A Pair Of Silk Stockings by Kate Chopin, 1897
The magic trick:
Encouraging the reader to expect a harsh judgment but delivering a conclusion that only adds sympathy
This is a very neat trick. You read this and you will likely fall into judgment trap. Perhaps it’s simply my inherent male point of view, or more likely it’s my familiarity with the classicly male point of view of stories by O. Henry and Guy de Maupassant, but I read this and began writing off Mrs. Sommers a terrible mother, a frivolous woman.
She is introduced as Little Mrs. Sommers, after all. It should have been a clue.
This story wants you to feed into your judgments and rigid expectations for 19th-century mothers. This story wants you to cringe with disgust as this woman dares to put herself first for just one day. This story wants you to automatically assume that the moral is don’t buy into materialism, it’s false pleasure.
But guess what? That’s not the story’s moral. Not really. Sure, it’s there if you want, I guess. But the comeuppance you’re expecting, the smash down to earth for Little Mrs. Sommers, it is never fully realized. Instead we only get a heartbreaking lament about cruel, cruel fate. Mrs. Sommers is the victim here, not the guilty party. And that’s quite a trick on Chopin’s part.
How good was the touch of the raw silk to her flesh! She felt like lying back in the cushioned chair and reveling for a while in the luxury of it. She did for a little while. Then she replaced her shoes, rolled the cotton stockings together and thrust them into her bag. After doing this she crossed straight over to the shoe department and took her seat to be fitted.
She was fastidious. The clerk could not make her out; he could not reconcile her shoes with her stockings, and she was not too easily pleased. She held back her skirts and turned her feet one way and her head another way as she glanced down at the polished, pointed-tipped boots. Her foot and ankle looked very pretty. She could not realize that they belonged to her and were a part of herself. She wanted an excellent and stylish fit, she told the young fellow who served her, and she did not mind the difference of a dollar or two more in the price so long as she got what she desired.
It was a long time since Mrs. Sommers had been fitted with gloves. On rare occasions when she had bought a pair they were always “bargains,” so cheap that it would have been preposterous and unreasonable to have expected them to be fitted to the hand.
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