illustrated portrait of American author Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin

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What are similarities and differences between Calixta, Desiree, and Mrs. Mallard?

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It is generally accepted that Chopin's views on women are somewhat controversial. Her writings often deal with the oppression of women, such as in her short stories "Desiree's Baby" and "The Story of an Hour." Though the criticisms from various groups have been evaluated, studies have found them to be inadequate or simply not true. One study by Deidre Shauna Lynch claims that Chopin's characters seem to show a "submissive acceptance" of their oppressions, but there is quite a bit more to Chopin's views than what Lynch states. In terms of her life experiences, there is little evidence that would explain why she was sympathetic toward women. She was born into a wealthy Creole family in St.

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All three of these female characters experience the restrictiveness of marriage in the nineteenth-century, though in different ways and for different reasons. Calixta seems to have been unaware of any personal dissatisfaction with marriage prior to the storm; when her family is out in the storm, she is genuinely worried for them and doesn't plan to break her marriage vows. However, with Alcee, "the fear in her liquid blue eyes had given place to a drowsy gleam that unconsciously betrayed a sensuous desire." In fact, "her lips seemed in a manner free to be tasted [...]." Calixta clearly finds something with Alcee that she lacks in her relationship with her husband, or else she wouldn't be inclined to give vent to her "abundance of [...] passion." Perhaps her passion for Bobinot has waned, or perhaps it has never matched her passion for Alcee. Perhaps she married him for more practical reasons; we really don't know. However, there must be something unfulfilling about her marriage, or she wouldn't need to look for something outside of it.

Louise Mallard seems to be more aware of her discontentment in her marriage. When she is told that her husband has died, one of her first thoughts is that she is now "'free, free, free!'" She revels in the idea that her life, now, "would belong to her absolutely [....]. There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself." Louise is aware of the marriage conventions that bespeak "repression," and she rejoices that no husband will any longer be permitted, even expected, "to impose [his] private will upon [her]." Despite her husband's love for Louise, she still felt confined by her marriage and chafed against her lack of freedom; otherwise, she would not now rejoice that she is "'Free! Body and soul free!'"

Desiree Valmonde Aubigny learns the power a husband has over a wife when her husband comes to believe that she has some black ancestry. Her husband, Armand, feels that God had been unjustly cruel to him and so "he was paying Him back in kind when he stabbed [...] into his wife's soul," telling her to leave their home and never return. Without him and his love, Desiree feels that life is no longer worth living; rejected by her husband, she and her child would likely be alienated from all good society. "She turned away [from him] like one stunned by a blow, and walked slowly towards the door, hoping he would call her back." Shattered by her husband's emotional betrayal, she must not be able to conceive of a life without him: "She disappeared among the reeds and willows that grew thick along the banks of the deep, sluggish bayou; and she did not come back again." Humiliated and cast out by Armand, Desiree is nothing. What life, what happiness can she possibly have now? Besides her parents, who will want her?

Thus, we see that these three characters all experience the repression of women in the institution of marriage in the late nineteenth-century. They have differing levels of awareness, and, of course, Calixta goes back to her life, while Louise and Desiree cannot, and the three range from somewhat dissatisfied with marriage to thinking of marriage as a means of repression to not being able to conceive of a life having been rejected by one's marriage partner.

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All of these women are married, and end up not being completely happy and satisfied in their roles.  Calixta, although she shows no overt signs of being unhappy or miserable in her marriage, is nonetheless much, much happier after stepping outside the boundaries of marital fidelity.  After her tryst with Alcee, she is a much more loving, kind housewife and mother.  This indicates that the conventional roles of marriage were restricting and unpleasant for her, and she felt more fulfilled and content stepping outside of those bounds.  Louise too felt restricted by marriage; she didn't have an affair, but when she learned of her husband's death, she was filled with elation and a sense of freedom from marriage, and how one person forces the other to "bend to their will" all of the time.  She had a good husband, and even loved him, but marriage repressed and stifled her.  Desiree is happy in her marriage, until her husband rejects her.  So all of these women were happier outside of the accepted, conventional roles as wives in the 1800's, and found happiness outside of those roles.

Key differences do exist in these stories, however.  Desiree is the most contented in her lot as a mother and wife; it is her husband's discontent in her heritage that drives her out.  She doesn't reject her role as wife and mother, whereas the other two do.  Calixta proactively breaks her marital vows to find happiness, whereas Louise doesn't realize she is unhappy until her husband dies.  So there are some major plot differences there.  Calixta is the most proactive is seeking happiness; Louise discovers it by accident, and Desiree's happiness is stripped from her at the startling discovery of her heritage.

I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

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