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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 2nd, 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 to become the top of her class, to win medals, to be elected into the elite children of Mary Society, and to deliver the commencement address (Wyatt). In Novel for Students, Kate Chopin is said to have a non-conformist side and 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 she returned home to live with her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother, where 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 if in each story Chopin wrote, a little of each influence was added into it. Freedom, independence, and curiosity, all played a huge role in her stories, and her husband is considered the greatest motivation of such concepts. *TRANSITION* In Kate Chopin by Floramaria Deter, the author writes that Chopin marries 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 moves back in with her mother in St. Louis and just a year later her mother died as well(Wyatt). Deter also states that after her mother's and Oscar's deaths she began writing. This was not a problem for her because she always loved and was encouraged to write from the time she was very young (Deter). Dr. Kolenheyer encouraged her to write for emotional therapy and financial support after such close loses (Deter). Growing up 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. Chopin went on to write short stories after her husband died to support her family.
Throughout her writings her influences of freedom and strength become apparent. 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, that 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). "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 loses throughout her life and used writing to help heal emotionally. Novel for Students states that, in her childhood years, Chopin endured many tragic loses. 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 slave holders (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 difficulties may have had an impact on her writing about freedom but her cultural influences impacted her writing as well.
Her Creole heritage and surroundings greatly influenced Chopin's way of life and published works. The Creole culture consisted of freedom, and appreciation of art and music. 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, but no married: thus Chopin had seen few functional marriages (Wyatt). This meant Chopin's role models never had men to abide to so this was the way of life she learned to live. 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. During realism ordinary life was portrayed and characters of everyday life were used in writing. 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 also with her life experiences and influences that impacted her writing style.
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 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. Miss Nattie see's Brantain at a reception and talks to him to explain the situation and how Harvy is like her brother. Brantain and Miss Nattie get 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 she 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.