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Kate Chopin also known as Kate O' Flaherty was born on February 8, as the third of five children to an Irish father and a French Creole mother. They Creoles were members of the elite family and were fairly well off. Her father died at an early age and Kate was left in the care of her mother, grandmother and great grand mother. Kate was very fond of her maternal great grandmother madam Victoria Verdon Charleville who oversaw her education and eventually introduced her to writing. She also taught her French and music (Eliot, 20).
In 1855, Kate began her schooling in The Sacred Heart Academy, a Catholic boarding school in St. Louis. She later joined a Catholic High School and with careful guidance from the intellectual nuns she excelled at the top of her class studying French, English literature and music. She received numerous awards and later became an important person in St Louis society. Kate married Oscar Chopin in 1870 a twenty five year old French man who came from a wealthy cotton growing family. They were happily married and were later blessed with two girls and five boys. Oscar however later died of swamp fever in 1882 and Kate was left to fend for her children. It was during this time that she met Fredrick Kolbenheyer who was later to become a pillar in her life. Fredrick encouraged Kate to start writing as a way of venting out her anger and disappointment in life. At the time, Kate had lost so many members of her family that she was emotionally burnt out (Koloski, 37).
Kate started writing for several reasons. She needed to provide for her family, she loved reading and writing was her passion. She initially started by writing poems. Her first work was a piano polka "lillia's polka" which she did for her daughter. Later, in 1889 she published a poem called "If it might be" in a Chicago Periodical called America. She then started writing short stories and published the first two"Wiser than God" and "A point at issue" in the same year. Her first Novel At Fault came in 1890 (Eliot, 25). This Novel gave her a starting point and although it received many negative comments because it covered women alcoholism and affairs, she continued to write more short stories which was seen in her collection of short stories "Desiree's Baby."It was published 1893 in the Vogue magazine. "Desiree Baby" became one of her most famous short stories. The story talked of a young woman named Desiree who was abandoned as a baby but was later adopted and raised by a loving family. She later met and married her husband and was blessed with a baby who had a dark complexion. Her husband accused her of being of black descent and made her leave. Days after leaving the husband discovered a letter from his mother explaining that it he who was of black origins (Berkove, 15).
In 1894, she published another collection of twenty three short stories called Bayou folk. In 1897, Kate next published another collection of twenty one short stories which she called A Night in Acadie. In this collection she continued to expound on her theme of love and marriage portraying her female characters as independent women who liked to follow their minds rather than what the society expected of them. It was this style of writing that brought so much controversy in her writing (Eliot, 24).
After this collection she worked on a third collection which mostly included work that was previously rejected by publishers who viewed her work as explicit. The Story of an hour is short story in this collection which eventually turned out to be very popular. The story is about a woman who learns of her husband's accidental death. With this realization the woman explores her independence but its short lived after learning the husband is still alive. The collection was never published but this did not deter Kate from writing. She continued to work on her writing publishing poems and essays and also went on to write another collection of short stories called The Storm. The Storm was about a couples love story and infidelity. This as usual sparked another row due to Kate's openness to sex and infidelity.
Kate's masterpiece came with her final novel The Awakening. The Novel was published in 1899 and was believed to be immoral and scandalous during its time. This novel focused more on female independence and the need to live her life away from the traditional setting of a woman set by the society (Berkove, 8). The novel centers around a young woman named Edna .She was married to Leonce Pontellier and had two children with him. During a family vacation in Mexico she met and fell in love with Robert one of the sons on Madame Ratignolle. On sensing the dangers of their supposed relationship Robert flees to Mexico under the guise of pursuing a business venture. On their return home Edna begins to wrestle with the emotions of being a mother and a wife and what the society required of her and the need to be with Robert. In her novel, Kate describes Edna's moment of awakening to her position as a human being recognizing her relations to herself and to the world around her (Berkove, 11).
Gradually, she starts to withdraw from the society and begins to take an active role in pursuit of her own happiness. When the husband leaves for a business trip to New York and the children departs to their grandmother's, Edna, decides to move out of her matrimonial home and moves to a nearby house. During this period Edna is involved in an affair with Alcee Arobin a long time pursuant suitor who has been perceived to be free with his emotions. Edna here is portrayed as a sexual being who is not afraid to pursue what she feels. She gets involved in other affairs before learning that Robert was still interested in her and later confesses to her when he returns from Mexico. When she goes to help her friend Adele with a difficult childbirth, she finds later returns to find a note from Robert telling her that he has left and he will not be returning. Edna is overcome by grieve and disappointment with life and the novel ends with her allowing herself to be overtaken by the waters of Gulf of Mexico.
Kate style in the Awakening was based on realism and naturalism. She did not condemn her character, but portrayed her as a human being who was in touch with her emotions and was willing to go against the social norms to achieve her happiness. The sexual openness of a woman in this novel is what sparked so much controversy because during her time the society demanded the women to behave in a certain way which was traditional and any behavior contrary to this was considered rebellious.
During her childhood, Kate was surrounded by strong women who were mostly independent and intelligent. It was due to this influence that Kate provided a clear understanding and insight to analyze the society at the time. She was unique in her own writing, spontaneous and most of her stories were based on her life in Louisiana. She focused mostly on women and their struggle to find their identity in a rather oppressive society. She used her surroundings to observe and put the words creatively into writing. She was not afraid to creatively put her thoughts into writing something that not many writers were able to do during her time. Though her work was out of print for decades it is now viewed as an important work of early feminism. Her final work was in 1900 when she wrote The Gentleman from New Orleans (Berkove, 17).