Short Stories by Kate Chopin

As part of my summer reading, I’m preparing for teaching new texts next school year.  I realized the much of our IB program is male centered (as in male writers, male protagonists, father-son relationships).  So, I made an effort to even the reading field and feature more women in literautre.  Enter Kate Chopin.

I read The Awakening earlier this year and loved it.  Wrote about it here and here.  However, The Awakening is not very long and in order to fulfill IB reading requirements, I must add some of Chopin’s short stories as well.  Here are a few I’ve read:

Beyond the Bayou~ a great story of an older Creole woman who was so frightened by an event in early childhood, she never ventures beyond the Bayou, but sticks to her immediate geographical surroundings.  She is loving and nurturing and sweet.  The children love her, the adults love her and respect her inability to move beyond the Bayou.  One day, tragedy strikes one of the beloved boys that she cares for and she is faced with a decision: keep him with her, and perhaps cause his death, or bravely cross the bayou and seek help for him.  It is a beautiful story of love, sacrifice and overcoming fears in order to help those you love…kinda like they say a mother can lift a car off her child if the child in endangered?  A touching portrait of motherly love.

La Belle Zoraide~ a beautiful young servant falls in love with the wrong man, one whom her mistress would never let her marry.  She bears his son and her mistress conspires to keep Zoraide away from her child and her lover.  This story chronicles the consequences of these decisions to Zoraide.  Tragic and very telling about the effect of childbirth to a woman – it stays with you, once you are a mother nothing or no one can ever erase that.

A Visit to Avoyelles~ a man visits his old sweetheart; she married the man who “stole” her away from him.  She is aged, with numerous children and living in lower class, questionable conditions.  He wishes to rescue her and her children from her life and from the wretch who “stole” her because he knows he can give her the life she deserves.  Does she run back to her saviour?  Or, does she remain with the man she chose?  A great story about love that endures, about love that makes no sense and the women that hang on to it and the men that can’t let the past go.

A Respectable Woman~ a woman’s husband invites his former college friend for a holiday; she doesn’t like him…until gradually, she finds that she likes him too much.  Since she is a respectable woman, she does all in her power to stay away from him until he leaves.  Her husband can’t understand why she doesn’t like his friend, who is so amiable.  She is challenged by her emotions until she puts it all to rest and feels relief.  The following summer, her husband wishes to invite his friend…will she accept or decline the visit?  A wonderfully ironic tale that resonates with Chopin’s insight as seen in her famous short story (and probably the one most studied in schools) The Story of an Hour.

Regret~ a woman who has it all: money, land, social status and she is also unmarried by choice, childless by choice.  She is fully independent and loves her life.  Until her neighbour suddenly drops off her four children because she must see to an errand – for two weeks.  The children are a chore, they upset the rhythm of her life…until, they weave themselves into the daily routines of her life.  Their mother returns and the children are gone.  I love Kate Chopin’s writing because it shows the struggle of women is not only universal, but sadly, timeless.  This story focuses on a woman’s desire for independence versus her desire for family and children.  It makes Slaughter’s article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All a bit outdated, yet oh so relevant…it appears to be an age-old issue and not a problem modern times.

Chopin’s writing style is direct and simple.  She captures the internal life of each protagonist with keen insight and the subtleties of the relationship between men and women beautifully.  Great short reads for summer afternoons when time is limited.

Do you  have any short stories that you just love?

WWW Wednesdays

shouldbereading.wordpress.com asks three questions every week for WWW Wednesdays.  Check out the blog for MizB’s responses.  I think it’s a good, quick way to keep readers updated on what’s going on in my reading world.  Here are my answers:

What are you currently reading? I’m almost finished Graceling by Kristin Cashore for TuesdayBookTalk.

What did you recently finish?  An Introduction to Special Education in Ontario, The Peel District School Board’s listing of Student Exceptionalities, Special Needs Opportunity Website, Special Education in Ontario – all articles are relevant to the course in Special Education that I am taking.

What do you think you’ll read next? I hope to continue with Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys and select short stories by Kate Chopin.

Wanna play along?  Send me your answers to these questions or answer them at shouldbereading.wordpress.com

Have You Read The Thing?

*spoiler alert* the conclusion of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening will be explicitly discussed in this post…in case you haven’t read it, and wish to….

I received some really interesting comments and feedback via facebook and text for my last post about Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.  I ended my comments on the classic by stating that I wished Edna Pontellier had had the chance to truly live the independent life she craved.

One of the comments asked “But, have you read the thing?” (this was from a dear friend whom had recommended the novel).

And, my response was of course, yes.  Traditionally, scholars have looked at the conclusion of this text as Edna’s ultimate expression of free will when she decides to end her life.  It is her way of showing the world that she will not be held to its expectations of class and gender – she will be her own woman.  Not even the thought of leaving her two sons without a mother is enough to stop her need to express herself.

The imagery of the sea is used throughout this novel.  From its opening pages, the sea mesmerizes Edna.  It offers a vastness and freedom she has never experienced.  We learn that she has just learned how to swim and takes to the water like a fish, seeking breath, seeking life.  This makes her drowning all the more significant.  Her willingness to swim as far out into freedom as she can, until she can no longer sustain her body and allow herself to be submerged into water – the water that calmed her, soothed her, promised her liberty – indicates her absolute conviction that she will be free, even if that is solely in death.

This is a highly symbolic end.  I believe the social commentary here is scathing – expectations of women are so limiting, so restricting that a woman who is provoked to question her position really has no other option than death in order to feel truly free or happy.  Or, does she?  As a modern woman, I find it difficult to understand being driven to suicide because of an inharmonious marriage.  Attempting to place myself in 1899, I can see why Edna did what she did and why Chopin’s tale ruffled a few feathers.

Ultimately, this is a difficult story to relate to.  And, I see why the conclusion can be considered an act of heroism according to modern interpretation…but, I still wish Edna had had a different end.  A chance to live out her freedom.  But, that’s just me.

Kate Chopin’s The Awakening

A married woman with children she adores but does not “give herself up for”, with a fine husband who provides and spoils her, and with an enviable life in the upper class in 1899 would surely have lived a life of happiness and fulfillment, right?

WRONG!

Kate Chopin’s short novel about Edna Pontellier is simply riveting.  Chopin paints a seamless portrait of life in Southern Louisianna.  The novel opens with the characters vacationing on stretches of sandy beaches and enjoying lovely hammocks on long porches amidst lazy, hot summer days.  Later on, Chopin brings readers into the beautiful streets of New Orleans and into the living quarters of the well-to-do in 1899.  In this enchanting, romantic world of 1899 there is a woman who hungers for more than the traditional domestic life she has.  Edna Pontellier envisions a life of independence where she is not owned, where she has complete control of her life and does not have to bow to her husband’s will, to her children’s needs, or to public opinion.  Once again, in this second book I’ve read for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2012, I find a theme that is so relevant to modern readers.  The premise of a woman finding herself, her voice, her essential self is the main focus of today’s “chick-lit”.  Chopin was over 100 years ahead of her time.

I loved this novel!  I knew the subject of the novel before I started reading, but I wasn’t prepared for Chopin’s enlightened descriptions of the way a woman’s soul withers when she finds herself in a life that was not of her creation…even if it was of her creation – she would not have created it had she truly had a choice otherwise – clearly I don’t have Chopin’s skill of economy with words.

I liked that Mr. Pontellier was not villified – because it is not necessarily always the case that a bad husband is what makes a woman want to leave a marriage.  Mr. Pontellier was a wonderful husband by 1899 standards – he surpassed expectations actually.  But, Edna’s relinquishment of her duty had nothing to do with him, really.  It was her need to be her own person.  Mr. Pontellier offered Edna everything – except the freedom to be an individual.

Chopin’s novel in no way excuses Edna’s behaviour – her actions, condemned in 1899, may be deeply frowned upon in 2012 with both physical and emotional betrayal of her marriage vows.  This novel poignantly shows what an entrapped woman will succumb to if she cannot be truly free.  Ironically, many critics in 1899 wrote scathing reviews of Chopin’s work because Edna was not forced to atone for her sins.  I believe that Edna’s end demands criticism not because she deserved punishment, but because she deserved a chance to truly create the life she wanted, but was unable to do.

I highly recommend this classic.  It is short, well written, and as relevant to women today as it was in 1899.