The Writing Allstars – Kate Chopin

Even as a child she had lived her own small life within herself. At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life – that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions. (The Awakening)

I confess that the first time I read Kate Chopin’s The Awakening I wasn’t sure how to feel. I was young and single and childless and I believed that a mother’s duty was to give up everything for the sake of her children. Edna’s struggle to find herself in the midst of motherhood was foreign to me, perhaps because I had no children and I was quite sure of who I was in the grander scheme of things. Oh youth! My second encounter, during my return to college, found me married with a child and another on the way and suddenly, Edna’s struggles made sense. I don’t think I have ever read a book that spoke to me so directly at such a perfect time. While the ending of the book may lead you to worry about me, don’t. My conclusions are much different from Edna’s; but we do share the struggle between selfhood and motherhood and how to find balance on a line the width of a thread.

He could see plainly that she was not herself. That is, he could not see that she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world. (The Awakening)

Kate Chopin liked to write about deep, dark things. Things that are inside of us all, things that we would never acknowledge, things we can’t talk about. She was consumed with the splits of personality that accompany being woman. The self that we present to the world, all the facets polished and socially acceptable, and the self that lies below, the true self. Ornery and offensive, gasping to breathe. Her short stories like A Pair of Silk Stockings, The Story of an Hour, and A Respectable Woman, continue this focus on the yearning for freedom. They zero in on the moment a women discovers herself again in the midst of her life. The tragedy in her stories is not the divided self, but that her characters can rarely integrate the two aspects of their lives and live on, powerful and whole.

There were days when she was very happy without knowing why. She was happy to be alive and breathing, when her whole being seemed to be one with the sunlight, the color, the odors, the luxuriant warmth of some perfect Southern day. She liked then to wander alone into strange and unfamiliar places. She discovered many a sunny, sleepy corner, fashioned to dream in. And she found it good to dream and to be alone and unmolested.

There were days when she was unhappy, she did not know why—when it did not seem worth while to be glad or sorry, to be alive or dead; when life appeared to her like a grotesque pandemonium and humanity like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable annihilation. (The Awakening)

Chopin is a feminist in that she is a woman, writing about women, and it is clear that she loves us. She loves the way we think, the way we arrive at a decision. She loves our strength and our softness. And she gives the internal struggle that lies in each of our hearts a voice. A strong, clear, hopeful voice. Her stories may leave us with a mess, but isn’t life messy? It is enough to know that we are not alone in our struggles. We have many sisters that walk this path with us, balancing delicately between the apparent self and the authentic self. It is in knowing we are not alone that we can elicit a different outcome from those of Chopin’s characters. We can overcome the struggles of being woman together, and that is a powerful gift to give.

Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life. (The Awakening)

Because of Kate Chopin, I found that I am not alone in the struggle to balance my selves. Because of Kate Chopin, I learned the necessity of finding that balance. Because of Kate Chopin I fell in love with Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton. Because of Kate Chopin, I am the writer I am today.


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