A Pair of Silk Stockings

by Kate Chopin

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What was Mrs. Sommers' past life like in "A Pair of Silk Stockings"?

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This is a great question. Chopin cleverly does not explicitly state what the past life of Mrs. Sommers was like but we are left with enough clues and hints to infer that in her past she had enjoyed much more material wealth than she does at present. Firstly we have in the initial paragraph the sense of "importance" that carrying around a large amount of money gives her, "such as she had not enjoyed for years." Then we are given other tantalising glimpses of her former life from the narrator, who tells us what the neighbours think of her before giving us the view of Mrs. Sommers herself on her lot in life:

The neighbours sometimes talked of certain "better days" that little Mrs. Sommers had known before she had ever thought of being Mrs. Sommers. She herself indulged in no such morbid retrospection. She had not time--no second of time to devote to the past. The needs of the present absorbed her every faculty. A vision of the future like some dim, gaunt monster sometimes appalled her, but luckily tomorrow never comes.

Note how this description emphasises the sad state of affairs that Mrs. Sommers faces now. She literally has no time to dwell on past circumstances, or to focus on the terrifying vision of the future that is compared to a "dim, gaunt monster." Survival of today takes up her every waking moment, giving her no time to dream or worry.

Lastly, we are given another hint as to her past circumstances when Mrs. Sommers buys two magazines:

Mrs. Sommers bought two high-priced magazines such as she had been accustomed to read in the days when she had been accustomed to other pleasant things.

Thus we can infer that either Mrs. Sommers came from a family that had money but made a disadvantageous marriage, or that she and her husband once had money before suffering some kind of economic collapse. Either way, understanding her past makes appreciating her desire to have a day of luxury once again more comprehensible.

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In "A Pair of Silk Stockings," how would you describe the character of Mrs. Sommers?

Central to understanding this excellent story is the way that Mrs. Sommers is described as a character who has formerly enjoyed better times but now has been used to poverty for a long period. Note how this is introduced in the first paragraph of the story:

Little Mrs. Sommers one day found herself the unexpected possessor of fifteen dollars. It seemed to her a very large amount of money, and the way in which it stuffed and bulged her worn old porte-monnaie gave her a feeling of importance such as she had not enjoyed for years.

Note the way that the money changes the way she feels about herself and also the details we are given about her purse, which is "worn" and "old." The way that money is of such importance to her is emphasised by the precise way in which she plans to use the money. She is absorbed in "speculation and calculation." She literally spends hours carefully considering how to best use it for her family. It is clear that she is a woman whose every energy is focussed on making it through each day. Although she had enjoyed "better days," now the needs of her faily take up all her time:

She herself indulged in no such morbid retrospection. She had no time--no second of time to devote to the past. The needs of the present absorbed her every faculty. A vision of the future like some dim, gaunt monster sometimes appalled her, but luckily tomorrow never comes.

Therefore we can say that Mrs. Sommers is a very brave woman, having enjoyed wealth but now having to make do with poorer circumstances. She however does not give in to despair but rises to the challenge and gives her all to coping with these circumstances. However, the exhaustion and the toil of such poverty tempts her into indulging herself with the money she has.

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What is Mrs. Sommers’s life like in "A Pair of Silk Stockings"? What was it like before she got married?

Mrs. Sommers's life is rather difficult. When she unexpectedly comes into a modest sum of fifteen dollars, she feels that it is a "very large" sum, and she begins to enjoy a "feeling of importance such as she had not enjoyed for years." She is occupied, for days, with her thoughts about how best to allocate the funds, and she spends much of her time in a "dreamy state" while she speculates and calculates how to best stretch and use the money.

Someone who is used to having enough money for their needs does not need to engage in speculation and calculation of this nature or for this duration. It actually keeps her up at night! She lives the type of life in which she often forgets to eat and she certainly never spends money on herself. Further, we learn that she "could stand for hours making her way inch by inch toward the desired object that was selling below cost," even throwing elbows if need be. Mrs. Sommers has had to be frugal in a way that many people never experience and in a way that makes daily life a challenge.

It is evident that her life, before her marriage, was quite different. She used to feel more important. Further, the narrator says that her

neighbors sometimes talked of certain "better days" that little Mrs. Sommers had known before she had even thought of being Mrs. Sommers.

Apparently, Mrs. Sommers's life used to be much easier, much less fraught with concern, and without a need to fear the "dim, gaunt monster" of the future that she must now grapple with.

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