Kate Chopin’s ‘‘A Point at Issue!’’ appeared, along with ‘‘Wiser than a God,’’ in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on October 27, 1889. Its publication marked the beginning of a decade of literary work by the author that culminates in her controversial masterpiece The Awakening. ‘‘A Point at Issue!,’’ which now can be found in her Collected Works, announces Chopin’s interest in the dynamics of male-female relationships, a subject she would explore in various ways throughout the body of her work.
The relationship at the heart of ‘‘A Point at Issue!’’ is that of Charles and Eleanor Faraday, who pride themselves on their progressive attitude toward marriage. Determined to maintain their independence, they embark on a test of their resolve, which involves a long period of separation. While they are able to withstand the social pressure to conform to traditional gender roles, they ultimately cannot ignore the dictates of their own hearts. Charles and Eleanor’s developing relationship illuminates the human desires that inevitably complicate the quest for freedom.
‘‘A Point at Issue!’’ begins with the wedding announcement of Eleanor Gail and Charles Faraday, as printed in the Plymdale Promulgator, the couple’s local newspaper. Eleanor is not happy with the announcement because she considers it to be ‘‘an indelicate thrusting of herself upon the public notice.’’ She had agreed to the announcement as a concession to social rules, hoping that she would not have to make such concessions in the future.
Her new husband, Charles, regards her as the ideal woman; he is happy that she is ‘‘logical’’ and will study subjects with him such as philosophy and science. When Eleanor declares that she wants to learn to speak French fluently, the two decide that she will study in Paris while he spends most of the year in America. After their European honeymoon, Eleanor rents rooms in Paris and Charles returns to Plymdale, planning to spend the following summer with her. The couple’s behavior outrages Plymdale society, which is indignant at the idea that ‘‘two young people should presume to introduce such innovations into matrimony.’’ The two write each other regularly.
Charles begins spending his free time with the Beatons, a local family, finding them ‘‘all clever people, bright and interesting.’’ Mr. Beaton is a colleague at the university where Charles teaches. Charles thoroughly enjoys the company of this happy family, especially that of their blissful and self-absorbed youngest daughter, Kitty. Charles writes to Eleanor expressing his admiration for the young girl, dismissing as illogical the possibility that his wife would be jealous, but Eleanor does not send back a response with her usual promptness. When a letter finally does arrive, it expresses an ‘‘inexplicable coldness’’ in tone. However, he soon receives several letters from his wife ‘‘that shook him with their unusual ardor.’’
After a winter apart from his wife, Charles leaves for Paris to see her. Before he arrives, there is a description of Eleanor pacing her rooms, obviously disturbed, fighting ‘‘a misery of the heart, against which her reason was in armed rebellion.’’ The narrator does not reveal the nature of the misery that causes Eleanor to collapse in ‘‘a storm of sobs and tears.’’
When Charles arrives, he sees only his familiar, idealized vision of his wife, but then notices that she has become more beautiful. As they converse, a housemaid appears, eyeing Eleanor ‘‘with the glance of a fellow conspirator’’ and holding a card in her hand. Eleanor hastily thrusts the card in her pocket and turns toward Charles ‘‘a little flustered.’’
A few days later, Charles interrupts a conversation between Eleanor and a...
(The entire section is 929 words.)