Losing a father at a very young age can be devastating for a child. For Kate Chopin, however, growing up with three widowed, strong feminine figures prompted Chopin to become independent and free-willed. The literary movements of romanticism, realism, and local color also had some impact on her writings; however, her life experiences and the Creole culture had a greater influence on her writing and the stories she published.
Kate Chopin's life circumstances helped her build independence and have freedom no woman was thought to have in this time period. Neal Wyatt, in his Bibliography of Kate Chopin, states that Chopin was born to Eliza and Thomas O'Flaherty on February 2, 1850 in St. Louis Missouri, where they resided all their lives. She was the third of five kids, but the only child to live past the age of twenty five (Deter). Wyatt states that, at age five, she was sent to The Sacred Heart Academy, a Catholic boarding school, until her father's sudden death two months later. In her late teens, she returned to the Sacred Heart Academy, where she won academic honors and medals, was elected into the elite children of Mary Society, and delivered the commencement address (Wyatt). In Novel for Students, Kate Chopin is said to have a non-conformist side as she defied societal rules: "Kate later behaved in ways that showed she believed in a woman's having control over her own life". This independence and control seems to have been influenced by the inspiration of her family and the nuns.
Chopin was inspired throughout her life by many people who encouraged her independence. Her first influence was her father, who encouraged her curiosity and interesting views (Deter). At the Sacred Heart Academy, Nun Madam O'Meara first encouraged her to write because of the talent in her letters (Deter). After leaving the Sacred Heart Academy, Chopin returned home to live with her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother. There her great-grandmother taught her French, music, and told her stories (Wyatt). Her great-grandmother's stories featured women who struggled with freedom, desire, and convention (Deter). Throughout her childhood, Chopin's personality was likely very influenced by her great grandmother's, grandmother's, and mother's independence, freedom, and strength as widowed women. It seems as though Chopin added a little of each influence into each of her stories. Independence, and curiosity played an important role in her stories. Moreover, her husband is said to have fostered her motivation of such concepts. In Kate Chopin, Floramaria Deter, the author, writes that Chopin married Oscar Chopin on June 9, 1870. Together, they had seven kids before she was the age of twenty eight (Deter). Her children seemed to be influential in Kate's writings since she often wrote with them running around in the house. After being married for twelve years, Oscar died on December 10, 1882 from malaria (Deter).After his death, Kate lived with her mother in St. Louis and, just a year later, her mother died as well (Wyatt). After her mother's and Oscar's deaths, Kate began writing, an act that was very natural to her because she was encouraged to write from the time she was very young (Skaggs). Dr. Kolenheyer encouraged her to write for emotional therapy and financial support after family tragedies (Deter). Throughout their marriage, it seems that Oscar encouraged Kate to have "unheard of freedom" and independence, unlike most women in that day (Wyatt). This influenced her writings and gave her the courage to write about women's equality, something no author did then.
Kate's influences of freedom and strength become apparent throughout her writings. At eighteen, Chopin wrote her first short story, "Emancipation: A Life Fable", about freedom and restriction (Deter). Her first published work was a short story, "A Point at Issue", which was published on October 27 1889 (Deter). In Deters' biography of Chopin, he states that just five years later, in March 1894, Bayou Folk was published and Kate Chopin became known as a short story writer. Her most famous work The Awakening was banned and Chopin found this to be devastating (Deter). Deter states in her biography that "many have believed that her book was banned due to its controversial topics dealing with women, marriage, sexual desire, and suicide". After this happened, she slowly began to write less (Deter).
Chopin faced many losses throughout her life and used writing to help heal emotionally. Novel for Students states that, in her childhood years, Chopin endured many tragic losses. For example, in November 1855, at just five years old, her father died in a train accident when it ran off of its tracks. In 1863, her great-grandmother died, and her half-brother, George, died of typhoid fever while fighting in the Civil War (Wyatt). Around the same time, her only close girlfriend, Kitty Garesche, was forced to move away because her family was pro-south in a pro-north town (Wyatt). Growing up, Chopin had to face difficulties that came with the Civil War between 1850-1904 (Deter). Her family members sided with the South during the war and were slaveholders (Wyatt). She was known as "the little rebellion" throughout her town because she was friends with the slaves and burnt a confederate flag her family owned (Deter). These life experiences may have had an impact on her writing about freedom, but her cultural influences impacted her writing as well.
Chopin's Creole heritage and surroundings greatly influenced her way of life and published works. The Creole culture consisted of freedom and appreciation of art and music ("Creoles"). Her great-grandmother's teachings reflected back directly to Creole culture. Chopin's short stories, such as "The Awakening," showed women tormented by the strict rules of their heritage. Women were strictly shown as the role of wife and mother, without any freedoms or independence. It seems as if Chopin's defiance of her heritage came about by living in a house filled with brothers, uncles, cousins, and borders, all whom were not married; thus, Chopin had seen few functional marriages (Wyatt). Different from other woman of her day, Chopin was surrounded by independent women, a fact that contributed to Chopin's views. Along with Creole culture, romanticism, realism, and local color impacted Chopin's works.
Three literary movements, romanticism, realism, and local color, are shown throughout Chopin's writings. Each movement had different outlooks on life that are represented in her stories. The romantic period, from 1820-1860, focused on the inspiration of art, self-reliance, and individualism. Much of her writing in The Awakening focuses on finding freedom and individuality, thinking about what to be and how to live. Also used in The Awakening and many of her other stories was realism. From 1860-1914 the literary movement of realism was happening because of the changes brought upon by the Civil War. In realist works, ordinary life was portrayed and characters of everyday life were used (VanSpanckeren). Chopin's realism is shown when Dr. Kolenheyer is represented by Dr. Mandelet in The Awakening. Local Color is also seen in The Awakening. Creole society and the aspects of women making choices is an example of this literary movement. Characters throughout the book preserve a distinct way of life that is threatened by industrialization and the after affects of the Civil War. Each literary movement intertwines with one another to create a different published work by Chopin. Not only do they combine with one another, but they also connect with her life experiences and time period events.
Chopin's influences throughout life surface as themes in many of her short stories. In "The Kiss," Chopin writes about Miss Nattie and Brantain sitting in a dark room alone in front of a fire place talking. Miss Nattie knows Brantain loves her and she would love to have his wealth. As they are sitting there, a man named Harvy comes in and abruptly kisses Miss Nattie without seeing Brantain sitting there. Brantain becomes upset and leaves immediately, and Harvy begs Miss Nattie for forgiveness. Later, Miss Nattie sees Brantain at a reception and explains how Harvy is like her brother. Shortly thereafter, Brantain and Miss Nattie are married and Brantain sends Harvy to give her a kiss. When he tells Miss Nattie this, he adds that he will not kiss women anymore because it is dangerous. Miss Nattie feels as if she is playing her own chess game and watching it come together. In the end, she figures out she cannot have everything, but she still has Brantain and his money. This story was likely influenced by Chopin growing up with three widowed women who all worked to support their family and make their own money without relying on a man for it. Although Chopin was very independent and could support herself and her family, she most likely would have liked the luxury of having a man's money to support them.
Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" relates to "The Kiss" by also having a theme of self-reliance and independence. After Mrs. Mallard's husband dies, she only feels grief for a short time before feeling a sense of freedom that she didn't have being a wife. Chopin writes, "There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature." This quote is opposite to "The Kiss" because in "The Kiss," Miss Nattie gets married and becomes a part of her husband but in "The Story of an Hour" Mrs. Mallard loses her husband. Chopin's life experiences and influences come out in this story as well. At the age of five Chopin lost her father in a train wreck, the same way Mrs. Mallard loses her husband.
"A Respectable Woman," by Kate Chopin, has a theme of feminine sexuality and a sort of different independence that causes her to be respectable (DiYanni and Roebuck). Like "The Kiss" and "The Story of an Hour," men are significant in the story, but Chopin again shows how being self-reliant and defying societal rules are essential. When Mrs. Barodas's husband's friend, Gouvernail, comes to stay for a couple weeks, she finds herself being attracted to touch him and kiss him. Her husband never finds out her desires to do this, but because she calls herself a respectable woman, she leaves the house until his stay is up. The theme of this story may be a result of Chopin having grown up with three respectable, independent woman. Throughout all of her stories, a strong feminine character plays a large role along with independence even if she has a man in their life.
Kate Chopin was most influenced by her family life and Creole heritage. Being raised by three independent, widowed women impacted her in a way that was not common for most women in her day. Her influences are strongly shown in her published stories by having themes of women's freedoms, restrictions, independence, and curiosity. For example, in "The Kiss," Chopin shows Miss Nattie as wanting both love and money but each from a different man. This likely arose from her curiosity of having a man to rely on since she grew up with three women but yet the independence of not abiding to just one man. Chopin's stories all focus on women and their self-reliance. Her attitude and thoughts shared in her stories most likely impacted other women and encouraged them to act on their own independence. Ultimately, Chopin changed the way women were looked at forever.