Kate Chopin has been credited by some as a pioneer of the early feminist movement even though she did not achieve any literary rewards for her works.
Kate Chopin wrote the majority of her short stories and novels between the years 1889 - 1904. Altogether, Chopin wrote about a hundred short stories or novels during her time as a fiction writer; her short stories were published in a number of local newspapers including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A large number of her short stories were also published in national Magazines like Youth's Companion and Harper's Young People. Bayou Folk was especially well reviewed, with Chopin even writing about how she had seen a hundred press notices about it. Those stories were published in the New York Times and the Atlantic. People particularly liked how she used local dialects to give her characters a more authentic and relatable feel. She also published two novels, At Fault and The Awakening. Her novels were not well received initially, compared to her short stories. Her 1899 novel The Awakening was considered to be immoral due to the overt themes of female sexuality, as well as the female protagonist constantly rebuking societal gender roles and norms. There have been rumors that the novel was originally banned, which have since been disproved. Local and national newspapers published mixed reviews of Chopin's novel with one calling it "poison" and "unpleasant", going on to say it was "too strong a drink for moral babes", while another newspaper published a review calling the novel, "A St. Louis Woman Who Has Turned Fame Into Literature." The majority of the early reviews for The Awakening were largely negative. Emily Toth, one of Chopin's most well known biographers, thought she had gone too far with this novel. She argued that the protagonist, Edna, and her blatant sensuality was too much for the male gatekeepers. So much so that publication of her next novel was even cancelled.
It wasn't until Per Seyersted, a Norwegian professor and scholar, rediscovered her almost 70 years later that the general public began to really appreciate her work as essential Feminist and Southern literature from the 19th Century. Seyersted wrote that she "broke new ground in American Literature." According to Emily Toth, Kate Chopin's work rose in popularity and recognition during the 1970s due to themes of women venturing outside of the constraints set upon them by society, which appealed to people participating in feminist activism and the sexual revolution. She also argues that the works appealed to women in the 1960s, "a time when American women yearned to know about our feisty foremothers"." Academics and scholars began to put Chopin in the same feminist categories as Louisa May Alcott, Susan Warner, and Emily Dickinson. Parallels between Alcott and Chopin have been drawn to point out how both authors wrote about women who departed from their traditional roles by dreaming of or striving for independence and individual freedoms, also described as a dramatization of a woman's struggle for selfhood. A reviewer for Choice Reviews stated that it was ultimately a struggle doomed to failure because the patriarchal conventions of her society restricted her freedom. Karen Simons felt that this failed struggle was perfectly captured by the ending of the novel, where Edna Pontellier ends her life due to her realization that she cannot truly be both the traditional mother role and have a sense of herself as an individual at the same time.