Kate Chopin\'s Controversial Views


"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 the summer in
Grand Isle, Edna meets Mademoiselle Reiz whose music is the only
thing in which Edna finds happiness. Through the music Edna
awakens to the fact that