Madame Célestin's Divorce

by Kate Chopin

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 707

MADAME CÉLESTIN always wore a neat and snugly fitting calico wrapper when she went out in the morning to sweep her small gallery. Lawyer Paxton thought she looked very pretty in the gray one that was made with a graceful Watteau fold at the back . . .

Madame Célestin cares about her appearance. From the "neat" clothing she wears to do outside chores to the way she seemingly wants her house kept neat and tidy by outside appearances, always performing some work in the yard, it is clear that she values appearances. This becomes an important concept to apply to her marriage at the very end.

Of course she had talked to him of her troubles. Every one knew Madame Célestin's troubles.

Madam Célestin doesn't mind sharing her marital discord with the town in general. Everyone is aware of the state of disarray in her relationship.

"Here you are, working your fingers off"—she glanced down at two rosy finger-tips that showed through the rents in her baggy doeskin gloves—"taking in sewing; giving music lessons; doing God knows what in the way of manual labor to support yourself and those two little ones"—Madame Célestin's pretty face beamed with satisfaction at this enumeration of her trials.

Madam Célestin is no stranger to hard work, and she is pretty self-sufficient at making ends meet when her husband goes AWOL. She is willing to do whatever it takes to provide for her children, unlike her husband. And she also takes pride in her willingness to provide for them in her husband's absence, "beam[ing] with satisfaction" at the recognition of her efforts.

An' if you would know the promises he has made me! Ah, if I had as many dolla' as I had promise from Célestin, I would n' have to work, je vous garantis.

Madame Célestin's husband is a man of many empty promises. He has been stringing her along for quite some time, leaving her to shoulder the burden of caring for the family. Her husband has quite a history of leaving his wife with empty promises, and this is important in the ending as well.

It would move even you, Judge, to hear how he talk' about that step I want to take; its danga, its temptation. How it is the duty of a Catholic to stan' everything till the las' extreme. An' that life of retirement an' self-denial I would have to lead,—he tole me all that.

Madame Célestin is moved to tears by the counsel of the bishop, who tells her that it is her Catholic duty to endure her marriage in spite of the lack of support she receives. Like many women (of her time and even in modern times), Madame Célestin is told to lead a life of "self-denial" so that she can preserve her (dysfunctional) marriage. It doesn't matter that she's miserable or that her husband is completely missing. She is a wife. That is her role. And people expect her to stay in that role, regardless of how she is treated.

Then he fell into a stupid habit of dreaming as he walked the streets of the old town. It would be very good to take unto himself a wife, he dreamed. And he could dream of no other than pretty Madame Célestin filling that sweet and sacred office as she filled his thoughts, now.

Through their conversations, the lawyer falls for the incredibly strong Madame Célestin. He dreams of marrying her himself and knows that they could not stay in this small town, full of its judgments against them. He dreams, therefore, of running...

(This entire section contains 707 words.)

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away with her, knowing that she would make a good wife for him.

You see, Judge, Célestin came home las' night. An' he's promise me on his word an' honor he's going to turn ova a new leaf.

The reader winces here as Madame Célestin buys into her husband's empty promises one more time. Although history tells her that things are not going to change, she decides to accept the familiar rather than try to begin a new life. The story shows the incredible difficulty in leaving even a toxic marriage.