Kate Chopin Book Report

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Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin: A Controversial Feminist
Kate Chopin was one of the greatest and earliest feminist writers in history, whose works
have inspired some and drawn much criticism from others. Chopin, through her writings, had
shown her struggle for freedom and individuality.

Katherine (O'Flaherty) Chopin was born February 8, 1851 to a wealthy Irish Catholic Family
in St. Louis, Missouri ("Kate Chopin" 1). Her father, Thomas O'Flaherty, was a founder of
the Pacific Railroad, who unfortunately died when a train fell off a collapsed bridge on
its inaugural trip in 1855. Only a few years later, Kate's older brother George was
captured by Union soldiers during the Civil War in 1863. He then died in captivity from
typhoid fever. The loss of both of Kate's male role models created the powerful
relationships she had with her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Eliza Faris
O'Flaherty, Kate's mother, was a member of a French-Creole community and an active
participant in that community. After her husband's death, Eliza became more religious and
closer to her daughter. Kate had also developed strong ties with her great-grandmother,
who taught her how to speak French and play the piano.

Kate received most of her education in St. Louis at the St. Louis Academy of the Sacred
Heart (2). Soon after her father and brother's deaths, Kate's great-grandmother had also
passed away. Kate took the loss very badly and absorbed herself in literature. After her
graduation in 1868, Kate spent the next few years living a privileged lifestyle in the St.
Louis high society. She enjoyed life as an independent woman and was criticized for
walking unaccompanied through the city and for her smoking habit. Kate met Oscar Chopin, a
Louisiana cotton factor, in the late 1880's. After a yearlong engagement she finally
married him on June 9, 1870. When Oscar's cotton factoring business failed in 1879, he
decided to move up north to his family's plantations. It was there that Kate became
introduced to the Creole community that became an important focus of her writing. In 1882,
Oscar contracted swamp fever and died a year later from complications of the disease. He
left Kate with six children.

Kate had five boys and a girl: Jean, Oscar, George, Frederick, Felix, and Lelia. After
Oscar's death, Kate took her family to St. Louis and moved in with her mother. A year
later, Kate's mother also died, causing Kate to seek comfort in a local family physician,
Frederick Kolbenheyer. It was he who suggested that Kate take up writing as a way of
expressing herself and her frustration with life.

Kate's writing career began when she published her first poem, "If It Might Be," in 1889.
She also published her first two short stories that same year, "Wiser Than a God," and, "A
Point at Issue." In 1890, Kate published her first novel, At Fault (3). The book depicted
a young woman who discovered that her fiance had divorced his first wife because she was
an alcoholic. After struggling with her morals and trying to figure out what to do, she
told him to marry his ex-wife because it was the right thing to do. He surprisingly
accepted her suggestion and remarried his wife who then continued her alcoholic endeavors.
She suffered an accident because of her drinking and the husband and the woman were
finally able to continue their relationship without any interference or consequences. At
Fault received mixed reviews, and was criticized for dealing too much with female
alcoholism and marriage problems. Later in January of 1893, Chopin published one of her
most famous short stories, "Desiree's Baby." This story was later included in Bayou Folk,
a collection of twenty-three short stories and sketches published in 1894. The stories
included in this collection depicted Louisiana life. Upon its publication, critics praised
her portrayal of bayou life and its addressing of unfaithfulness and race issues (3).
Chopin next produced a twenty-one short story collection called, A Night in Acadie,
published in 1897. This collection showed her interest in passion, sexuality and marriage,
and also her growing concern for the discrimination against women. After A Night in
Acadie's publication, Kate was working on another collection, A Vocation and a Voice.
Publishers who felt that the collection dealt too strongly with love, sex, and marriage
rejected this collection. It was then that she decided to write what was to become her
masterpiece, The Awakening.

The Awakening was published in 1899. In The Awakening, Chopin accomplished the largest
exploration of feminine consciousness (Magill 91). The Awakening, a realist novel, focused
on the role of women through the eyes of Edna Pontellier, the protagonist ("Kate Chopin"
4). While on a summer vacation without her husband, Edna met and fell in love with a
younger man named Robert LeBrun. When Edna returned to her life in New Orleans at the end
of the summer, she realized that she was no longer happy with her life and marriage. As
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