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

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teachertaylor's profile pic

teachertaylor | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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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.

cneukam1379's profile pic

cneukam1379 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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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.