Kate Chopin's Short Stories

Summary and Analysis of "The Kiss"

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Inside a dimly lit room with a smoldering fire, Brantain sits in a shadow, gathering courage from the dark to stare at the handsome girl sitting in the light of the flame. The girl composedly strokes her cat and glances from time to time at Brantain as they make small talk and avoid deeper topics. Brantain loves her and she knows it, so she is waiting for him to declare his love. She intends to accept his offer despite his unattractiveness because he is immensely wealthy.

As their conversation pauses, a young man and close acquaintance of Brantain enters the room. The girl turns to him, and before she can warn him of Brantain's presence, he gives her a passionate kiss. Brantain rises, as does the girl, and the second man reacts with confusion and amusement, as well as defiance.

Brantain awkwardly bids them farewell, not noticing that she has tried to shake his hand, and he leaves. Meanwhile, the other man apologizes, but the girl, whose name is Nathalie, rebuffs him and angrily asks why he did not ring the doorbell. He answers that he arrived with her brother, who went upstairs while he tried to find Nathalie, and he again asks her to forgive him. She expresses doubt that she will ever do so.

At the next reception, Nathalie seeks out Brantain, who is miserable but hopeful. She tells him that the intruder, Mr. Harvy, is a close friend and that his physical familiarity results from their sibling-like attachment to each other. She mentions her worry over what Brantain must have thought about the encounter, and Brantain delightedly forgives her, to her satisfaction.

Harvy attends the wedding of Nathalie and Brantain, and when he finds Nathalie, he tells her that her husband sent him over to kiss her. Brantain does not want to interrupt Harvy and Nathalie's relationship. This idea redounds to the pleasure of Nathalie, who feels that she has manipulated everyone into his proper position. She prepares for a kiss, but Harvy tells her that although he did not turn down Brantain's offer for fear of sounding ungrateful, he has decided to stop kissing women because "it's dangerous." Nathalie reflects philosophically that at least she still has the wealthy Brantain and that she "can't have everything in this world."

Analysis

By contrasting the room's "deep shadow" with the daylight that still exists outside the house, the first paragraph of "The Kiss" establishes a dark, intimate atmosphere while implying the presence of secrets and illicit emotions. This imagery thus foreshadows the revelation that Nathalie is plotting to marry the good-natured but unattractive and rather foolish Brantain while maintaining an affair with Mr. Harvy. Brantain's character is reminiscent of several other men in Kate Chopin's stories, such as Brently Mallard in "The Story of an Hour" and Gaston Baroda in "A Respectable Woman," in that Brantain is portrayed as a well-meaning and not dislikable man who loves his eventual wife but who fails to be desirable to her. Yet, we tend to feel little or no sympathy for the man because Chopin tells the story through the eyes of the female protagonist, who has her own aims.

Unlike most of the heroines of Chopin's stories, Nathalie does not face any emotional trials or true mental conflict. Instead, she acts as a woman who has already realized her potential and ability to satisfy her desires and who now tries to adjust the actions of those around her in order to suit her wishes. In a way, Nathalie takes the hidden motivations of Chopin's protagonists and takes them to an unpalatable extreme, since Nathalie here is portrayed as having a calculating, imperious nature. Even so, Chopin portrays Nathalie sympathetically in that we come to applaud her skill in turning bad luck into a coup de grace; what initially appears to be the destruction of her carefully arranged engagement turns into an opportunity to carry on her affair right in front of her husband. Later, when Harvy ironically fails to become one of her pawns, she shows her practical side and acknowledges her defeat, not only without rancor but even with an almost amused, philosophic resignation.

Nathalie's machinations juxtapose Harvy with Brantain, who in his uncomplicated nature and uninteresting appearance serves as a foil for the more dashing and intelligent Mr. Harvy. Brantain and Harvy respectively correspond to two alternate paths for marriage, where the former represents worldly riches and the sensible path, and the latter represents a more passionate and romantic, but less socially useful, approach. Nathalie clearly decides, when Mr. Harvy ends their relationship, that the first will suffice, at least for now. Indeed, she benefits more from Brantain's assets than Harvy's since, as a nineteenth-century woman from the upper class, she will have a great deal of time to cultivate new affairs but has no likely way besides marriage to increase her material wealth and social status.

Part of Nathalie's overall success comes from the fact that she is nothing like the ideal Southern belle in anything other than her beauty. Chopin describes her as having "a delicious frankness of manner" and being "apparently very outspoken," which contrasts with the softer image of femininity that prevailed during the time. In addition, she chooses to be forthright in her seduction both of Brantain, with her "engaging but perturbed smile," and of Harvy, with "lips [that] looked hungry for the kiss which they invited," giving her a strength of personality of which Chopin apparently approves. She has fully claimed her sexuality, and she uses it with some skill in obtaining her goals.

If Brantain is a foil for Harvy, then Harvy is ultimately Nathalie's male counterpart. At first they are in on the affair together (and it is not clear how much Brantain ever really suspects). As he shows when he frustrates Nathalie's plans, however, Mr. Harvy differs from Brantain in that he understands Nathalie's motives and has enough cunning to match her schemes. He also echoes Nathalie's tension between passion and pragmatism, and like Nathalie, he eventually chooses his own well-being over love and romance. He surely has his own motives, and perhaps he does not merely worry that an affair with Nathalie or any married woman (or other women) is dangerous; perhaps he is hiding further secrets of his own. In any case, both Harvey and Nathalie acknowledge that they may lose something from their decisions, but they do not particularly regret their actions. In the end, Harvy is a far better match in personality for Nathalie, but only Brantain will cede her the amount of autonomy and control that she requires.