Controversial Views in Kate Chopin's The Awakening
"Too strong a drink for moral babies, and should be labeled `poison'." was the how the Republic described Kate Chopin's most famous novel The Awakening (Seyersted 174). This was not only the view of one magazine, but it summarized the feelings of society as a whole. Chopin woke up people to the feelings and minds of women. Even though her ideas were controversial at first, slowly over the decades people began to accept them.
Kate O'Flaherty Chopin was raised in St. Louis in the 1850's and 1860's. Chopin had a close relationship with her French grandmother which lead to her appreciation of French writers. When she was only five Chopin's father, Thomas O'Flaherty died leaving her without a father figure. Eliza O'Flaherty, Chopin's mother, was from there on the head of the household. Chopin grew up knowing that women could be strong and intelligent and that they did not have to be submissive creatures (Skaggs 2). She loved her mother and considered her "A woman of great beauty, intelligence, and personal magnetism" (Seyersted 14).
Growing up around independent women, however, did not dissuade her from marriage. Her marriage to Oscar Chopin by all accounts was a happy one. Taking on the role of a high society lady as well as wife and new mother, Chopin fit in well with the New Orleans culture. She enjoyed the Louisiana atmosphere so well that most of her writings were based here. Chopin continued living in Louisiana raising her six young children until the sudden death of her husband brought her back to St., Louis (Skaggs 3).
Oscar Chopin died while their youngest child, Lelia was only three. Soon after Chopin moved her family to St. Louis to be with her dying mother. In the grief of her losses Chopin had to rediscover who she was. This challenge came out in her writing of heroines searching for self-understanding (Skaggs 3). No longer Eliza O'Flaherty's daughter or Oscar Chopin's wife, Kate Chopin was forced to find a new role for herself. Her new role would be a writer.
A few key figures in her life influenced Chopin to write. Doctor Frederick Kolbemheyer was a life long friend on whose support she always relied. Raised in Austria and then exiled for his beliefs, Kolbemheyer was a philosopher and encouraged Chopin to read Darwin, Haxley, and Spencer. Their beliefs were very similar and he must have supported her when she denounced the Catholic religion after her mother's death. The beloved friends wrote to each other often while Chopin was in Louisiana. Seeing the talent in her writing, Kolbemheyer encouraged Chopin to publish her letters. She admired him greatly and even named her son Frederick after him. (Taylor 147).
There were three American women writers of the time that Chopin admired. When asked who would be a good model woman writer she responded, "I know of no one better than Miss Jewett to study for technique and nicety of construction. I don't mention...