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Kate Chopin had different lifestyles throughout her life. These lifestyles provided her with insights and understanding that permitted her to analyze late 19th century American society. As a result of her childhood upbringing by women with ancestry descending from both Irish and French family and life in the Cajun and Creole part of the nation, after she joined her husband in Louisiana, many of her stories and sketches were about her life in Louisiana and incorporated her less than typical portrayals of women as their own individuals with wants and needs.
Chopin's seemingly different writing style emerged from her admiration of Guy de Maupassant.
...I read his stories and marveled at them. Here was life, not fiction; for where were the plots, the old fashioned mechanism and stage trapping that in a vague, unthinkable way I had fancied were essential to the art of story making. Here was a man who had escaped from tradition and authority, who had entered into himself and looked out upon life through his own being and with his own eyes; and who, in a direct and simple way, told us what he saw...
Chopin went beyond Maupassant's technique and style and gave her writing a flavor of its own. She had an ability to perceive life and put it down on paper creatively. She invested substantial concentration and emphasis on women's lives and their continual struggles to create an identity of their own within the Southern society of the late nineteenth century. In "The Story of an Hour", Mrs. Mallard allows herself time to reflect upon learning of her husband's death. Instead of dreading the lonely years ahead of her, she stumbles upon another realization all together. "She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome".
Not many writers during the mid- to late 19th century were bold enough to address subjects that Chopin willingly took on. Although David Chopin, her grandson, claims "Kate was neither a feminist nor a suffragist, she said so. She was nonetheless a woman who took women extremely seriously. She never doubted women's ability to be strong". Despite this fact, there is no question regarding where Kate Chopin's sympathies lay: with the individual in the context of his and her personal life and society.
Through her stories, Kate Chopin wrote her autobiography and documented her surroundings; she lived in a time when her surroundings included the abolitionist movements and the emergence of feminism. Her ideas and descriptions were not true word for word, yet there was an element of nonfiction lingering throughout each story.
Chopin took strong interest in her surroundings and put many of her observations to words. Jane Le Marquand saw Chopin's writings as a new feminist voice, while other intellectuals recognize it as the voice of an individual who happens to be a woman. Marquand writes, "Chopin undermines patriarchy by endowing the Other, the woman, with an individual identity and a sense of self, a sense of self to which the letters she leaves behind give voice. The 'official' version of her life, that constructed by the men around her, is challenged and overthrown by the woman of the story"
Chopin may have been utilizing her creative writing skills to relay a nonfiction point of view regarding her belief in the strength of women. The idea of creative nonfiction might be seen as relevant in this case. In order for a story to be autobiographical, or even biographical, Marquand goes on to write, there has to be a nonfictional element, which more often than not exaggerates the truth to spark and hold interest for the readers. Kate Chopin may have felt just as surprised by the stamp on her work as feministic as she had been in her own time by the stamp of immorality. It is difficult in any time in history for critics to regard writers as individuals with personal points of view with no special message to a particular faction in society.
"Désirée's Baby" focuses on Kate Chopin's experience with the Creoles of Louisiana, where the idea of slavery and the atmosphere of plantation life were a reality. The possibility of one's having a mixed background was not unheard of. Mulattos, those with both black and white backgrounds, were common in the Southern part of the nation. The issue of racism that the story brings up was an indispensable truth in 19th century America; the dark reality of racism is on full, raw display in this story because Chopin was not afraid to address such issues that were often suppressed and intentionally ignored in order to avoid bitter actuality, as Armand does when he refuses to believe that he is of black descent. The definition of great fiction is that which has the only true subject of "human existence in its subtle, complex, true meaning, stripped of the view with which ethical and conventional standards have draped it".
Louisiana Public Broadcasting, under president Beth Courtney, produced a documentary on Chopin's life Kate Chopin: A Reawakening.
- Difficult years
- Literary themes
- Honors and Awards
- Further reading