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Definition: Chopin from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

Kate Chopin 1851–1904 orig. Katherine O'Flaherty Am. writer

Summary Article: Chopin, Kate
From Encyclopedia of Feminist Literary Theory

Chopin was popular during her lifetime as a local colorist for her stories of Creole culture. Her work was retrieved from obscurity in the late 1960s and has become canonized as a significant part of the American literary tradition. Feminist scholars have found in Chopin’s work a crucial transition between the nineteenth-century female traditions of sentimental and local color fiction and twentieth-century modernist literature. Many of Chopin’s stories, such as “The Story of an Hour” (1894) and “Elizabeth Stock’s One Story” (1898), as well as her novel, The Awakening (1899), explore the struggle of female characters to define and experience their own subjectivity in a society that insists upon woman’s identity as object, defined by male desires.

Chopin’s critics at the turn of the century were shocked not only by the frank depiction of female sexuality in The Awakening, but also by the “selfishness” of the novel’s heroine, Edna Pontellier, whose awakening to consciousness of herself leads her to reject the world of conventional marriage, as well as the world of the “mother-women” valorized by nineteenth-century women writers. Female sexuality in the novel, neither spiritualized through maternity nor politely ignored, is the vehicle for the heroine’s “awakening” to self-awareness. The novel’s deeply ambivalent conclusion suggests the inability of women to pursue the Emersonian ideal of individuality, as men in American literature traditionally have: for women, there is no escape, ultimately, from their responsibilities to children, which are seen to conflict with responsibility to the self. Chopin’s portrayal of Edna Pontellier marks a crucial development in the depiction of woman as subject in American literature, interrogating and resisting societal norms.

  • Boren, Lynda S., and Davis, Sara deSaussure. Kate Chopin Reconsidered: Beyond the Bayou. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.
  • Culley, Margaret, ed. The Awakening: An Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism. New York: W.W.Norton, 1976.
  • Gilbert, Sandra M.The Second Coming of Aphrodite: Kate Chopin’s Fantasy of Desire.” Kenyon Review 5 (1983): 42-66.
  • Koloski, Bernard J., ed. Approaches to Teaching Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. New York: Modern Language Association, 1988.
  • Martin, Wendy, ed. New Essays on The Awakening. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
  • Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969.
  • Seyersted, Per, ed. The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969.
  • Stange, Margit. “Personal Property: Exchange Value and the Female Self in The Awakening.” Genders 5 (1989): 106-119.
  • Toth, Emily. Kate Chopin. New York: William Morrow, 1990.
  • Nancy Disenhaus
    © 1996, 2009 Elizabeth Kowaleski Wallace

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