glide serpentlike through her fingers.

Note the word "serpentlike" in this description. The serpent can be said to act here as a symbol of temptation, referring to the Biblical allusion of the Garden of Eden and the way that the Serpent tempted Eve into eating the apple. In this story, this descriptive use of "serpentlike" shows the temptation that Mrs. Sommers is just about to give into, even though it is so completely out of character for her.

This is one example of a literary element in this tale. You might want to also think about how Mrs. Sommer's character is presented and the reasons behind her sudden change of character in spending the money entirely on herself and in "frivolous" ways.

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