Madame Célestin's Divorce by Kate Chopin

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Madame Célestin's Divorce Summary

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.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Madame Célestin’s Divorce” relates several brief encounters between the title character and a lawyer, Mr. Paxton, through an omniscient narrator. The plot revolves around Paxton’s growing infatuation with the very attractive Madame Célestin, while he counsels her to divorce Célestin, her abusive husband. As is typical in most of Kate Chopin’s writing, the characters’ emotional situations, as well as their regional idiosyncrasies, direct the outcome of the plot.

The story begins with a description of Madame Célestin, a young Creole housewife, busy with her daily morning task, which is sweeping her front steps and patio. She is prettily attired in a calico wrapper with a pink bow at her throat. Mr. Paxton passes her house on the way to his law office and stops to chat with Madame, whose charm and beauty do not escape his notice.

Madame Célestin is an open, talkative, woman who is not afraid to express her opinion or discuss her personal problems. The whole town is aware of how much she suffers at the hands of her husband, who drinks and has been absent for nearly six months. To support herself and her two children, she takes in sewing and gives music lessons. Paxton, appalled by this neglect and aware that Célestin has also beaten her, advises her to seek a divorce....

(The entire section is 831 words.)