Ap English 08
27 April 2012
Kate Chopin: Feminism in Her Works
“Love and passion, marriage and independence, freedom and restraint.” These are the themes that are represented and worked with throughout Kate Chopin’s works. Kate Chopin, who was born on February 8, 1851, in St. Louis, was an American acclaimed writer of short stories and novels. She was also a poet, essayist, and a memoirist. Chopin grew up around many women; intellectual women that is. Chopin said herself that she was neither a feminist nor a suffragist; she was simply a woman who took other women intensely seriously. Chopin believed women had the ability to be strong, individual, and free-spirited. She herself reached out, in hopes for freedom, and the freedom to explore and express ideas. (Fox-Genovese). Today, Chopin is best known in the literary world as author of the novel, The Awakening. The Awakening was highly controversial in its time due to the way it dealt with “the condition of the nineteenth century woman in marriage”. It is now seen and recognized as an overtly feminist text. (Le Marquand). Other of Chopin’s feminist texts include; Athenaise, A Pair of Silk Stockings, and The Story of an Hour. Although Chopin claimed that she herself was not a feminist, she would drink, smoke, and be her own woman (which were considered feminist acts of her time). “Kate’s writings provided her with the means to live how she wanted- both mentally and physically- rather than play the role society expected of her” (Deter). The heroine in The Awakening, Edna, comes to find that she is “dissatisfied with her marriage and the limited, conservative lifestyle that it allows”. Edna wanted change, change the way women were seen and thought of. “She wanted something to happen- something, anything: she did not know what” (Chopin). As the novel develops, Edna becomes a desperately independent woman, who lives disconnected from her husband and children. From there, the only responsibility Edna takes on is fulfilling her own urges and passions. (Sparknotes Editors). In her novel, The Awakening, Kate Chopin uses strong women, who seek to be self-ruling, as her protagonists. The use of these strong women suggests that Kate Chopin believed in the individualism and strength of a woman, she believed in feminism, and used it in her works.
Kate Chopin’s works had little to no influence on the early twentieth-century feminist readers. For example, in The Awakening, the way Chopin portrayed the women was unacceptable during her period of time (1850’s - 1904). The characters Chopin’s novel contained and represented were women who wanted to be treated as an equal to the men; women who spoke out for themselves, women who were sexually active at their own will. Although one would imagine that the feminist readers of Chopin’s time would be influenced/ inspired by her use of feminism in her short stories and novels, “from everything we can tell, little of what many readers today consider Chopin’s feminist literature was read in the early years of the twentieth-century” (Koloski).
Although Kate Chopin’s works are not known to have had much influence on the early twentieth-century feminist readers, “you might argue that after the 1960’s or 1970’s, Chopin became an integral part of the evolution of feminism” (Koloski).
Being a woman who wanted to describe the way the nineteenth-century was for the women accurately, Kate Chopin wrote the novel The Awakening to do just that. The Awakening allows the readers to see “how hard women struggled to overcome their conflicting emotions and the oppression of society’s tradition to become more than just personal property for men to control”. In The Awakening, Chopin shows examples of the way women should and should not act in their homes, in society, and with their husbands. In Chopin’s time, women were “viewed more valuable when they conformed into the mother-woman role. The mother-woman role was...
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