A Pair of Silk Stockings

by Kate Chopin

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What is the message of the short story "A Pair of Silk Stockings"?

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As Mrs. Summers leaves the theatre,

the play was over, the music ceased, ...It was like a dream ended.

For a brief time, little Mrs. Summers has been able to escape from the responsibilities of both motherhood and wifehood. For a long time, she has had to budget, sacrifice, and be unselfish in her desires. When she finds that she has an unexpected fifteen dollars, Mrs. Summers speculates carefully on how to judiciously spend this money. Finally, she decides to buy shoes and clothing for her children. But, when she sees a lovely pair of silk stockings, her yearning to escape the humdrum existence in which she finds herself, leads her to purchase the stockings. When she goes to the ladies' room in order to put them on, Mrs. Summers does not think; in fact, she takes a "rest" from

...that laborious and fatiguing function and to have abandoned herself to some mechanical impulse that directed her actions and freed her of responsibility.

Clearly, Mrs. Summers's conflict is that of personal sacrifice vs. personal indulgence.  And, this conflict arises from the long necessity of having had to deny herself.  For, the remembrance of when she was single and could afford little luxuries surfaces painfully in her.

Out of this conflict comes Chopin's message that a short reprieve from the demands of domestic life offers a temporary escape from the humdrum and duties of day-to-day responsibilities.

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In "A Pair of Silk Stockings" Mrs. Summers is a woman who is living in poverty with little food to eat and even fewer possessions.  When she acquires $15 she decides to indulge herself rather than use the money for more practical things which is how she acquires the stockings.  She uses the money to remind herself of her past and in a way return to that past where she did not need to be concerned with money. 

The main themes in this story are the ideas of independence and autonomy.  When Mrs. Summers has the money to spend, she feels freedom and independence from the issues of her daily life. 

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