Female Characters in Kate Chopin's Novels and Short Stories

Term Paper, 2020

18 Pages, Grade: 2.0


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Main part

2.1. Main part - Female characters in The Awakening
2.2. Main part - Female characters in Chopin's short stories “The Story of an Hour”, “The Storm” and “A Respectable Woman”

3. Conclusion

4. List of works cited


In this term paper, multiple works by the same author Kate Chopin will be cited. Therefore, the citations will include the year of the work published: (Chopin 1894 3). Since the page numbers of the cited ebook version of The Awakening by Kate Chopin are imprecise, the in-text citation will include the chapter number instead of the page-number. So a citation of The Awakening from the third chapter would be: (Chopin 1899 3). The version of the short story "The Storm" and "Story of an Hour" by Chopin that is used for the citation does not include page numbers. This is which is why in-text citation for "The Storm" will be: (Chopin 1898), while the citation for "The Story of an Hour" will be: (Chopin 1895).

1. Introduction

This term paper is about female characters in Kate Chopin's work. Kate Chopin was a novelist and short story writer who was born in St. Louis Missouri and lived in Louisiana in the 19th century. Her work shows an interesting and intense point of view on female characters at that period of time. Her stories contain descriptions of feelings, inner beliefs and desires of women. The stories broach issues of marriage, motherhood as well as issues of the society in the 19th century and the role of females at that time. The stories are also marked by the topics identity, independence as well as freedom, which embody important features considering the analysis of the stories and their female characters. This leads to the thesis, that the female (main) characters in Kate Chopin's novels and short stories share characteristic features and create a pattern in Chopin's work. To properly work on the thesis, the term paper will be based on the analysis and comparison of primary literature by Kate Chopin, while secondary literature will support the statements and analysis. The chosen secondary literature consists mostly of articles, that broach the issues of Chopin's work, her female characters as well as themes such as identity, society, independence as well as the role of women at that time.

First of all, the female characters of Chopin's novel The Awakening Edna Pontellier, Mademoiselle Reisz and Adéle Ratignole will be taken into consideration. Since these characters occur in the same story, a comparison between them is especially interesting since their relations, influences and lives can be analyzed based to their relations to each other. Second, the short stories “The Story of an Hour”, “The Storm” and “A Respectable Woman” by Kate Chopin will be analyzed with the focus on the female characters Calixta, Mrs. Baroda and Louisa Mallard. Therefore their beliefs, passions, desires, personalities and their lives in general will be analyzed and compared to each other. In the conclusion, the findings and results from the analysis of the female characters from The Awakening and the three short stories by Kate Chopin will be summed up, compared and taken into consideration to describe how Kate Chopin creates female characters in her work. The focus will be based on similarities and differences of the characters as well as on the topics that come up while analyzing them.

2. Main part

2.1 Main part - Female characters in The Awakening

The main female characters in the inl899 published novel The Awakening Kate Chopin are Edna Pontellier, Mademoiselle Reisz and Adéle Ratignole.

Edna Pontellier is married to the Creole Léonce Pontellier and has two children. They live in Louisiana and as Elmo Howell describes, does Edna have “all that most women desire, wealth, family, social position, an indulgent husband who allows her to come and go as she pleases” (Howard 212). Still, Edna is characterized as “not a mother-woman” (Chopin 1899 4). In their vacation at “Grand Isle” (4) she realizes that she does not fit into the “society of Creoles” (4) or the life of a woman who conforms to the expectations and responsibilities of their husbands as well as of the society of the late 19th century. As Elmo Howell explains, Edna can be defined as “an aberration, designed as a foil to the model Creole woman” (Howell 213). Also, she does have a “rebellious nature” (Goddard 5), which could be the reason, why some readers might interpret her as “the prototype of modern woman who demands her own life, even within the bonds of marriage” (Howell 212). Edna's point of view regarding to marriage seems to be rather skeptical. Her marriage to Léonce is described as an “accident” (Chopin 1899 7) and “as the decrees of Fate” (7), a fate, that “had not fitted her” (7). Due to her marriage, she feels as if her dreams of “romance” (7), satisfaction, passion and affection (7) and pleasure in her life are shattered. This is the reason why her marriage seems to be realized as a repression and loss of independence as well as the end to her dreams and desires of love, affection, satisfaction and freedom. She does not like the way her husband treats her, since she only “feels little, if any affection towards her husband, who treats her as if she was some object he could freely posses” (Goddard 5). This may be one reason that triggers her courageous and rebellious features ofher personality. Goddard claims that in The Awakening Chopin abandons the conventional mode of portraying marriage as the ultimate consummation of a woman's career in the world. It recounts the story of a woman who is not only unwilling to sacrifice herself for her family, thus seriously violating social conventions, but also realizes and accepts the infinite solitude one is doomed to withstand. It describes a woman who has her own choice. (Goddard 4)

Moreover does it feel like Edna is not happy about her being a mother, which is clarified at several points in the story. For example does the feeling of freedom and “relief’ (Chopin 1899 7) overcome her when her children are absent, which highlights the description ofher as “not a mother-woman” (4). Edna Pontellier seems to have inner desires for something else in life, “haunted by the idea of something more exciting, out of bounds perhaps” (Howell 213). Howell also describes her as “the victim of romantic melancholy, plagued with the sense of something beyond her” (213). Edna lives, as described in the novel, “her own small life within herself’ (Chopin 1899 7) in which she “daydreams and without knowing precisely what she is missing fancies that life is passing her by” (Howell 212).Furthermore, Mrs. Pontellier has a so called “dual life” (Chopin 1899 7). On the one side there is the “outward existence which conforms” (7) and tries to adjust to the expectations of society. On the other side does she have an “inward life which questions” (7) and which is constantly searching for something more in life. Additionally, she desires romance, (sexual) pleasure, freedom, excitement and independence. In her path to discover her true self, she rediscovers her passion for art, which is one of her steps of becoming more independent. While “working with great energy” (19), she feels satisfied, happy and more fulfilled. Art is what partly helps her immersing into a sort of “dream” (19) in which she enjoys life. Spending time by herself and by only focusing on herself and her art fulfills her in a special way. Goddard describes Edna as a “’’selfish”, dedicated artist who pursues her painting pursues to her own delight” (Goddard 5). At the same time there “were days when she was unhappy, she did not know why” (Chopin 1899 19) and her mood changes seem to occur more often. Edna rejects and shows a rebellious behavior towards her husband and her children and at the same focuses on becoming her true self and discovering who she really is. This is especially highlighted, when she says that she would never give up on herself (16). She claims that she is in the process of “beginning to comprehend” (16) herself and that there is something “revealing itself’ (16) to her. Still is Edna not able to find happiness, neither in her love for Robert, nor in her situation in life in general, since seems to fight with herself on her path. It can be assumed “that no suitable identity for a woman like Edna is available” (Ramos 149). Instead, Edna seems to be attempting to live outside of all social constructions, beyond any workable, practical fiction, entering what she images to be a space of unmediated reality beyond identity [...] as she comes to reject in succession the various social roles available to her: whether that of wife, mother, woman of society, artist and/or lover. (Ramos 149)

While trying to discover her identity, she feels a special connection to the nature, especially to the sea. She “succumbs to this seductiveness of nature. She becomes a sort of pantheist, engulfed by strange influences” (Howell 217). At the end of The Awakening she commits suicide in the gulf, after her affair and, so claims Howell, after “Robert's rejection [which] brings her back for a moment to reality, she understands her behavior in a different light” (Howell 217). To sum up the most relevant aspects of Edna Pontellier's personality, it is important to mention her both-sided personality as well as her incapability to fit into the society of the Creoles. She is “a curious character” (Goddard 7), who constantly is searching for answers. “Her relationship with the people around her and the way she experiences and interprets events in her life make her an outsider who chooses to walk along the path of personal development alone.” (7). During her self-discovery, she “has an affair” (Howell 213) and discovers herjoy in art. In her path to her so called awakening, she is gets aware of her sexual needs, her desires and her strong will to be independent and self-regulated. Her aim in life is to grow as an individual woman by discovering her own personality and rebelling against what blocks her path of development. She makes “several radical life-style choices throughout the novella” (Ramos 150), like swimming by herself, experiencingjoy as well as “realizing that her potential is unlimited, that she is freer than she suspected” (150). Still, she is unable to completely find and discover her identity. Ramos claims, that there “is only a limited set of available social roles for woman like Edna” (151) which do not seem to be flexible, which is why Edna does not acknowledge her possibility to chose an identity (151) since she “must then act on and willfully sustain her choices in order for them to have any meaning beyond whim” (151). Instead she abandons all of them (152) and gives up.

Compared to Edna Pontellier, does the character Adéle Ratignolle seem to embody the complete opposite. Mrs. Ratignolle is a married woman from the Creole community. She is married for “seven years” (Chopin 1899 4) and has three children and enjoys being a wife and mother. She is a beautiful woman, who worships her husband and seems to always think about family first (4). “Madame Ratignolle is not the model of a modem free woman; she is, even as the novella points out, “the mother woman” absolutely bound by her domestic duties.” (Ramos 155). Moreover, she is described as an example of the Creole women, who “idolized their children, worshiped their husbands” (Chopin 1899 4) and completely dedicate themselves for the family. It feels like the most important goal in her life is to have a happy family, which she wants to take care of, while also pursuing her obligations in the household as well as in society. She is thinking of getting a “fourth” (4) child and often talks and thinks “about her “condition”” (4), which highlights her aims in life towards her family. According to a conversation between Edna and Adéle Ratignolle, Adéle would give everything for her children (16). She selflessly says that a woman who would give everything for their children could “do no more than that” (16). Mrs. Ratignolle does not change or grow throughout the story. Her behavior, her beliefs, manners as well as morals and opinions remain the same, which is why she seems to be a static character. Her aim to give birth to another child succeeds but her characteristic features remain the same.

The third female character from the novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin that will be analyzed and compared to the other ones is the character of Mademoiselle Reisz. She is a “no longer young” (4) woman with a temper that is described as rather selfish and “self-assertive” (4). She is “a homey woman” (4) with “no taste in dress” (4). Goddard claims that she “is definitely not an ordinary woman” (Goddard 6). The lifestyle that Mademoiselle Reisz chooses is a lifestyle of independence and freedom, filled with music and art. She is not married and has no responsibilities towards a husband or a family. Driven by love and passion for art, she enjoys being a pianist and artist, which is how she spends most of her time. Peter Ramos implies, that especially because she is an “artist, and recognized as such in society, Madame Reisz is not expected to marry” (Ramos 148) or to act in certain way in society. That is how she still manages “to use her social identity in a very public way to navigate and even overcome some of the social restrictions one might assume to be in place at this time” (149). She does not fit into the society of mothers and wives in the late 19th century of the Creoles but therefore manages to distance herself from it and even is “able to wield a significant amount of social power and agency, within and beyond her immediate domestic sphere” (149). With her behavior and nature, she “assures her isolation as no one comes near her unless it is absolutely necessary; except Edna who frequents her dwellings whenever she can” (Goddard 6). Her behavior seems to be rather unpopular and unusual, since the artist “does not appear “lady-like” or even polite: she speaks her mind, even in public” (Ramos 148). Her distance towards other people seems to be very significant, since even her neighbors “knew absolutely nothing of a Mademoiselle Reisz” (Chopin 1899 20). Still, she “never appears lonely” (Ramos 149). This could be why one could assume that Mademoiselle Reisz “is the typical artist, who lives for her art, and in self-exile” (Goddard 6).


Excerpt out of 18 pages


Female Characters in Kate Chopin's Novels and Short Stories
University of Siegen
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Kate Chopin, Females, Story of an Hour, The Awakening, The Storm, A Respectable Woman, female characters, marriage, Creoles, Creole, Rebellion, society, freedom, independence, death, Edna Pontellier, Mrs. Mallard, Mrs. Baroda, Mademoiselle Reisz, Adéle Ratignolle
Quote paper
Sofie Fischer (Author), 2020, Female Characters in Kate Chopin's Novels and Short Stories, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/975144


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