Sexuality of women of color in Kate Chopin's writings

Essay, 2016

6 Pages, Grade: 1,7



Sexuality of women of color in Kate Chopin's writings

In her writings Kate Chopin (1851 – 1904) creates a variety of woman figures: the stereotypical woman, the mother woman, the artist, or the sensual woman. Some of them seem distant, not caring very much about their relationships, others seem to be flirting all the time, and with a different man on each page, there seems to be no in between. So who are the flirty woman? When taking a closer look one can see that there are differences between social classes and ethnic background of these women. And in her two short stories “At the 'Cadian Ball” and “The Storm” and in her novel “The Awakening” Kate Chopin ascribes sexuality to women of color.

In order to discuss this statement, it is necessary to define who is considered a woman of color and to whom this definition applies in Kate Chopin's works. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary a colored person is someone “of races other than the white or of mixed race”[1], in the two short stories, that belong together but take place a bit more than five years apart from each other, this applies to Calixta.

She is of Cuban descent and forms part of the middle class, however, she belongs to the lower middle class as she is not of Acadian heritage[2]. There is also another fact, besides the statement that her mother is Cuban, that will classify her as a woman of color, namely her description. She has “hair that kinked worse than a mulatto's close to her head”[3], from this description, Calixta could even pass as a woman with African heritage. Kinky hair is one of the identification marks of people from Africa and Calixta's hair is not just a little kinky, but it is “worse than a mulatto's”.

Already in the beginning of the first short story the reader gets an idea of how Calixta looks like through Bobinôt fantasizing about her. She is already described as a “Spanish vixen”, that means a young, beautiful girl with Hispanic background. While Bobinôt is struggling to decide whether to go or not to go to the 'Cadian ball, his thoughts drift to Calixta, who will be at the ball. He remembers her in detail:

Her eyes, – Bobinôt thought of her eyes, and weakened, – the bluest, the drowsiest, most tantalizing that ever looked into a man's; he thought of her flaxen hair that kinked worse than a mulatto's close to her head; that broad, smiling mouth and tiptilted nose, that full figure; that voice like a rich contralto song, with cadences in it that must have been taught by Satan, for there was no one else to teach her tricks on that 'Cadian prairie.[4]

First of all, her eyes are described: they are blue, blue like the ocean, like the sky, infinite and calming, so deep or so high that one can get lost in them, like in Calixta's eyes. They tantalize Bobinôt, just like the ocean as Jacques Yves Cousteau once said: “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonders forever”. Whoever looks into Calixta's eyes will be captivated by her, men who once looked into her eyes will desire her forever. They are also “drowsy”, sleepy, probably only half opened, which is considered a sensual expression. Bobinôt continues to describe her hair as kinky, which on the one hand gives some information about her origin, as mentioned before, but on the other hand kinky is also used to characterize something or someone as attractive, or as provocative so the language used here is in a flirtatious style. The choice of words gives the reader the impression that Calixta is a flirtatious personality. The “broad, smiling mouth” indicates openness and interest, again she is depicted as very flirty. The “full figure”, the full body seen as the ideal body like the female Rubens figures, indicating fertility and sexuality in a very obvious way. A “voice like a rich contralto song”, the contralto is the lowest of the female voices, women are usually connected to higher pitched voices and low female voice are something special, unusual, therefore interesting, maybe even bewitching and it underlines her exoticism which is also always a bit luring. “With cadences that must have been taught by Satan” signals that she must have had contact with him, that she is not a good girl, she is a temptation to all men, like the apple offered by the snake was a temptation to Eve.



[2] Cf. Chopin, Kate: The Awakening and Selected Stories of Kate Chopin, 1976, p. 178

[3] cf. ibid., p. 178

[4] Ibid., p.178

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Sexuality of women of color in Kate Chopin's writings
University of Potsdam
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sexuality, kate, chopin
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Anonymous, 2016, Sexuality of women of color in Kate Chopin's writings, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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