Kate Chopin

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In what respects does Kate Chopin’s fiction typify literary naturalism?

Chopin’s short stories have often been classified as “local color” fiction. Choose several stories from Bayou Folk and cite settings and characters that exemplify local color.

Examine the sensory detail in one Chopin short story or one chapter from a novel and explain how it enhances the effect of the whole.

What were Edna Pontellier’s marital expectations beforehand, and how did they change in the course of The Awakening?

With careful attention to the details in the final chapter of The Awakening, determine whether Edna’s suicide should be interpreted as an act of despair or liberationor should it be regarded in yet another light?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

In addition to the short stories which brought her some fame as a writer during her own lifetime, Kate Chopin published two novels, At Fault (1890) and The Awakening (1899), the latter of which was either ignored or condemned because of its theme of adultery and frank depiction of a woman’s sexual urges. Chopin also wrote a few reviews and casual essays and a number of undistinguished poems.

Achievements

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Kate Chopin’s short stories, published in contemporary popular magazines, won her fame as a local colorist with a good ear for dialect and as a writer concerned with women’s issues (sexuality, equality, independence). After the publication of The Awakening in 1899, however, her popularity waned, in part because of the furor over the open treatment of adultery and sex in the novel. She wrote few stories after 1900, and her work was largely neglected until the rediscovery of The Awakening by feminist critics. Criticism of that novel and new biographies have spurred a new interest in her Creole short stories, which have been analyzed in detail in terms of their regionalism and their treatment of gender. Influenced by Guy de Maupassant, she did not exert any literary influence on later short-story writers, at least until the rediscovery of The Awakening.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to her novels, Kate Chopin (SHO-pan) wrote nearly fifty poems, approximately one hundred stories and vignettes, and a small amount of literary criticism. Her poems are slight, and no serious claims can be made for them. Her criticism also tends to be modest, but it is often revealing. In one piece written in 1896, for example, she discloses that she discovered Guy de Maupassant eight years earlier—that is, when she first began to write. There is every indication that Maupassant remained one of her most important models in the short-story form. In another essay, she pays tribute to Mary Wilkins Freeman, the New England local colorist whose depiction of repressed passion in women was probably an influence on Chopin’s own work. Elsewhere, Chopin seems to distinguish between her own writing and that of the so-called local-color school. She is critical of Hamlin Garland for his concern with social problems, “which alone does not insure the survival of a work of art,” and she finds the horizons of the Indiana local-color writers too narrow. The subject of genuine fiction is not regional quaintness, she remarks, but “human existence in its subtle, complexmeaning, stripped of the veil with which ethical and conventional standards have draped it.” Like Thomas Huxley, much read in her circle, she finds no moral purpose in nature, and in her fiction she frequently implies the relativity of morals and received standards.

Chopin’s most important work, apart from her novels, lies in the short story. It was for her short stories that she was chiefly known in her time. Her earliest stories are unexceptional, but within only a few years she was producing impressive work, including a fine series of stories set in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. Many of these mature stories are included in the two volumes published during her lifetime—Bayou Folk (1894) and A Night in Acadie (1897). All of her stories and sketches were made available with the 1969 publication of The Complete Works of Kate Chopin ....

(The entire section is 2,067 words.)