AWAKENING by Kate Chopin
Kate Chopin was an only
child, born on February 8, 1850. Her father, Thomas O'Flaherty an
Irish immigrant, was a successful St. Louis merchant and her mother,
and Eliza Faris, was the daughter of one of the oldest and most
aristocratic creole families. After her father died, Kate became
very attached to her mother and grand mother. The three of them
shared an extraordinary relationship.
Chopin was educated
at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Louis. Her upbringing
was mainly in the hands of women; the nuns at the school, and at
home, her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, who were all
widows. It was, therefore, quite a unique upbringing with a total
lack of male role models. This was clearly to have an influence
concerning her later works of literature, which dealt with the traditional
roles of females in the Victorian era.
While in school she
enjoyed music, reading and writing, and learned French and German
becoming fluent in both languages. Later in life, Chopin furthered
her education by studying biology and anthropology.
In 1870, Chopin married
Oscar, a prosperous cotton factor. They enjoyed a 12'-year marriage
and Chopin gave birth to 6 children. She dedicated her life to her
family and took on a role of dutiful wife, although she was warned
against this. Despite her increasing family, Kate still enjoyed
an unconventional freedom, for she refused to be smothered by domesticity.
She would often be seen walking alone smoking cigarettes.
Oscar's Cotton Brokerage
business failed in 1879, and the family moved to Cloutierville,
Louisiana, where his family owned some land. In this closer-knit
community, Kate's behavior was regarded as eccentric. Here there
were strict social guidelines for married women, who were expected
to remain at home and bring up the children and do the domestic
chores. Kate was the subject of much gossip, as she would walk out
alone, or ride horseback through the town's main street. Although
this brought condemnation from the womenfolk, some men admired her
Her husband died in
1882 of swamp fever and Chopin was left to raise the family alone.
In 1888, partly out
of want and partly out of need, Chopin began writing fiction. She
wrote twenty pieces of fiction - three short stories and six novels,
At Fault, Bayou Folk, A Night in Acadie, The Complete Works of Kate
Chopin, A Kate Chopin Miscellany, and The Awakening. The one book
that made the most impact was The Awakening.
The book was censured
both locally and nationally for its "poisonous and positively unseemly"
theme. The St. Louis literary refused to review the novel and the
local library removed it from circulation. Chopin also suffered
critical abuse and public denunciation as an immoralist and because
of this novel, she was refused membership in the St. Louis Fine
The reaction to this
novel almost caused Chopin to stop writing entirely.
Chopin was interested
in innocence and experience, and both of these themes run within
this book. It was this book, though after her death, that made her
famous and made her loved.
Chopin gave a great
deal of thought to important issues. She was involved in the idea
of an independent woman and was encouraged not to become a "useless"
wife. Chopin also questioned Catholicism's implicit authoritarianism,
which encouraged women to be submissive to their husbands.
Kate Chopin died in
August of 1904 of a cerebral hemorrhage. She was an incredible and
talented writer. She wrote about real issues and real feelings.
Unfortunately, like many others, Kate Chopin was never recognized
for these talents until it was too late.