Late 19th Century Taboo Topics In A Pair Of Silk Stockings And A Respectable Woman By Kate Chopin
Kate Chopin was an American novelist and a short story writer in the late nineteenth century. Her short stories are characterized by depicting compelling women characters. Quite frequently, the editors would refuse many of her short stories because of the female characters being too emancipated and passionate for her time.
The women were supposed to take care of their households and obey their husbands, which was usually not the case of Chopin´s heroines. The heroines were often courageous women who did not ignore their desires and tried to defy the nineteenth´s century conventions. The women wanted to take control over their own lives. They were self-assertive and daring just like their author Kate Chopin. She addressed several taboo topics in the nineteenth century, which we will later elaborate on such as female sexuality, childbirth and pregnancy.
Kate Chopin is deemed to be the first American woman writer to acknowledge passion as a legitimate matter for her serious fiction. The writer was familiar with all features of the female psyche and she was interested in awaking woman to her real temper, either traditional or emancipated or both of them. As mentioned earlier, we will look at some themes touched in her works that were taboo in the late nineteenth century. The short stories that we will discuss are A Pair of Silk Stockings and A Respectable Woman.
The story entitled A Pair of Silk Stockings is about a poor widow Mrs. Sommers, who suddenly finds herself possessing fifteen dollars. At first, she seems to be the woman that follows the custom of motherly self-sacrifice. Mrs. Sommers is unbelievably happy maybe even obsessed with the thought of investing this large amount of money into buying new clothes for her children. But because of vagary Mrs. Sommers out of the blue changes her direction and starts buying things for herself. She encounters with an awakening urge to treat herself and on a shopping celebration. Mrs. Sommers spends all of the money on superficial things such as a pair of silk stockings, stylish boot, luxurious gloves, two expensive magazines, having lunch in a fine restaurant and the final leisure that she can afford is to watch a performance in a theater where she consideres herself equal to the upper class women who do not have to fulfill the household chores or motherly obligations. While purchasing the stockings, Mrs. Sommers is able to give up her thoughts and responsibilities for a while and satisfy her own desires by buing things she used to have before she got married. The pleasure of acquiring material goods quickly comes to an end when she realizes her speculations and motherly obligations. The flash of her realization about the real world in terms of her material possessions appears in the moment when she is on her way home on a cable car. She starts belonging on her way home for the cable car to never stop but to go on forever. Her piercing wish implies that her endeavor for self-fulfillment was temporary and she does not long to come back to the reality of her life, but she desires the freedom, happiness, and leisure just like she felt on her shopping days. Mrs. Sommers wishes these feelings would persist in the future.
A Pair of Silk Stockings suggests that motherhood, on the one hand, can be of a great joy for mothers, but on the other hand, it shows the great limitation on woman´s freedom and self-fulfillment. It reveals and highlights the restriction to which degree must a woman favour preferences of others over her own ones. It also stresses how women are disadvantged in terms of leaving their desires behind in order to take care of their children.
Another short story by Kate Chopin A Respectable Woman begins with Gaston Baroda, Mrs. Baroda´s husband telling his wife a friend of his will come to spend some time with them on their plantation. Mrs. Baroda is rather frustrated because of this news since she thought she and her husband would take a rest after a long busy winter and devote time to each other. She has never met Gouvernail, although she has heard a lot about him from her husband. Gouvernail is tall, slim, cynical man in her imagination but when she meets him in person he seems to be noticeably slim, short and not cynical at all. Mrs. Baroda actually finds herself liking him. She does not know why because he makes no manner of exception in his actions towards her.
Even though Gouvernail confuses Mrs. Baroda, he is lovable and inoffensive. She soon starts accompanying him on his walks in order to overcome his reserve. When her husband mentions Gouvernail would stay for one more week she is quite furious and says she does not wish him to stay. Later at night, she sits on a bench thinking about her strange feelings, considering leaving the town and returning when her husband´s friend is gone. But Gouvernail joins her and hands her a scarf on her husband´s behalf and praises the night. Mrs. Baroda does not listen to him at all but desires to be as close as possible to him and even to kiss him on his cheek. She has to resist because she displays a “respectable woman.“ Mrs. Baroda finally leaves the town and comes back when Gouvernail departs. She tells her husband she has “overcome everything“ and the next time the friend visits them she will treat him more nicely. In this short story Kate Chopin depicts psychology of Mrs. Baroda, a wealthy woman with a loving husband who has to deal with temptation towards Gouvernail.
We can see similarities among the heroines from A Pair of Silk Stockings and A Respectable Woman. Both of the female characters are early in the story attracted by a change from an ordinary life. When in fact Mrs. Sommers allows her desires to take over her, Mrs. Baroda does not realize what she really wants and struggles with her identity as a “respectable woman.“ But afterall, Mrs. Baroda finds the strength to conquer over her feelings and decides to satisfy her desires. She want to have an affair. Even though the statement: “I have overcome everything and I will be nicer to him.“ implies she will ignore her emotions it is not that innocent. The word “nicer“ suggests her determination to face her real emotions and finally get what she wants.
Chopin has left this declaration of Mrs. Baroda unclear, but taking her attitudes toward female sexual independece, we might assume that Mrs. Baroda will follow her instincts, break social norms and care more about her needs as a woman. Mrs. Baroda makes the same choice as Mrs. Sommers and is determined to act according to her free will. The fact Mrs. Baroda cannot deal with her feeling and does not understand what is happening to her suggests she has never felt the same spark with her husband, although he was never rude to her and tried to make her happy.
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Kate Chopin was an American novelist and a short story writer in the late nineteenth century. Her short stories are characterized by depicting compelling women characters. Quite frequently, the editors […]