Kate Chopin: A Writer Ahead of Her Time

Subject: Literature
Pages: 5
Words: 1427
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: PhD

Introduction

Kate Chopin was a female writer who stands out from the writers of her time for having addressed issues of women sexuality and conduct. Chopin lived in a period of time where women were expected to behave in a prescribed “proper” manner and their duties where generally limited to taking care of their husband and children and leading industrious lives. Long-Kluckner notes that women were believed to not even possess sexual desires and by depicting women who had such desires, Chopin evoked controversial ideas which her society was unwilling to face. Through her writings, Chopin alluded to women searching for ideal feminine selfhood in a patriarchal society which was a hostile environment for such endeavors (107). For her quest, Chopin’s career as a writer was brought to a premature death and it was only in the mid 1900s that the value of her work was recognized. In this paper, I shall present Kate Chopin as an innovative female author whose works demonstrate that she was ahead of her time. This paper shall illustrate how Chopin through her work was unwilling to be shackled by the conformity which society dictated and how she depicted women in as creatures full of desires and passions independent of men.

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Kate Chopin Life

Kate Chopin wrote at a period in history where there was palpable tension between the old and the new. Sprinkle notes that the “old” was the society which was characterized by women who were financially dependent on men while the “new” was a society characterized by women who were making active attempts to better themselves and hence in some way become liberated. However, these tensions were not acted upon and women continued to play a subordinate role to men in the society and their interests and passions were secondary to those of men and their families (Howard). According to her biography, Chopin’s real life was as far ahead of her time as that of her female characters (Katechopin). Chopin engaged in unconventional practices such as smoking and even walking around the city unaccompanied, an uncommon behavior for a woman of class during her time (Chopin and Gilbert 11). Chopin also explored her sexuality and was rumored to have had a number of affairs after the death of her husband.

Chopin’s literary inspiration was from the French writer Guy de Maupassant who she admired for his directness on the subjects he wrote about. To Chopin, Maupassant was “a man who had escaped from tradition and authority… and who in a direct and simple way, told what he saw” (1). While Chopin began to express her admiration for Maupassant’s work by making English translations of the same, this admiration eventually resulted in Chopin adopting directness and a more critical stance in telling her tales. Just like Maupassant, Chopin disapproved off censorship and was a firm believer that the truth should be told as it was regardless of the subject matter (Chopin, Toth and Seyersted 228).

Chopin’s presentation of Women

Chopin always prided herself as being an author who wrote of “human existence in its subtle, complex true meaning, stripped of the veil of convention” (Bloom 151). This was especially true in her treatment of issues relating to women. Wang documents that in her famous novel, “The Awakening”, Chopin writes of a woman who is independent and self-sufficient and is a representation of feminine solitude and freedom (109). The main character, Edna Pontellier, represented a woman who was willing to give up everything for the sake of her selfhood and freedom (Culley 117). This character had a passion and individuality that was not yet achieved by the women in Chopin’s time. While all this qualities that Pontellier embodied where what the women in Chopin’s time hoped to achieve, this was a dream that was as yet unachievable in the strongly patriarchal society. While Chopin envisions a society where the female is empowered and independence, she reckons that this will not happen without strong resistance from the strong patriarchal base that is well established in the society. In her story “The Story of an Hour”, Chopin indicates that the main character, Louise, will have to face suppression and refutation from the society in her quest for selfhood (Wang 111).

Chopin’s explored the subject of a woman’s enslavement by marriage in a manner that does not ring well with the society. In her time, marriage was viewed as being sacred and was therefore revered by all the members of the society. Issues such as divorce were held in negative light and it was expected that a woman would in public express delight at her marriage. Women were expected to be devastated by the loss of their husbands and to spend a considerable amount of time in morning. In Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”, the main character Mrs. Mallard feels a sense of overwhelming anticipation of pleasurable experience to come on hearing the news of the death of her husband. Mallard upon learning of her Husband’s Death says over and over again “free, free, free!? (Chopin and Solomon 199) This suggests that marriage was a form of bondage to her and now that she has been released of it, she can experience all of life’s pleasures.

The subject matter that alienated Chopin as a writer from her community was her treatment of the issue of sex and fidelity. In one of her best tales “The Storm”, two young characters who grew up in each others company meet after having both been married and separated for five years. Their passion which was previously there is rekindled and they engage in a sexual encounter that Chopin describes as “sensual pleasure unknown in their marriages” (Chopin and Solomon 15). While such an assertion would have been shunned in a society that shunned adultery, Chopin goes on to give a graphic description of the sexual liaison between the two. The society in her time did no share in her enthusiasm and portrayal of women who committed adultery without feeling guilty as was the case in Chopin’s books were unacceptable. As such, this contemporary outlook on such matters that Chopin held was not appreciated by the conservative society and for this reason, her works were either banned or remained unpublished due to their content.

While Chopin was greatly troubled and greatly dismayed by the negative reception and damage to her reputation that her works brought, she did not disown her heroines and went as far as defending their actions (Chopin 13). This demonstrates that Chopin believed in a world where the sexual needs of women were not only recognized but appreciated. Walker laments that although the reaction with which Chopin’s The Awakening did not result in Chopin’s death or even the complete end of her writing career, it resulted in a delay in her work being published and read by the general public (27). As such, the impact that Chopin could have had was postponed due to the society’s unwillingness to face the issues that Chopin raised in her works.

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Walker declares that Chopin’s controversial work was “not accepted anywhere during her lifetime” (26). This was because Chopin digressed from the traditionally acceptable topics in her writing and instead of wring on the generally acceptable “respectable woman” who was keen to live up to society’s moral values, she addressed other womanly needs such as sexual pleasure, independence and personal fulfillment. While her work was attacked and degraded during her lifetime, the themes and subjects that Chopin covered in her works are particularly relevant in this age where the woman’s needs are no longer shunned but hugely recognized by the society. As such, there was resurgence in the interest of Chopin’s work in the mid 1900s mostly by feminist movements which related with her themes and ideas.

Conclusion

This paper set out to showcase Kate Chopin as a female author who was beyond her time. The discussions herein have shown that Chopin dared to venture into subjects that no other author had written on giving fearless truths about women that the conservative society had ignored up to that point in time. While her work resulted in a storm of disapproval during her lifetime, we can look in retrospective and see how relevant Chopin’s work was to the realities of the 21st century. For this reasons, I find Chopin to have been a very monumental writer who never got the recognition she deserved in her time. In my opinion, Chopin was truly an author beyond her time her works will remain some of the most influential for modern day women.

References

Bloom, Harold. Kate Chopin. Infobase Publishing, 2007. Print.

Chopin Kate, Toth Emily and Seyersted Per. Kate Chopin’s Private Papers. Indiana University Press. 1998. Print.

Chopin, Kate and Gilbert, Sandra. The Awakening and Selected Stories. Penguin Classics, 2003. Print.

Culley, Margaret, ed. The Awakening: An Authoritative Text Context Criticism. New York: Norton, 1976. Print.

Howard, Bail. A Woman far Ahead of Her Time. 1997. Web.

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Kate Chopin. Kate Chopin Biography. The Kate Chopin International Society. 2010.

Long-Kluckner, Rebecca. Chopin’s Awakening of Female Sexuality in “The Storm”. 2006. Web.

Solomon, Barbara. Introduction. The Awakening and Selected Stories of Kate Chopin. By Kate Chopin. New York: Penguin, 1976. Print.

Sprinkle, Russ. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening: A Critical Reception. 1998. Web.

Walker, Nancy. Kate Chopin: a Literary Life. Palgrave Macmillan, 2001. Print.

Wang, Xuding. Feminine Self-Assertion in “The Story of an Hour”. 2007.