Kate Chopin (1850-1904) was a nineteenth century author of novels and short stories. Today she is probably best known for her novel The Awakening (1899) and her short stories "Desirée's Baby" (1893), "The Story of an Hour" (1894), and "The Storm" (1898, though not published until 1969), many of which scandalised contemporary audiences with their frank treatments of taboo subjects such as miscegenation, adultery, and sexuality. Influenced by Charles Darwin's theories of sexual selection and Guy de Maupassant's naturalistic short stories, Chopin's probing explorations of women's lives in the late-nineteenth-century South have earned her a reputation as an early feminist author, although she rejected the label for herself.
Although to some extent she has been Vindicated by History, her writings were not wholly unsuccessful during her life; two of her novels and two collections of short stories were published during her life, and she saw her work published in magazines such as Vogue and The Atlantic Monthly. While The Awakening in particular was condemned as immoral by many critics, it received unqualified praise in other publications, such as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and even the New York Times. Despite this, it went out of print for several decades before being rediscovered, along with the rest of her body of work, during The '60s and The '70s.
Overall, her work is marked by strong local flavour (being particularly influenced by the Natchitoches region of Louisiana, New Orleans, and St. Louis) and generally centres on women's continual struggles to establish their own identities. Her writing is particularly critical of the contemporary institution of marriage, which often had more to do with social respectability than it did passion or love. "The Storm" is particularly notable for being one of the earliest written examples of erotica in the English language by a female author, though not published until long after her death.
Tropes present in Chopin's work include:
- Death by Despair: Although Elizabeth Stock is said to have perished of consumption, the implication is that, at least in part, this was also the case. "The Story of an Hour" provides a more instantaneous example (perhaps Death by Unwanted Shock is a better way to describe it).
- Downer Ending: An awful lot of stories end either with the deaths of their protagonists or at least with said protagonists becoming fully cognizant of their dissatisfaction with society.
- Dramatic Irony: "The Story of an Hour": the main character initially reacts to news of her husband's death with grief, but upon becoming cognizant that this affords her newfound freedom, she begins to experience joy. However, her husband then returns alive and well, and she experiences a fatal heart attack. She is said to have perished "of joy that kills", when of course the implication is the precise opposite.
- Driven to Suicide: Several characters, including the protagonists of The Awakening and "Desirée's Baby".
- Empathic Environment: The weather in "The Storm" corresponds entirely with the main characters' passion.
- G-Rated Sex: By today's standards many of her sex scenes come off as this, though the ones in The Awakening were considered so racy at the time that the novel almost wasn't published. Regardless, they are subtle enough that many contemporary readers completely miss the fact that they are sex scenes. By contrast, "The Storm" is racy even by today's standards, which is one reason it wasn't published during her lifetime.
- Gratuitous French: Her writing is peppered with bits of French, befitting the Cajun setting.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: For delivering an urgent message, Elizabeth Stock is fired from her job as postmistress, since she would have had to read the message to deliver it, and doing so was against regulations.
- Stylistic Suck: "Elizabeth Stock's One Story" is written with poor grammar to represent its titular character's lack of education. The Literary Agent Hypothesis that frames the story states that it was the one piece of Stock's writing that had a coherent narrative.
- Sympathetic Adulterer: Chopin does not think highly of the institution of marriage as practised during her lifetime and this is clearly evident in her treatment of adultery. "The Storm" even suggests that both the two adulterous characters and their spouses end up happier as a direct result of said adultery, which is another reason it wasn't published until after her death.