Kate Chopin and Her Writing
Many authors of different generations draw their inspiration from different things. In writing, one draws their inspiration from various events in his life. This could be a past life experience, an ideology, a religious belief, a personal history or life experience, traits in the society, and many other reasons that people find important to write about. The most important thing in writing that distinguishes authors from the common people is their inspiration. One’s source of inspiration can easily influence the way the author writes. It is the compass of both the authors and the readers. Authors do base their works on inspirations, either consciously or sub-consciously. As it is well known, literature is the image of the society, hence the author’s work seeks to be a reflection of who the people in this society are.
That is to mean their personality, beliefs, ideology and upbringing. All these factors do contribute to one being a particular kind of an author. A perfect example is Kate Chopin who grew up in a Louisiana family in the nineteenth century. In those times there lived many male chauvinists, and women oppression was rather common. In that society, it was a prerogative of the men to determine how far a woman could go in any sphere of life. It is therefore correct to say that women empowerment was only a dream during those times that Kate Chopin was born and brought up in. This particular environment and upbringing that surrounded K. Chopin influenced her writing in many ways. This research paper will seek to illuminate the ways mentioned by explaining K. Chopin’s life history in relation to her writing. Her books have a massive ideological view of feminism and women empowerment in consequence to the fact that she grew up in male chauvinist environment. This trait is evident in some of her short stories like “The Storm” and “The Story of an Hour”.
KATE CHOPIN’S LIFE HISTORY IN RELATION TO HER WRITING
Katherine O’Flaherty, who later came to be known as Kate Chopin, was born on February 8th 1851 in the state St. Louis Missouri. Her parents, Eliza and Thomas O’Flaherty, were well-known and respected individuals in that time and in the neighborhood where Kate lived. Her mother Eliza was of a French Creole descent while her father Thomas was originally from Ireland. Unfortunately, when Kate was only 5 years old, her father was involved in a grisly train accident and lost his life. As a result, Kate was left with her mother and spent her preteen years in the woman-centered environment. This can attributed to the fact that she lived with her mother, grandmother and great grandmother who were all widows. Her great grandmother, Victoria Chardone Charleville, was substantially involved in the upbringing of Kate. She natured her artistic and mental capacity growth, and indoctrinated in Kate the talent of storytelling (Davis 3). The great grandmother cultivated the mentioned talent through the stories she told Kate. They were about the early settled unabashed settlers in Louisiana.
Chopin’s education life, which started at the Sacred Heart Louisiana Academy, was an interesting one. Her father admitted her to that school at the age of five, and she went there sporadically for a couple of years. The academic program in that institution was similar to what her great grandmother had taught her. Due to the fact that school was Catholic, Kate was taught Catholic teachings and the French academic and intellectual vigor. As a result, Kate became very inquisitive in her observations (Seryester 15). Kate was taught to think independently and make her own decisions but also to be respectful and submissive to the opposite sex. However, the fact that Chopin was brought up in a house full of women and was taught by nuns in her school did not prepare her psychologically to acknowledge the limitation that came with the woman’s autonomy. Therefore, despite the fact that Kate was taught to think independently, she acknowledged the fact that she might end up being a housewife after all.
Kate was accustomed to seeing women exercising authority, both at home and in school. Moreover, this indoctrination of training and upbringing contributed to the irony of her writing in which most women felt like prisoners and trapped in their marriage. This was ironically said because as it will be discussed in this paper later, Kate lived her happy marriage. Despite Kate’s controversial and unusual upbringing, she got married at the age of 25 to man named Oscar Chopin in June 1970. Her husband worked as a financial broker. During her marriage, Kate fulfilled a great deal of the wife’s social responsibility. She, however, did not conform to the rules and norms of society pertaining women. For instance, she could go on long walks alone and even smoke in public in the society where women were not allowed to smoke at all. After her husband’s business failed, they moved to Cloutierville where she continued with her defiant behavioral traits. For example, people talked about her mode of dressing which they said was seductive in nature, since she wore short skirts. They also criticized her for not doing her house chores and choosing to loiter up and down in the streets. In other words, the people wanted her to be a normal wife like others in society.
Amusingly, her husband did not complain about Kate being as she was. Instead, he was even happy that his wife was different. Unfortunately, years later Oscar contracted swamp fever and died on 8th December 1882. K. Chopin became not only the sole parent to her children, she also inherited her husbands’ business and debts. She was running the business successfully for one year. It is not surprising that K. Chopin was able to run her husband’s business and at the same time be a parent to her children. This is solely attributed to the fact that she grew up in a female-centered environment which was not dependent on men’s input. Moreover, a family had many widows, and Kate had grown up in that life since she was five years old (Skaggs 9).
The losses K. Chopin suffered had a serious consequence on her writer’s career. For example, the death of her father inspired her to write “The Story of an Hour” which was her imagination of what she thought about her father’s death. Moreover, K. Chopin had to endure the loss of her great grandmother and her half-brother George O’Floherty who died the next month after the great grandmother. As if this was not enough, she had to endure the death of her husband Oscar. It, in turn, made K. Chopin to be depressed, and influenced her writings on solace.
In the midst of her grief and solace, Kate had an affair with a man called Joseph Albert Sampite who was commonly known as Albert. He was married to a woman named Marie Lodoiska (“Loca”), and together they had two children. Around the neighbor and the town as whole, Albert was known to be a womanizer, and everyone knew that he was pursuing Kate. They more often referred to Kate as “the beautiful Widow”. An interesting point to note is that Kate and Albert shared a lot of similarities. For example, they both loved horses, drinking beer, gambling and riding out at night. Albert and Kate became close as times went by. However, this affair was short-lived as sources close to the two stated that Albert was in love with the pretty widow while she was not. Others, however, said that she was in love with Albert as well but the reason as to why she left her business and returned to St. Louis is not known to date.
The story “The Storm” by Chopin was a story that she wrote years after her affair with Albert. As seen in many of her novels, she named most characters after Albert, only making a few changes. This made some people think that she might have been actually in love with Albert. For example, when K. Chopin wrote about men who have an insatiable sexual behavior, she named them Alcee, a short form of Albert Sampite. In “At the Canadian Ball” and “The Storm”, Alcee Laberrielle was a very handsome young man who was a seed planter and loved to talk about politics, women and did a little mischief when intoxicated. Just like Alcee, Albert was an alcoholic who drank so much and came home to abuse his wife. This trait as said by some people could have been the reason why K. Chopin ended the affair. However, the most prominent use of Albert’s name by K. Chopin was in “The Awakening” when she named Ednas’ jilted lovers Alcee and Robert.
The story “The Storm” by K. Chopin is seen to be a reflection of her beliefs and experiences above all of her other works. The story here is basically about two married couples, Calixta and Bolibot, and Alcee and Clarisse. In this story, Alcee and Calixta were both married. In a certain day there was a storm that had come over the town. While Calixta’s husband and son Bibi took shelter at a local store, Calixta and Alcee were busy consenting to each other’s sexual desires. The two were not strangers one to another. They had known each other for some time and had even flirted before. They, however, had not met since they both got married. Similar to the name of the story , there was a physical storm; ironically, there was also an emotional and a sexual ones at the same time. As the rain poured, it was so heavy and threatened to pull off the roof they were in. Calixta was worried about her son, and she moved close to the window to inspect the situation at hand. She expressed her fears about her son’s safety, and as she fell back she fell into the arms of Alcee who assured her that her son was fine. They started conversing about their sexual desires As the storm raged on, they had no regard for their safety or for their marital status. After the storm, the sun came out, and everything went back to normal.
The imagery that K. Chopin used in this particular story is interesting because it is seen as beginning with discomfort, then sexual satisfaction, and then a happy ending which clearly reflects Kate’s affair with Albert. In the story, after the storm, Bolibot and his son came back home and were welcome by kisses and hugs instead of arguments. More so, Bibi had come home dirty. However, none of them suspected anybody as they were not used to such a behavior. As they sat down to take dinner at the dining table, they laughed a lot, and enjoyed each other’s company. Alcee, on the other hand, wrote a very romantic and strongly-worded letter to his wife encouraging her to make her vacation even longer. In the end, the affair helped make both their life in marriage better. In reflection to K. Chopin’s life, it was quite clear why she used Albert’s name in all her characters in “The Awakening” and “The Storm” to depict an individual who awakened woman’s sexual desire that she had never known before. After examining Kate’s life, it is quite clear that even though she ended her affair with Albert, she carried on the memories about him, and wrote memoirs about their sexual escapades.
“The Story of an Hour” also explores the sophistication of the married state. Just as the title of the work depicts, this is a story about an hour in the life of a protagonist, Mrs. Gillard. She is fragile in nature and has a weak heart. Thus, when her husband died in a train accident, her sister Josephine and her husband Richard had to be very careful in the way they broke the sad news to her. Even though they thought that the sad news would make Mrs. Gillard’s health deteriorate, it was quite the opposite as she found liberation and independence in her huband’s death. Initially, when Josephine and Richard broke the news Mrs. Gillard, she was overwhelmed with grief and mourned her husband for a few days. However, after the time passed, and she started to notice things she had not noticed before. Unfortunately, her freedom was short-lived as her husband came back without a single slightest idea about the accident. She died immediately after seeing him. Ironically, the ending phrase is that “she died of Joy that kills.”
Throughout the works of Kate Chopin, it is evident that her inspiration in writing her stories was largely influenced by her life experiences. From such stories as “The Story of an Hour”, “The Awakening” and “The Storm”, an image of her experiences can be clearly seen, even including some persons that she met in her lifetime.
Chopin, Kate. “The Storm.” Lives Through Literature: A Thematic Anthology. Ed. Helane Levine Keating and Walter Levy. 3rd ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2001.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” The Complete Works of Kate Chopin, 2006.
Davis, Sara DE Saussure. “Kate Chopin”. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Volume 12., 1982.
Hicks, Jennifer. An overview of “The Story of an Hour”. Literature Resource Center. Gale. Pace Univ. Mortola Library. Seyersted. Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 1969.
Skaggs, Peggy. Kate Chopin. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1985.