English Language and Literature ETDs

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Kate Chopin's extant fiction includes two novels and nearly one hundred short stories and sketches. The present study closely examines that fiction by chronological periods in order to present a coherent view of the author's artistic development and philosophical concerns.

Kate Chopin wrote her first novel, At Fault, after completing only a few short stories. Although the novel is clumsily executed, it introduces most of the themes which characterize her mature work. Her early stories, primarily designed for juvenile and family magazines, feature picturesque characters and sentimental resolutions. As she gradually developed less limiting markets for her work, Mrs. Chopin often abandoned sentimental resolutions, substituting a restatement or the central conflict for a resolution. Her approaches to her themes became much more direct, and she dealt frankly with the conflicts implicit in conventional social and religious codes. Her increasing concern with theme ultimately led her to a group of stories designed to convey specific ideas, often at the expense of character development and verisimilitude. At a point when her career as a short­ story writer appeared to be on the wane, she returned to the novel form and produced The Awakening, a work which was bitterly attacked for its candid treatment of adultery. Apparently discouraged by the novel's reception and unable to discover a new direction for her writing, Mrs. Chopin wrote little during her last years. The majority of her final stories were intended for Youth's Companion, a juvenile magazine which had published many of her early works.

Believing that "truth rests upon a shifting basis and is apt to be kaleidoscopic," Kate Chopin presents her themes by means of oppositions. Employing constant contrasts, she offers a view of the irony and the paradox which she saw as characteristic of the human situation. Her central theme, examined and explored in widely varying contexts, is the conflict between civilization and nature. Her protagonists, moved by contradictory social and natural forces, remain isolated and confused, unable to deny either their social conditioning or their natural impulses. Although she occasion­ally offers a resolution for the immediate fictional conflict, Mrs. Chopin consistently avoids final solutions. She insists upon her role as a recorder, not an interpreter, or reality.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

George Arms

Second Committee Member

Ernest W. Baughman

Third Committee Member

David Remley

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