Analysis of THE KISS by KATE CHOPIN By contrasting the room’s “deep shadow” with the daylight that still exists outside the house, the first paragraph of “The Kiss” establishes a dark, intimate atmosphere while implying the presence of secrets and illicit emotions. This imagery thus foreshadows the revelation that Nathalie is plotting to marry the good-natured but unattractive and rather foolish Brantain while maintaining an affair with Mr. Harvy.
Brantain’s character is reminiscent of several other men in Kate Chopin’s stories, such as Brently Mallard in “The Story of an Hour” and Gaston Baroda in “A Respectable Woman,” in that Brantain is portrayed as a well-meaning and not dislikable man who loves his eventual wife but who fails to be desirable to her. Yet, we tend to feel little or no sympathy for the man because Chopin tells the story through the eyes of the female protagonist, who has her own aims.
Unlike most of the heroines of Chopin’s stories, Nathalie does not face any emotional trials or true mental conflict. Instead, she acts as a woman who has already realized her potential and ability to satisfy her desires and who now tries to adjust the actions of those around her in order to suit her wishes. In a way, Nathalie takes the hidden motivations of Chopin’s protagonists and takes them to an unpalatable extreme, since Nathalie here is portrayed as having a calculating, imperious nature.
Even so, Chopin portrays Nathalie sympathetically in that we come to applaud her skill in turning bad luck into a coup de grace; what initially appears to be the destruction of her carefully arranged engagement turns into an opportunity to carry on her affair right in front of her husband. Later, when Harvy ironically fails to become one of her pawns, she shows her practical side and acknowledges her defeat, not only without rancor but even with an almost amused, philosophic resignation.
Nathalie’s machinations juxtapose Harvy with Brantain, who in his uncomplicated nature and uninteresting appearance serves as a foil for the more dashing and intelligent Mr. Harvy. Brantain and Harvy respectively correspond to two alternate paths for marriage, where the former represents worldly riches and the sensible path, and the latter represents a more passionate and romantic, but less socially useful, approach. Nathalie clearly decides, when Mr. Harvy ends their relationship, that the first will suffice, at least for now. Indeed, she benefits more from Brantain’s assets han Harvy’s since, as a nineteenth-century woman from the upper class, she will have a great deal of time to cultivate new affairs but has no likely way besides marriage to increase her material wealth and social status. Part of Nathalie’s overall success comes from the fact that she is nothing like the ideal Southern belle in anything other than her beauty. Chopin describes her as having “a delicious frankness of manner” and being “apparently very outspoken,” which contrasts with the softer image of femininity that prevailed during the time.
In addition, she chooses to be forthright in her seduction both of Brantain, with her “engaging but perturbed smile,” and of Harvy, with “lips [that] looked hungry for the kiss which they invited,” giving her a strength of personality of which Chopin apparently approves. She has fully claimed her sexuality, and she uses it with some skill in obtaining her goals. If Brantain is a foil for Harvy, then Harvy is ultimately Nathalie’s male counterpart. At first they are in on the affair together (and it is not clear how much Brantain ever really suspects).
As he shows when he frustrates Nathalie’s plans, however, Mr. Harvy differs from Brantain in that he understands Nathalie’s motives and has enough cunning to match her schemes. He also echoes Nathalie’s tension between passion and pragmatism, and like Nathalie, he eventually chooses his own well-being over love and romance. He surely has his own motives, and perhaps he does not merely worry that an affair with Nathalie or any married woman (or other women) is dangerous; perhaps he is hiding further secrets of his own.
In any case, both Harvey and Nathalie acknowledge that they may lose something from their decisions, but they do not particularly regret their actions. In the end, Harvy is a far better match in personality for Nathalie, but only Brantain will cede her the amount of autonomy and control that she requires. Biography of KATE CHOPIN Published in 1899, The Awakening created a scandal because of its portrayal of a strong, unconventional woman involved in an adulterous affair.
While Kate Chopin never flouted convention as strongly as did her fictitious heroine, she did exhibit an individuality and strength remarkable for upper-middle-class women of the time. Born on February 8, 1850, in St. Louis, Katherine O’Flaherty was the daughter of an immigrant Irish father and a French Creole mother. The O’Flahertys were members of the Creole social elite and were fairly well-off. When Kate was very young, her father Thomas O’Flaherty died in a work-related accident. He left behind a family of four generations of women all living in the same house.
Kate was very close to her maternal great-grandmother, Madame Charleville, who first introduced her to the world of storytelling. Madame Charleville spoke only French to Kate and told her elaborate, somewhat risque stories. Family tragedy surrounded the young Kate. When she was eleven, Madame Charleville died, and her half-brother George was killed while fighting in the Civil War for the Confederate side. Yet, Kate seems not to have completely despaired; she earned a reputation as the “Littlest Rebel” when she tore down a Union flag that had been tied to her front porch by Yankee soldiers.
Had Kate not been a young girl at the time, the incident might have resulted in serious consequences, but since she was, her act became famous as local legend. While attending a Catholic high school, Kate studied both French and English literature and became an accomplished pianist. She attended numerous social events and became very popular in St. Louis high society. She also became interested in the movement for women’s suffrage although she never became very politically active. When she was nineteen, she married Oscar Chopin, a twenty-five-year-old French-Creole businessman.
The couple moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, and later moved to Cloutierville in north central Louisiana. Kate and Oscar were very happy together and, like the Pontelliers in The Awakening, soon became immersed in aristocratic Louisiana society. A gentle man, Oscar tolerated Kate’s “unconventional” ways, even though relatives warned him not to. He treated Kate as an intellectual equal and apparently did not mind that she smoked, drank, and behaved as her own person. However, Kate’s period of married happiness did not last for long.
After giving birth to six children, Kate became a widow in 1883 when her husband died of swamp fever. Luckily, Oscar Chopin had been a successful businessman, and Kate did not have to worry about feeding her six children. She managed her husband’s business for a year but then moved back to St. Louis, only to have her mother die the following year. During this period of her life, she had one close friend named Dr. Frederick Kolbenheyer. Dr. Kolbenheyer was initially Kate’s obstetrician and her mother’s neighbor, but he soon came to play a very important role in her life.
Because of his influence, Kate began to study science, decided to abandon her Catholicism, and started to write and publish. In 1890, Kate Chopin wrote At Fault, her first novel. She also initially wrote a number of short stories, which were published in various magazines. Among her most famous short stories were “Desiree’s Baby,” which was published in her 1894 short story collection Bayou Folk and which details the fallout of the birth of a child of mixed race, and “The Story of an Hour,” which describes the reaction of a woman who learns of her husband’s death and dreams of her future independence.
In 1897, she published another collection of short fiction, A Night in Acadie. Chopin liked her writing to be spontaneous, and she generally wrote her stories all at once, with little or no revision. She also wrote in the living room, where her six children would constantly interrupt her. Kate also maintained her other interests, such as music; she generally wrote only one or two days a week and spent the other days going to musical or theatrical performances.
Chopin’s stories often deal with marriage and present an unconventional perspective on the theme. Her characters face choices between what society expects of them and what they really desire, and they usually decide to follow their own path rather than that of society. In her fiction, Chopin explores the special problems and dilemmas that women face and is unafraid to suggest that sometimes women want sex–or even independence. All of these themes appear in Kate Chopin’s second and final novel, The Awakening, which she published in 1899.
The novel caused a great deal of controversy because of what most critics perceived as her immorality, although the New York Times Book Review praised her writing. After the public uproar over The Awakening, Chopin wrote only seven short stories between 1900 and 1904. Her life ended on August 22, 1904, after she suffered a stroke while visiting the St. Louis World’s Fair. However, decades after her death, literary critics rediscovered her work and began to celebrate her stories for their strong perspectives on female independence and sexuality.