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Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin is one of the first female writers to address female issues,

primarily sexuality. Chopin declares that women are capable of overt

sexuality in which they explore and enjoy their sexuality. Chopin shows that

her women are capable of loving more than one man at a time. They are not

only attractive but sexually attracted (Ziff 148). Two of Chopin?s stories that

reflect this attitude of sexuality are The Awakening and one of her short

stories ?The Storm?. Although critics now acclaim these two stories as great

accomplishments, Chopin has been condemned during her life for writing such

vulgar and risqu? pieces. In 1899 Chopin publishes The Awakening. She is

censured for its ?positively unseemly? theme (Kimbel 91). Due to the negative

reception of The Awakening Chopin never tries to publish ?The Storm?. She

feels that the literary establishment can not accept her bold view of human

sexuality (Kimbel 108). Chopin definitely proves to be an author way ahead of

her time.

The Awakening is considered to be Chopin?s best work as well as a

unlikely novel to be written during the 1890s in America. The Awakening is a

story about a woman, Edna Pontelier, who is a conventional wife and mother.

Edna experiences a spiritual awakening in the sense of independence that

changes her life. Edna Pontellier begins her awakening at the Grand Isle when

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she is 28 years old. She has been married for ten years, and she has two

children. This situation proves to be different from the male characters of

most other novels because they almost always do not have to face the

complications of marriage and parenthood to reach self-determination

(Bogarad 159). Chopin is able to portray this awakening through Edna?s

relationships with her husband, children, Alcee, and Robert.

Kate Chopin always writes about marital instability in her fiction

(Wilson 148). The first way in which Chopin is able to portray an awakening by

Edna is through her relationship with her husband, Leonce. Chopin describes

Leonce as a likable guy. He is a successful businessman, popular with his

friends, and devotes himself to Edna and the children (Spangler 154). Although

Edna?s marriage to Leonce is ?purely and accident?, he ?pleases her? and his

?absolute devotion flattered her? (Chopin 506). However, it is clearly obvious

to the reader the Leonce acts as the oppressor of Edna (Allen 72). When the

reader first sees them together, Leonce is looking at his wife as ?a valuable

piece of personal property which has suffered some damage? (Chopin 494).

The most important aspect to Leonce is making money and showing off his

wealth. He believes his wife?s role to be caring for him and his children.

Therefore, the first step toward her freedom is to be free of his rule. Edna is

able to accomplish this first by denying Leonce the submissiveness which he

is accustomed to. She does this by abandoning her Tuesday visitors, she

makes no attempt to keep an organized household, and she comes and goes

as she pleases (Chopin 536). The next big step in gaining her freedom from

her husband is when she moves into a house of her own while Leonce is away

taking of business. She does not even wait to see what his opinion of the

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matter is (Chopin 558). It is quite evident the only thing Leonce worries about

is what people are going to say. Therefore, he begins to remodel the house so

it does not appear that Edna has left him. ?Mr. Pontellier had saved

appearances!? (Chopin 565). Leonce never really understands what happens

to his marriage with Edna. Instead he has to face the fact that he as well as

the children are of no consequence to his wife (Spangler 154). There is also

the fact that divorce is not a consideration because in the 1890s this right has

not been generally recognized. The reader must understand that as a matter

of historical fact her options are different from modern ones (Allen 72).

Secondly, Edna must become free from her children. For many years

Edna has been a good mother, but now she sees her boys as an opposition.

Therefore, she refuses to live for them, but rather for herself (Seyersted 151).

While at the Grand Isle Edna tells one of her good friends, Madame Ratignolle,

that she ?would give my life for my children; but I would not give myself?

(Chopin 529). Edna believes that she can direct her own life, but she also

acknowledges her responsibility toward her children. She knows how the

patriarchal society condemns a freedom-seeking women who neglects her

children (Seyersted 62). The reader also comes to know Adele Ratignolle well.

As a friend of Edna?s, she represents the exact opposite. Chopin portrays

Adele as being totally devoted mother to her family and happy of her domestic

lifestyle. She has a baby every two years. Although Adele shows her

unselfishness in her care for the children, she also uses her children in order

to draw attention to herself (Seyersted 152). Until Edna goes to one of Adele?s

childbirths she still believes that she has the ability to direct her own life.

Adele reminds Edna of the mother?s duties toward her children (Chopin 578).

This event allows Edna it realize her view of her possibilities for a

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self-directed life (Seyersted 151). Therefore, she finds her power to dictate

her own life to be nothing but an illusion (Seyersted 62).

The next way Chopin is able to portray Edna?s sense of freedom is

through her relationships with Alcee Arobin and Robert Lebrun. Edna likes

Alcee?s company because he is charming, attentive, amusing, and a person of

the world. He is a sexual partner who does not ask for, receive, or give love.

When Edna kisses Alcee she is awakened to the idea that sex and love can be

separated. Although she loves Robert truly, she separates her feelings for

Robert in order to control her desire (Bogarad 160). Edna first meets Robert

Lebrun during her summer stay at the Grand Isle. At the summer?s end Edna

goes home and Robert goes to Mexico for business. When Robert returns

because business does not go as he plans, Robert and Edna are together.

However, Edna does not feel the closeness at first that she expects and in

some way he ?had seemed nearer to her off there in Mexico? (Chopin 572).

Although they do finally confess their mutual love, they know they can never

be together in reality because of Leonce (Spangler 154). Robert knows he can

not return the love to Edna which she gives him because he only feels free to

love Edna when there is no risk involved (Bogarad 160). Robert does love and

wants Edna, but he can not bring himself to join in Edna?s rebellion to break up

the sacraments of marriage (Bogarad 161). In reality the men of her life split

her. ?Robert sees her as a angel, and Alcee sees her as a whore? (Bogarad

160). Edna does awaken to her true love for Robert, but uses Alcee as a

convenience (Arms 149). This type of behavior of a women during this time is

unheard of.

The last way Chopin is able to explore Edna?s independence and

awakening is by her tragic death. At the end of the novel Edna is very upset

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that she loses Robert. There is ?no human being whom she wanted near her

except Robert?, but she also realizes that there will be a day where ?the

thought of him would melt out of her existence, leaving her alone? (Chopin

581). Edna goes to the sea and ?for the first time in her life? stands naked in

the open air. ?She felt like some new-born creature, opening its eyes in a

familiar world that is had never known? (Chopin 582). Edna feels that she can

not sacrifice herself to the consequences of sexual activity, and she also is

not willing to live without these experiences. Therefore, Edna drowns herself

(Allen 72). She realizes nature and man dictate the life of a woman, and to be

independent is much harder to obtain for woman than a man (Seyersted 62). In

the development of a male novel the reader expects the man to make the stoic

choice and in a female novel a women the reader expects the female to come

to her senses, returning to the cycle of marriage and motherhood. However,

Edna chooses neither, and this is the point of Chopin?s novel (Bogarad 161).

Another story which Chopin is able to express her attitude toward

sexuality is ?The Storm. Although ?The Storm? is today considered a

well-written short story, Chopin never publishes it in the 1890s because it is

so daring (Kauffmann 62). ?The Storm?, written six years later, is the sequel

to the short story ?At the ?Cadian Ball? (Skaggs 91). ?The Storm? is divided

into five scenes. In the first scene the reader finds Calixta?s husband, Bobinot,

and their son, Bibi, waiting out a storm at Friedheimer?s store (Chopin 490). In

the second scene Alcee takes shelter at Bobinot?s home, where Calixta is

home alone (Chopin 491). In this second scene Chopin uses dialogue to

portray a growing sexual desire for one another (Kimbel 108). Chopin

describes Calixta?s lips ?as red and moist as pomegranate seed? (Chopin 491).

She describes their sexual encounter in great detail. Calixta releases a

Harmon 6

?generous abundance of her passion,? which is like ? a white flame which

penetrated and found response in depths of his own sensuous nature that had

never yet been reached.? She also uses the vivid words, ?he possessed her?

to describe in great detail the actual sex act (Chopin 492). No other author of

this time uses such language to describe the act of sex (Jones 82). In the

third scene the storm is over and Alcee rides off to his destination. Bobinot

and Bibi return home to find Calixts in an unusual good mood. They eat supper

and the evening ends in much happiness. The fourth and fifth scenes reveal a

great deal about Alcee and his relationship with his wife, Clarisse. In the

fourth scene Alcee writes Clarisse a loving letter telling her ?not to hurry

back,? but ?stay a month longer? if she wishes. In the fifth scene Clarisse

receives the letter. The reader finds out that Clarisse is ?charmed upon

receiving her husband?s letter? yet relieved to forgo ?their intimate conjugal

life? for a while. The ending proves to be very ironic. Although an affair has

taken place, one may expect for them to get caught and the marriages be

broken up. However, ?the storm had passed and everyone was happy? (Chopin


Calixta?s adulterous experience is accidental and innocent. The affair

seems to refresh both marriages, Alcee?s and Calizta?s. Chopin?s theme here

again is that ?freedom nourishes?. ?The Storm? is remarkable considering that

it is written in the 1890s and for the use of the controversial language which

unites humans in sexual ways. The story reveals Kate Chopin?s desire ?of

women?s renewal birthright for passionate self-fulfillment? (Bogarad 158).

In conclusion, Kate Chopin breaks a new ground in American Literature.

She is the first woman writer in the country to express passion as a subject to

be taken seriously. She revolts against tradition and authority in order to give

Harmon 7

people the realization about women?s submerged life. She also is the pioneer

of the ?amoral treatment of sexuality, of divorce, and of women?s urge for an

existential authenticity? (Seyested 153). In The Awakening and the short story

?The Storm? Chopin implies that sex, even outside marriage can be enjoyable

without any personal guilt and without harming others to whom one is

emotionally and legally bound (Jones 80). Furthermore, Chopin is ?at least a

decade ahead of her time? and ?one of the American realists of the 1890s?

(Seyersted 153). Although first condemned for her controversial novels and

short stories, Kate Chopin, is able to lay the foundation for the theme of

women?s sexual independence for many authors.


Allen, Pricilla. ?Old Critics and New: The Treatment of Chopin?s ?The

Awakening?.? The Authority of Experience: Essays in Feminist

Criticism (1977): 224-38. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism.

Ed. Dennis Poupard. Vol.14. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1984.

70-72. 76 vols.

Arms, George. ?Kate Chopin?s ?The Awakening? in the Perspective of Her

Literary Career.? Essays on American Literature in Honor of Jay B.

Hubbell (1967): 215-28. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism.

Ed. Sharon Hall. Vol. 5. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1981.

149-150. 76 vols.

Bogarad, Carley Rees. ? ?The Awakening?: A Refusal to Compromise.? The

University of Michigan Papersin Women?s Studies (1977): 15-31. Rpt.

in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Sharon Hall. Vol. 5.

Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1981. 158-161. 76 vols.

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. Rpt. in The Norton Anthology of American

Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton &Company, 1994.


—. ?The Storm.? Rpt. in The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed.

Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1994. 490-93.

Jones, Anne Goodwyn. ?Kate Chopin: The Life Behind the Mask.? Tomorrow

Is Another Day: The Women Writer in the South (1981): 135-82. Rpt. in

Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Dennis Poupard. Vol. 14.

Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1984. 80-82. 76 vols.

Harmon 9

Kauffmann, Stanley. ?The Really Lost Generation.? The New Republic

(December 1966): 37-38. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism.

Ed. Dennis Poupard. Vol. 14. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1984.

59. 76 vols.

Kimbel, Bobby Ellen. ?Kate Chopin.? Dictionary of Literary Biogrphy. Ed.

Bobby Kimbel. Vol. 78. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1989.

90-110. 192 vols.

Seyersted, Per. ?An Introduction to The Complete Works of Kate Chopin.? The

Complete Works of Kate Chopin (1969): 21-33. Rpt. in

Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Dennis Poupard. Vol. 14.

Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1984. 59-63. 76 vols.

—. ?Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography.? Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography

(1969): 246p. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Sharon

Hall. Vol. 5. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1981. 150-54. 76 vols.

Skaggs, Peggy. Kate Chopin (1985): 130p. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed.

Thomas Votteler. Vol. 8. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1991.

88-102. 29 vols.

Spangler, George M. ?Neglected Fiction: Kate Chopin?s ?The Awakening?: A

Partial Dissent.? Novel: A Forum on Fiction (1970): 249-55. Rpt. in

Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Sharon Hall. Vol. 5. Detroit:

Gale Research Company, 1981. 154-55. 76 vols.

Ziff, Larzer. ?An Abyss of Inequality: Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary Wilkins

Freeman, Kate Chopin.? The American 1890s: Life and Times of a Lost

Generation (1966): 275-305. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary

Criticism. Ed. Sharon Hall. Vol.5. Detroit: Gale Research Company,

1981. 148-49.

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