This is number 66 of the Penguin Little Black Classic books, featuring 5 short stories by Kate Chopin. She was an author during the 1890’s and although she only published two novels, one over looked and one highly condemned, she wrote hundreds of short stories. Most of her stories, as seen below, are set in Louisiana aided by her knowledge of plantations. Her and her husband managed several small plantations in a parish where she learnt a lot about Creole culture which she implemented into her writing, as well as treatment of those who worked the land. Alongside this, she also focussed a lot on strong women and their struggles. Some people say that she is a forerunner in feminist writing whereas Elizabeth Fox-Genovese claims “Kate was neither a feminist nor a suffragist, she said so. She was nonetheless a woman who took women extremely seriously. She never doubted women’s ability to be strong.” This is something that can be seen in all of the stories below.
Désirée’s Baby – 10 minutes
An adopted woman is thought to be white and is bought up on a cotton plantation in Louisiana. She has a baby and all is well. However the baby has darker skin and the woman’s husband assumes that it is her with African heritage. She denies this but he becomes cold and when she’s given the opportunity to go and live with her mother he demands that she goes immediately. However on her husband’s burning of her belongings it appears that it might not have been her at all.
It’s a plot driven by ideas of slavery and racism, with the white characters being able to lay around comfortably all day whilst the black characters and working as slaves in plantations. There is a moment where it is explained that since the arrival of his child, the slave owner, her husband has become much more relaxed with his treatment and she describes how he laughs off one of the slave’s intention to get off of work with a sunburn.
It is a simile ridden story, moving at a very fast pace with moments of joy and sadness for so few pages, but it’s very lyrical and easy to read.
Miss Enders – 10 minutes
This story follows a woman carrying out a visit to one of her worker’s homes to see what she is producing and is faced with a small child who is also living there. The second woman claims that she is not the mother when in fact she is. Miss Enders doesn’t take too kindly to being told falsities, even if it means that it was easier for the other woman to be employed, and therefore calls for her to be removed from work. In the second chapter this other woman arrives at Miss Enders home and she believes that she has come to demand her job back. This isn’t the case and she takes a rather scathing attack to not only her father’s earnings but to her fiancee.
It is very interesting to see two such different female characters pitted against one another. Miss Enders is born into wealth and knows that this wealth wasn’t bought about justly. However she is not condemned for the actions of her father. Whereas the second woman in the story tells a meagre lie to make it easier for her to get work, and is condemned by her employer to the point where she is not able to work for her anymore. It’s a story about corruption and the difference in actions between the strong and the weak.
In addition to all of this, the dialogue presented is amazing. All of the individual dialects are written, so as you read it you’re able to pick up either where people are from or just have a little giggle as you try to work out how to read it yourself. It’s a really good way to give characters dimension in such a short story.
The Story of an Hour – 5 minutes
In this story Mrs Mallard is presented with the news of her husband’s death after an accident at the railway. She is instantly sad and consoled by her sister before locking herself away. It is in her room alone she begins to think about how a life without him would give her much more freedom and grow and be the woman she wants to be. She is all but ready to start her journey when her husband appears at the door.
It is another story presented about a strong female lead character, deciding that it is right for her to move on and live her own life as she wishes, whilst everyone considers that she should be devastated with her husband’s passing. She simply thinks of herself as ‘free’ from oppression and this theme carries through the entire story.
If anything it makes the story beautifully funny and ironic towards the end. All of the language is expressing the feeling of being your own person and living for yourself as no one can live your life for you. It definitely made me think about my own life and mortality and how you have to make the most of a bad situation.
Nég Créol – 10 minutes
A black man with no real home or background works at a market for bits of food and scraps of material instead of money. He takes these back to an old Irish Catholic lady who’s very ill and he listens to her complain about all of her ailments. She passes away and he refuses to acknowledge that he knows her. He also refuses to attend her funeral, and choses to continue to work.
It’s another really easy read dealing with issues such as different cultures and religious beliefs. It’s almost a story that just shouts about having compassion for all in all circumstances. The old lady is ill and he is her companion, regardless of ethnicity or religion. Yet when it comes to her death and attending the funeral he acts as if he never cared at all for her. It’s a bit of a look into the human psyche and how after death of someone we’re close to, we tend to shut down.
A Pair of Silk Stockings – 10 mins
Mrs Sommers comes into $15 and has every good intention to spend it on her children and their need for repairs in their clothing and new shoes. She goes into town and becomes frustrated, heading to the counter, before she sees a basket of silk stockings. She finds a pair in size and immediately buys them. She continues to buy more things for herself and as she experiences living for herself, she begins to dread heading home.
This story focusses on one woman caught between her conflicting roles of being a mother and a wife, and being a woman in the community. It describes the feeling of not wanting to lose your own identity because you become a mother and a wife. There should still be freedom to have what you want out of your own life. There’s an ambiguity in the ending as to whether she stays with her husband and her family or whether she pursues her own dreams and becomes a woman with all of these beautiful items of clothing and who goes to see theatre shows with other well dressed women.
It also suggests that perhaps this story is a metaphor for the lives of all women who have this choice to make, or is it perhaps a story highlighting the fact that it shouldn’t have to be a choice? Women should be free to do both; be a mother and have time for herself.
Total pages – 56
Total read time – 45 minutes
Rating /10 – 5.5
Recommend – Yes for a commute or if you’ve got some time to kill