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Kate Chopin and her influence on women’s rights Essay

“I would give the essential, I would give my money, I would give my life for my child; but I wouldn’t give myself” (Chopin). The rights that women enjoy today were not always as equal to that of males. The women’s rights movement transitioned America’s views of them from the way they were pre-nineteenth century to now. Novelist Kate Chopin’s literary works was a crux that aided in the strength of the movement. Women faced many hardships, and Kate Chopin, a literary genius, contributed to a lot to the movement. To begin, in the nineteenth century people married at a very young age and women did not work in that time. They were denied employment outside of seamstresses and mid-wives; therefore they couldn’t always realistically support themselves. Women had to get married so that someone could support them.

Women were also not their own person; they were the property of their husbands and it was expected for them to get married and have babies. Women were not allowed the freedoms men enjoyed such as that of the law, the church or the government. Married women could not make legal contracts, divorce her husband or win the right to custody of their children. The History Education sector of the university of Maryland states: “The role of women in the nineteenth century was viewed as ‘’subordinate to males’’ and was therefore subject to the laws and regulations imposed upon them by men.’’ (Hoffberger 2)

Moreover, for centuries there has always been a struggle for women to find equality and respect from men. Kate Chopin, a great writer of nineteenth century, had written novels that assisted in the upheaval of the previously stated rights of women, or lack of rights. Kate Chopin’s literary works often include male and female gender roles that are sometimes challenged by the female protagonists in the stories. Her literary works include themes about liberation and conformity in society. In Kate Chopin’s fictional short stories, “”The Story of an Hour,” and “Desiree’s Baby”” both show examples of the lack of freedom in the role of women in society. Kate Chopin’s viewpoints in that time period helped her influenced how other women perceived women’s rights; she was a woman far ahead of her time.

At the same time, Kate Chopin was an author who was underappreciated by those in her generation. Much of this was due to the fact that she was a contemporary author, who primarily wrote about women’s sexuality and their roles in the world. She had strong, independent women as role models in her youth so it is not surprising that these same attributes would blossom, not only in her personal life, but in her character’s lives as well in “The Story of an Hour” and “Desiree’s Baby.” While these two works do share some similarities there are also vast differences and a few parallels from Chopin’s own life. Katherine O’Flaherty, later Kate Chopin, was born in St. Louis, Missouri on February 8, 1851. She was born to stable and publicly known parents, Eliza and Thomas O’Flaherty. Eliza O’Flaherty was of French-Creole descent, while her father was a native of Ireland. Unfortunately, when Chopin was only five years old, her father was killed in a train accident. As a result, Kate Chopin lived her preteen years in a female-centered household. She lived with her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, all of whom were widows. Her great-grandmother encouraged artistic growth by teaching her piano and storytelling.

Chopin got married when she was twenty year olds and had six children till her husband passed away. She was 39 years old when she began to write fiction, her earlier life being consumed with education, marriage and children. Without the backing of the feminist movement, which had barely begun in certain areas of the country, the sexual and scandalous events in her second and final novel “The Awakening” were cause for the majority of readers to ban it from the shelves of great literature. It was not until the mid-1900’s that the book was promoted in a new light to a more accepting audience. In addition, Peggy Skaggs, the author of Kate Chopin a critical Bibliography, states that “Chopin’s development as a writer reflect in microcosm the larger movement in American literature from romanticism and local color to realism and naturalism’’ ( Skaggs 10). Furthermore, Chopin’s works have reflected to American literature because of her focus on love within race and ethnic aspect.

In many of Chopin’s stories she has exceeded simple regionalism and portrayed women who seek spiritual and sexual freedom against the more restrictive southern society of nineteenth century. Kate Chopin has emerged as one of the greatest as well as most admired American short story novelists, poet, and essayists. Critic Cynthia Griffin Wolf exclaims: “The vision in all of Chopin’s best fiction is consummately interior, and it draws for strength upon her willingness to confront the bleak fact of life’s tenuous stabiles’’ (Griffin 6). One of the greatest sample is ‘’ Desiree’s baby’’ which is ‘’perhaps one of the world’s best short stories’’ (Griffin 1)

Assuredly, the actual settings of “The Story of an Hour” and “Desiree’s Baby” are the first instance where the two stories differ. In “The Story of an Hour”, the entire piece takes place in Mrs. Mallard’s home or the scenery outside the house. In fact, the outside scenery plays an important role to the story, paralleling the new spring with Mrs. Mallard’s new found freedom. Whereas the inside of the house does not play as major of a role, not even revealing what room Mrs. Mallard was in when she was notified of her husband’s passing. In “Desiree’s Baby”, the main factors of the setting include the Louisiana Bayou, the gates of Valmonde mansion, and L’Abri, a vastly larger group of settings than the prior.

As in “The Story of an Hour”, one setting is described more clearly and most of the story takes place in L’Abri. The homestead is described as making Madame Valmonde shudder at the first site of it and it being “a sad looking place, Big solemn oaks, branches shadowed it like a pall” (Chopin, 243). The description of L’Abri foreshadowed events to come and symbolized the relationship of Armand and Desiree. Even though the two stories do not share a setting you can see the similarities that there is some obscure background with one major setting paralleling the main character in some way. This, in part, could be due to Chopin wanting to have a writing style of her own. Also the two main characters, Mrs. Mallard and Desiree, benefited from concentrating on the one main setting, largely because this setting was a reason of conflict in the character’s lives. In the same way that the settings shared likenesses and differences, the plot and theme of the two stories also do. The plots of “The Story of an Hour” and “Desiree’s Baby” obviously have to be different for the most part.

In “The Story of an Hour”, the plot is a woman who finds out her husband is dead and after an initial shock she feels free to finally live her life. Thus when she has finally come to grips with all of the events and looking forward to her new life her husband comes in and she dies of shock attributed to a pre-existing heart condition (Chopin, 77-79). In “Desiree’s Baby”, the plot involves a woman named Desiree. As a child she was abandoned, and taken in by the Valmondes, but as a woman fell in love with Armand, a wealthy plantation owner. They get married and have a baby together, and after a short lived bliss come to find that the baby has African American heritage. Armand turns against Desiree, assuming she is the one with African blood in her. As the story goes on Desiree kills herself and the baby only for Armand to find out he is the one who actually has African heritage (Chopin, 1-5). These two plots at first glance do not seem to share anything in common, however, there is one similarity gleaming through; the women’s relationships with their husbands.

Both women do love their husbands, but the relationships are not on an equal level. In each case the women are looked upon as possessions. Mrs. Mallard’s thoughts were “There would be no powerful will bending her.” She openly felt controlled, while Desiree did not seem to care about the controlling attitude of Armand, which is shown in the line “When he frowned she trembled, but loved him” (Chopin, 2). While it is evident that the plots are for the most part different, one woman relishing the loss of a husband, and the other so fearing abandonment from hers that she kills herself, the themes are quite similar. Following this further, the themes of the two stories are also shared with many other works by Chopin, women in search of themselves (Korb, 1). Mrs. Mallard from “The Story of an Hour” can see her life finally beginning after the death of her husband, as illustrated by the line “Free! Body and soul free!” (Chopin, 79). She was looking forward to a life by herself, getting to know herself as an individual.

Desiree, on the other hand, was searching for an identity, or herself, from the beginning when Monsieur Valmonde found her at the gate. While the Valmondes did take her in she did not feel like she had an actual identity until Armand gave her his name and she became his wife. After it became evident that the baby had African blood and the identity she had as Armand’s wife was taken away, she could not handle the idea of finding a new identity. Another similarity shared by Mrs. Mallard and Desiree is their death, in both instances provoked by their husbands. The similarities and differences are important because while people might be experiencing the same thing in real life, their attitudes towards it may not be the same along with the outcomes, which could have been a goal of the author’s. As stated earlier, many of Chopin’s works concentrate on women trying to find themselves and in these two cases after the ending of their relationships with their husbands. When reading the biography of Chopin, there is a striking similarity with these two stories in particular.

Kate O’Flaherty met and wed a man named Oscar Chopin around 1869. She lived a happy life with him and had six children and as stated when Kate was only thirty-six year old, her husband died of swamp fever. While she loved her husband dearly, it is believed that she only first begun writing after her husband’s death (Kirszner & Mandell, 77). In a way this resembles the way that Mrs. Mallard only thought her life was beginning after her husband’s death. On the other hand, she could have been portraying her sense of abandonment by her husband in Desiree’s character in “Desiree’s Baby.” Another reason Chopin writes her characters only release from their troubles as death is because of the time period she lived in. Divorce was often unheard of or taboo.

It is easy to see that one of the only main differences is the way that each of the women traveled the path to self-discovery and their outcomes. This in a large part could be from Chopin’s own marriage and life. However, all of her woman characters relate to her own life which helped shape America into a place where freedom and equality for women is possible. Although the women that she created were different, their challenges and accomplishments inspired different aspects of the feminist movement. Chopin’s literary works became highly popular in the late twentieth century and remain popular today. Thus Chopin did not quite spark the flame of the women’s rights movement, but it was tinder that fueled it into what it became. Her literary works will outlive her as a testament of the strength of women and what they can accomplish. Her contributions will survive to inspire women for generations.

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