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Kate Chopin (full name Katherine O’Flaherty) was born to Eliza Faris O’Flaherty, a Louisiana woman with French roots, and Captain Thomas O’Flaherty, a businessman from Ireland. Her father was one of the first influences in her life since he found her natural curiosity very interesting and encouraged her interests.

 

On November 1, 1855, Kate’s father died in a train accident. Due to his premature death, t Kate was raised by her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother Madame Victoire Verdon Charleville who was teaching through the art of storytelling, through her is how Kate learned to be a good storyteller. Through the vivid French stories she told her, Kate got a taste of the culture and freedom that was allowed by the French that many Americans during this time did not allow. The common themes in her grandmother’s stories were of women struggling with morality, freedom, convention, and desire. The spirit of these stories from her great grandmother still endures in Kate’s works. She became an American author of short stories and novels and is considered by many to have been one of the first feminist authors of the 20th century. From 1892 to 1895, she wrote short stories which were published in such magazines as Atlantic Monthly, Vogue, the Century, and Harper’s Youth’s Companion and her works were appealing to both children and adults. Her most renowned works were two short story collections, Bayou Folk (1894) and A Night in Acadie (1897). Her important short stories included “Desiree’s Baby”, a tale of miscegenation in antebellum Louisiana (published in 1893); “The Story of an Hour” (1894). Chopin also wrote two novels: At Fault (1890) set in New Orleans and The Awakening (1899) set in Grand Isle. The characters in her stories are usually inhabitants of Louisiana and her works are set in Natchitoches in north central Louisiana.

 

Within a decade of her death, Chopin was widely recognized as one of the leading writers of her time. She had displayed in her works what could be described as a native aptitude for narration amounting almost to genius. She actively searched for female spiritual emancipation, which she found and expressed in her writing. Her work allowed her to assert her beliefs for herself and question the ideas of individuality and autonomy during that time. Unlike many of the feminist writers of her time who were mostly interested in improving the social conditions of women, she looked for an understanding of personal freedom that doubted the conventional demands of men and women. Also, she did not limit her exploration of freedom to physical emancipation of husbands control over their wives through the expectations of motherhood, but also intellectual autonomy (i.e., women’s freedom to have political opinions and being taken seriously). Her writings provided her with the means to live how she wanted- mentally and physically-rather than playing the role that society expected of her. She started her professional writing career later in life, but the lessons learned and the events she went through gave her the unique insight that provided material for her stories. During her teenage years, the Civil War started, separating the North and the South. Her family sided with the South while most of her hometown of St. Louis was supporting the North. The death of loved ones and absence of peace taught her that life was precious and needed to be treasured. Her great-grandmother Madame Victoire Verdon Charleville died in 1863 at 83 and a month later, Kate’s half-brother George O’Flaherty, a 23-year-old Confederate soldier, died of typhoid fever.

It was one of Kate’s teachers, a Sacred Nun named Madam (Mary Philomena) O’Meara, who encouraged her to write. According to her, writing helped Kate express her sense of humor and deal with her painful feelings towards war and death soon her teachers and classmates realized her talent of being a gifted storyteller.

 

At 18, Kate graduated from the academy and made her social debut. She preferred to spend time alone reading instead of attending socials but she was a natural conversationalist. She followed the traditional custom of debuting, but was not comfortable with the parties and the social expectations. Her diary entries also portray a very moody woman exhausted by the hectic pace of debuting that was taking away her privacy and freedom. It is during this time that she wrote her first story, “Emancipation: A Life Fable,” a short story about freedom and restraint.

 

On June 9, 1870, Kate married Oscar Chopin and moved to New Orleans. Very little is known of the details of their romance. What is known is that her marriage to Oscar was not a contrast of what she wanted out of life. She did not sacrifice her spiritual freedom by marrying him and continued to defy all the rules of expected female behavior at the time. She still rolled and smoked Cuban cigars. Her clothes were flashy and stylish and yet she always memorable and pretty. After moving to Cloutierville, Louisiana in 1879, she loved riding horses and taking walks, but when she was in a hurry, she had a habit of jumping on her horse and galloping away through the middle of town. She did what she wanted to do and refused to conform to traditions for tradition’s sake.

 

Kate and Oscar had six children and she allowed them as much freedom as possible and permitted them to enjoy their youth by playing, music, and dancing. Although Kate loved her children, motherhood often took her time so she traveled to familiar places such as St. Louis and the Grand Isle as much as possible and took her children with her since family and friends were be available to watch them

Kate and her family moved to Natchitoches Parish and they settled in Cloutierville, Louisiana where Oscar opened a general store and managed the nearby land. Oscar suffered fever attacks a few months before his death. The country doctor misdiagnosed the illness and Oscar died on December 10, 1882. Kate was left with a failing business and six little children to raise. She ran the store, paid off the debt, and managed the property for two years before she moved back to St. Louis to live closer to her mother and provide better educational opportunities for her children. Some say that Kate also wanted to move away from Albert Sampite, a married man she was believed to have an affair with after Oscar’s death. Her mother died a year after Kate’s return to St. Louis; this affected her badly since she had barely recovered from Oscar’s sudden death only to face her mother’s sudden death. As a result of the shock, she was reintroduced to her favorite childhood activity: writing. After the death of her mother, Dr. Frederick Kolbenheyer, her obstetrician and family doctor, recognized the fluency in her writings and encouraged her to write short stories as a form of therapy, he recognized her literary style of writing in the letters she wrote to him and her friends. He was of the belief that women should be encouraged to have careers and advised Kate to write as a way of achieving emotional therapy and financial support. Dr. Mandelet in the story The Awakening was modeled after him.

 

Her first short story, “A Point at Issue!” was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on October 27, 1889 a few months later, Philadelphia Musical Journal published “Wiser Than God.” Her first novel, At Fault was published in September 1890 at her own expense. She continued writing and publishing stories in magazines and newspapers, but it wasn’t until March 1894 when Houghton Mifflin published Bayou Folk that Kate became nationally recognized as a short story writer. She published a second volume of short stories, A Night in Acadie, in November 1897.

“Desiree’s baby” written in 1893, is the short story for which Chopin is most well known. When the story collection, in which it was reprinted, Bayou Folk, was first published, reviewers particularly appreciated Chopin’s remarkable evocation of Cajun Louisiana. Today, however, readers and critics find ”Desiree’s Baby” to be much more than an examination of a distinct cultural place. Though brief, the story raises important issues that still plagued Chopin’s South, particularly the pervasive and destructive nature of racism. The story also questions the potential fulfillment of a woman’s identity—a subject that fascinated the unconventional Chopin. In her portrayal of Desiree, a woman whose self-worth and self-exploration is intrinsically linked to that of her husband, Chopin opened the door to her lifelong query into a woman’s struggle for a place where she could fully belong. The story opens with a brief history of the foundling, Desiree, was adopted by the Valmonde family after they found her by the roadside. The Valmondes did not have a child, so they took the baby and raised her as their own. She became a young woman and her beauty attracted the attention of Armand Aubigny, a neighboring plantation owner and well renowned in Louisiana. Armand says that doesn’t matter that Desiree’s heritage was unknown. After their marriage, Desiree bears a son. One day when Madame Valmonde comes to visit. She first sees the child she is astonished and exclaims, ‘‘This is not the baby!” Desiree laughs, thinking her mother is talking about how much the baby has grown. The child’s father was also very proud until later when he realized that the baby was black and Armand could not live with this since it was a disgrace to his family so Desiree was asked to leave with the baby. When Armand was burning the items and letters that could remind him of Desiree, he came across a letter written by his mother to his father confessing that she belonged to the race cursed with the brand of slavery.

Story of an Hour which was written in 1894 describes the series of emotions Louise Mallard endures after hearing of the death of her husband, who was believed to have died in a railroad disaster. Mrs. Mallard has heart problems and therefore her sister tries to inform her of the saddening news in a gentle way. Mrs. Mallard locks herself in her room to mourn the death of her husband. However, she begins to feel an unexpected sense of happiness. “Free! Body and soul free!” is what she believes to be a benefit of his death. At the end of the story, it is found out that her husband was not involved in the railroad tragedy and upon his return home Mrs. Mallard suddenly falls to her death. The cause of her death was unknown and left for analysis as it can range from her heart problems to psychological problems due to his return. In this story Chopin tells of a woman who finds solace in the death of her husband because she feels free from his oppression and is happy to be emancipated from his rule

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REFENCES

Berkove, Lawrence L. “Fatal Self-Assertion in Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour”                                                    American Literary Realism 32.2 (2000):pp 152-158.

Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin, A Critical Biography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969.

Kate O’Flaherty Chopin”, A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography, Vol. I (1988), p. 176

Reuben, Paul P. “Chapter 6: Late Nineteenth Century – Kate Chopin.” PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL:http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap6/chopin.html (3 May 3, 2011).

 

 

 

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