Critical Essay by Martin Simpson
SOURCE: Simpson, Martin. "Chopin's "A Shameful Affair."" Explicator, 45, no. 1 (fall 1986): 59-60.
In the following essay, Simpson discusses images of nature and society in "A Shameful Affair."
Mildred Orme, in Kate Chopin's "A Shameful Affair," is a socially conventional and sexually repressed young woman who has come to the Kraummer farm to escape the sexual demands that were made on her in civilized, urban society. Chopin uses fertile nature imagery to show Mildred being drawn out of the realm of sheltered social convention and into a natural world that is rich with sensuous physical surroundings. Here Mildred is forced to recognize and struggle with her sexuality.
Mildred is obviously a young woman who has continually repressed the sexual side of her nature. She is attracted to Fred Evelyn from the first time she sees him and goes out of her way to get his attention. After he has refused her request to drive her to church, she walks down to the river where she knows he will be fishing. She knows he will be alone, because earlier "all the other farmhands had gone forth in Sunday attire" (150). Even though it is obvious to the reader that Mildred is pursuing Fred, she conceals this knowledge from herself. She labels Fred as a "clumsy farmhand" and notes quite inaccurately that "farmhands are not so very nice to look at" (148). After she has had her sexual nature awakened by his kiss, she tells herself that the desire she feels for him is a "shameful whim that chanced to visit her soul, like an ugly dream" (152). Mildred has been able to avoid facing her sexual repression in the past only because she has been away in a civilized, urban environment where social conventions have allowed her to keep men at arm's length. She has "refused [her] half dozen offers" (149) and ironically has come to the farm to seek "the repose that would enable her to follow exalted lines of thought" (150).
The imagery that Chopin uses to...
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