Kate Chopins Controversial Views
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Kate Chopin's Controversial Views
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"Too strong a drink for moral babies, and
should be labeled 'poison'." was the how the Republic described Kate Chopin's
most famous novel The Awakening (Seyersted 174). This was the not only
the view of one magazine, but it summarized the feelings of society as
a whole. Chopin woke up people to the feelings and minds of women. Even
though her ideas were controversial at first, slowly over the decades people
began to accept them.
Kate O'Flaherty Chopin was raised in St.
Louis in the 1850's and 1860's. Chopin had a close relationship with her
French grandmother which lead to her appreciation of French writers. When
she was only five Chopin's father, Thomas O'Flaherty died leaving her without
a father figure. Eliza O'Flaherty, Chopin's mother, was from there on the
head of the household. Chopin grew up knowing that women could be strong
and intelligent and that they did not have to be submissive creatures (Skaggs
2). She loved her mother and considered her "A woman of great beauty, intelligence,
and personal magnetism" (Seyersted 14).
Growing up around independent women, however,
did not dissuade her from marriage. Her marriage to Oscar Chopin by all
accounts was a happy one. Taking on the role of a high society lady as
well as wife and new mother, Chopin fit in well with the New Orleans culture.
She enjoyed the Louisiana atmosphere so well that most of her writings
were based here. Chopin continued living in Louisiana raising her six young
children until the sudden death of her husband brought her back to St.,
Louis (Skaggs 3).
Oscar Chopin died while their youngest
child, Lelia was only three. Soon after Chopin moved her family to St.
Louis to be with her dying mother. In the grief of her losses Chopin had
to rediscover who she was. This challenge came out in her writing of heroines
searching for self-understanding (Skaggs 3). No longer Eliza O'Flaherty's
daughter or Oscar Chopin's wife, Kate Chopin was forced to find a new role
for herself. Her new role would be a writer.
A few key figures in her life influenced
Chopin to write. Doctor Frederick Kolbemheyer was a life long friend on
whose support she always relied. Raised in Austria and then exiled for
his beliefs, Kolbemheyer was a philosopher and encouraged Chopin to read
Darwin, Haxley, and Spencer. Their beliefs were very similar and he must
have supported her when she denounced the Catholic religion after her mother's
death. The beloved friends wrote to each other often while Chopin was in
Louisiana. Seeing the talent in her writing, Kolbemheyer encouraged Chopin
to publish her letters. She admired him greatly and even named her son
Frederick after him. (Taylor 147).
There were three American women writers
of the time that Chopin admired. When asked who would be a good model woman
writer she responded, "I know of no one better than Miss Jewett to study
for technique and nicety of construction. I don't mention Mary E. Wilkins
for she is a great genius and genius is not to be studied." (Taylor 163).
Wilkins's book Pembroke was condemned by society and Chopin must have been
sympathetic when five years later her own book The Awakening was also condemned.
Chopin also looked up to Ruth McEnery Stuart and praised her work as being
"True to nature," and having a "wholesome human note" (Taylor 163). It
is notable that later Chopin's talent and style were to be compared to
the works of these women whom she admired.
The greatest influence on Chopin was the
French writer Guy de Maupassant. Chopin describes Maupassant by writing,
"Here was a man who escaped from tradition and authority ... looked out
upon life through his own being with his own eyes; and who, in a direct
and simple was, told up what he saw." (Taylor 159). Chopin translated eight
of his works and through him developed her style of writing. She shared
his concept of a hero :
"An isolated world-weary and misanthropic
hero who revels in his own sensuality; who trusts in nature and distrusts
human relationships, especially love; who experiences a sense of liberation
through solitary walks and confidences in his writing... and who is strongly
drawn to death as a solution to the repetitive meaninglessness of life's
pleasures. (Taylor 160)
This was the basic outline for the plot
of The Awakening . The book starts with Edna, a New Orleans high society
wife and mother who was miserable with her life. While spending
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