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A Respectable Woman Bz Kate Chopin Analysis

In: English and Literature

Submitted By akeloprom
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A Respectable Woman by Kate Chopin “A Respectable Woman” is a short story written by Kate Chopin about Mrs. Baroda who lives with her loving husband in a rich plantation in the early 20th century. The main problem arises in the story when Mrs. Baroda’s husband, Gaston, invites his friend Governail to spend a couple of weeks with them at the plantation. As for Mrs. Baroda, she doesn’t really like this idea because she had planned to spend this time taking and rest and to get in to conversations with her husband. Mrs. Baroda has never met this friend before but she pictures him as a tall, slim, skeptical man and she also didn’t really like that image of him, but when she meets the slim but not tall or cynical Governail, she later figures that she actually likes him but what she can’t figure out is that why she likes him. After much thinking, she still ends up to be puzzled about it. At the same time Mrs. Baroda is eager for this friend to leave as she asks her husband about when Governail is leaving. Finally one night Governail breaks his silence as he starts a conversation with Mrs. Baroda, who isn’t really paying attention to his words but his voice. She realizes that she desires him especially when she desires to touch his face and lips; however she controls those sentiments because she considers herself a respectable woman. The next morning she leaves the plantation to visit her mom and avoid Governail and her feelings for him. After some time, Gaston wishes to invite Governail once again, to which Mrs. Baroda refuses but later changes her mind saying that she has overcome everything.
Now what has she overcome? The feelings that she had for Governail or the obligation to be the “Respectable Woman”? However, her words and actions leave us only to believe she was going to go against her values.
In "A Respectable Woman," Kate Chopin delves into the psychology of Mrs. Baroda, a wealthy woman with a loving husband who faces temptation in the person of Gouvernail, a polite, unassuming visitor to the Baroda plantation. Like the heroine of "A Pair of Silk Stockings," Mrs. Baroda is enticed early in the story with the prospect of a change from a quieter, more ordinary life, but whereas Mrs. Sommers gives in to her desires with relative ease and begins spending her extra money after limited deliberation, Mrs. Baroda does not instantly recognize what she really wants and eventually struggles with the self-imposed limitations of her identity as "a respectable woman."
Nevertheless, just as the narrative implies that she has found the strength to triumph over her emotions, Mrs. Baroda approaches her husband and offers a sweetly ambiguous statement that reopens the question of her intent to act upon her emotions. She tells him, "I have overcome everything! You will see. This time I shall be very nice to him." At first glance, this statement seems to suggest that Mrs. Baroda has regained control of her emotions. Overcoming "everything" seems to mean that she has overcome not only her displeasure about Gouvernail, but also her unrespectable romantic feelings. However, because she modulates her announcement with the insinuation that she will be “very nice” to him on his next visit, she may mean that after overcoming her doubts and her mental restrictions, she has decided to sate her desires in favor of having an affair. Chopin purposely leaves the meaning of this declaration unclear, but knowing what we know about her understanding attitude toward female sexual independence in The Awakening and in her short story "The Kiss," we might infer that Chopin is entertaining the idea that Mrs. Baroda will resist the ethical standards of her society and discover more about her needs and available choices as a woman.
Thus, depending on whether we read Mrs. Baroda's final decision as a repression of her desires or as a plan to pursue fulfillment of her emotions, our interpretation of Mrs. Baroda's character development can take one of two radically different paths. In the first case, we can view Mrs. Baroda as a woman who has never before faced any true emotional tests in her comfortable life as the mistress of her plantation. In this account of the story, Mrs. Baroda then undergoes a mental conflict within herself, and the climax of the story occurs at her decision to leave Gouvernail and take the train to the city--while she reminds herself that she is a respectable woman. She does not choose to see Gouvernail again until, some months later, she determines that she has defeated her baser emotions, and her assurance to Gaston Baroda indicates that she will feel free to treat Gouvernail with more courtesy, since she is no longer attracted to him.
Although this possible interpretation of "A Respectable Woman" would provide an interesting study of a character who discovers the strength of her will, the second main interpretation of the story is in many ways more interesting in its implications. In the alternative analysis, Mrs. Baroda effectively makes the same manner of choice as little Mrs. Sommers of "A Pair of Silk Stockings" and decides to indulge herself when Gouvernail visits. She faces a similar conflict within herself, but she comes to realize that she considers her individual identity as a woman to be more important than her social identity as a respectable woman. The fact that she initially does not understand her troubled feelings about Gouvernail suggests that she has never felt the same spark with her husband, although like the husband in Chopin's "The Story of an Hour," Gaston appears to be a kindly and worthy man. By choosing to invite Gouvernail for a second visit, she shows that she has developed a new comprehension and appreciation of herself, and in possibly having an affair, she hopes to find what has previously been missing in her life.

A related issue besides that of female sexuality in "A Respectable Woman" is that of female independence. Mrs. Baroda is like Louise Mallard of "The Story of an Hour" in that her marriage, while pleasant, has limited her experiences in a way that Chopin deems unacceptable. Indeed, traditional, respectable marriage in Mrs. Baroda’s milieu does not permit affairs. Just as Louise Mallard realizes upon the news of her husband's death that life as a widow is the same as a life of freedom, Mrs. Baroda makes a smaller but equally significant decision in choosing to ignore the sexual and emotional bonds of marriage in order to expand her horizons. As in the case of La Folle, the protagonist in "Beyond the Bayou," many of Chopin's female heroines triumph by challenging, transgressing, or overcoming boundaries, and Mrs. Baroda is no exception. Her boundaries are implemented through the social idea of respectability.
Notably, Chopin never introduces Mrs. Baroda's first name, suggesting that she has previously identified herself in terms of her attachment to her husband, but it may be that her future affair will allow her to reclaim a stronger individual identity and sense of self.

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