Madame Célestin's Divorce

by Kate Chopin

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 327

Lawyer Paxton is a single man practicing law in Natitoches, a town in Louisiana. On his habitual morning walk he regularly falls into conversation with Madame Célestin, a woman whose husband is frequently absent and who does little to support her and their two children. Paxton stands outside the picket fence and admires Madame Célestin for her beauty and industriousness as she works to maintain her home and garden. They frequently speak of her troubled marriage and her growing desire to divorce her husband, and Paxton encourages her to do that.

Madame Célestin is under pressure from her family, friends, and especially, her mother, to try to work out her feelings about her marriage even though her husband has been away for six months. He is described as shiftless, irresponsible, and often drunk. Madame Célestin's mother states that there has never been divorce in their family and she does not want the "disgrace." Madame Célestin's mother urges her to consult her parish priest, which she does. However, Madame Célestin stands her ground with the priest, who passes her on to the bishop, who tries to convince her that it is her Christian duty to endure whatever mistreatment her husband inflicts on her. Despite that, she tells Paxton she still intends to pursue the divorce.

Paxton is clearly attracted to Madame Célestin and dreams of marrying her once she divorces her husband. She is a Creole, and he understands that it would be very difficult for them to live in the narrow-minded confines of Natitoches. He dreams of leaving town together and venturing out into a world that would be more accepting of them as a couple.

At the story's end, Paxton visits Madame Célestin on an early morning and finds that she has changed her mind. She tells Paxton that her husband has returned and promised to change his ways, and so she will not be pursuing a divorce.

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