Kate Chopin

In short story “A Respectable Woman” we can see the family of nobility: Mr. and Mrs. Baroda. One day Mr. Baroda decides to invite his friend Gouvernail to stay at their house for a week or two. When Gouvernail comes, at first Mrs. Baroda is greatly disappointed, because she cannot see those positive traits, which Gaston, her husband had described so enthusiastically. But later, when she meets Gouvernail on a night walk, Mrs. Baroda falls in love with that silent, mysterious man. At this night, she longs to fall into her passion, but dares not. That is because she is not yet ready to believe herself in these new feelings and partly because she is a noble, “respectable woman”, who must be loyal to her husband: “Her physical being was for the moment predominant…She wanted to reach out her hand in the darkness and touch him with the sensitive tips of her fingers upon the face or the lips. She wanted to draw close to him and whisper against his cheek – she did not care what – as she might have done if she had not been a respectable woman” (Chopin, “A Respectable Woman” 395). So, she waits eagerly for Gouvernail to leave. But some time after, she herself is asking her husband to invite Gouvernail to stay. She finally realized her feelings for him, disregarding her marital and social status: “However, before the year ended, she proposed, wholly from herself, to have Gouvernail visit them again. Her husband was surprised and delighted with the suggestion coming from her” (ibid. 396). At her husband’s question about that sudden change in her she just retaliates: “”I have overcome everything! you will see. This time I shall be very nice to him”” (ibid. 396). She claims that she has “overcome everything”. That can rather mean that she had overcome her feelings for Gouvernail or her restraint as “a respectable woman”. But regarding Mrs. Baroda’s final words, she will be “very nice” to Gouvernail, which implies she decided to sate her passion by having a love-affair with him.

Such sort of an open ending is very typical for Chopin’s fiction. She leaves all possible interpretations to her reader. “Divergences stem not only from the various ways of perceiving how the author plays with weak implicatures, but also from the numerous implications that readers themselves have derived from a deceptively simple text, which is in fact an intricately layered narrative” (Gibert 8).

The reader (especially a male) may think it immoral to do so, but Chopin has manifested her own position through the actions of Mrs. Baroda.

Love and passion, marriage and independence, freedom and restraint — these are themes of her work distinctively realized in story after story. When Edna Pontellier, the heroine of The Awakening announces “I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself” she is addressing the crucial issue for many of Kate Chopin’s women — the winning of a self, the keeping of it (Howard 2).

And, finally, we discuss a short story “The Storm”, which most vividly, among those three short stories we have mentioned, expresses Chopin’s view on the position of women in society and in marriage in the end of XIX century. Chopin was far ahead her time and only in the middle of XX century her novels and short stories were duly praised and renowned, thanks to the shift in critical thought towards the meaning and symbolism of the literary work from morality, which was overwhelming in the end of XIX century’s literary criticism. (Goddard 2-3).

In her short story “The Storm” we can see an image of the South of the USA, where lives a family: Bobinot, his wife Calixta and their son Bibi. On one day, Bobinot and Bibi happened to be away from home when the storm began. At the same time Calixta had a visitor, Alcee Laballière, who happened to be nearby. Calixta was in love with Alcee before and this time she couldn’t help but fall into his arms and subdue to her feelings, despite she was a married woman and had a son.

When he touched her breasts they gave themselves up in quivering ecstasy, inviting his lips. Her mouth was a fountain of delight. And when he possessed her, they seemed to swoon together at the very borderland of life’s mystery. (Chopin “The Storm” 3).

This did not mean either Calixta did not worry about her son Bibi or did not love her husband Bobinot, but she gave him and her child everything, but herself. Her body was clad in the shell of restraint of marriage, but her heart was free and could love the one she really loved. Is that attitude morally right or wrong? In our opinion, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all”. These are the words of English writer Oscar Wilde, which most correctly underline the nature of literature itself. We cannot judge a book to be “moral” or “immoral”, we must value its ideas, meaning, beauty and literary talent of its author.

Taking into account all the information we had gathered in our research, we can restate the thesis of our essay – Kate Chopin was indeed far ahead of her time with her daring ideas of equal status of men and women in originally masculine society not only in the South of America, but all over the world. Though her ideas were not appreciated duly in her time, later in XX century they played a major role in liberalization of women in American society and all over the world. A century was needed for our society to realize the fact, which Kate Chopin realized already in the end of XIX century. She was the first among those, who later would proudly call themselves feminists. For that, she is worth to be praised aloud.

 

Works Cited

Chopin, Kate. A Respectable Woman. Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library. 2000. Web. 4 Apr. 2011.

Chopin, Kate. Desiree’s Baby. National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. 2004. Web. 5 Apr. 2011.

Chopin, Kate. The Storm. About.com. 2005. Web. 6 Apr. 2011.

Gibert, Teresa. The Role of Implicatures in Kate Chopin’s Louisiana Short Stories. Journal of the Short Story in English. 2003. Web. 4 Apr. 2011.

Goddard, Paula. Mrs. Chopin was at least a decade ahead of her time: The Place of The Awakening in the American Canon. 49th Parallel. An Interdisciplinary Journal of North American Studies. Web. 5 Apr. 2011.

Howard, Jane B. A Woman Far Ahead of Her Time.Web. 5 Apr. 2011.