Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Colette is not only misleading in suggesting that she had nothing to do with Marco’s downfall, but also deceptive in another way. Autobiography does not simply creep into “The Kepi”; it leaps in. The first four paragraphs, for example, could be culled directly from Colette’s autobiography. As in many of her stories, the line between fact and fiction is blurred, the distinction between author and first-person persona negligible. Because of this, Colette is at once the most honest writer of fiction and the most deceptive. She is honest in that she does not attempt to disguise herself and speaks candidly about her life and the people she knew, such as Paul Masson. She is deceptive because “The Kepi” remains, nevertheless, a work of fiction. Having introduced herself as Colette, a real person with a real life, her implicit message is that everything she relates must be true, too, which is not the case. Her daring and unashamed mixture of fact and fiction provides her work with a tantalizing realism to some readers, and a measure of frustration to others who like their genres more clear-cut.

In the end, the kepi is a powerful symbol because of the antithesis developed by Colette’s scattering of feminine details throughout the story. Even her digressions relate to style; for example, when she moves to a new apartment, Colette relates that she purchased “white goat skins, and a folding shower bath from Chaboche’s” to decorate it. More important, Marco and Colette’s relationship is founded on and solely nourished by feminine concerns: hair, clothes, makeup. These details establish the effectiveness of the kepi as the vehicle of Marco’s debasement, the irony being appropriately struck by the introduction of the sole item of masculine fashion in the story.