‘Her Letters’ by Kate Chopin

Her Letters by Kate Chopin, 1895

The magic trick:

Creating conflict out of a solution

This is an odd story. In some ways it’s a precursor to Chopin’s classic novel, The Awakening. But it’s theme is confused. It’s difficult to get a bead on which way its moral compass is pointing. Maybe morality isn’t the message.

Anyway, we have a man who finds himself in a crucial conflict. Should he read his dead wife’s bundle of letters? She has quite ingeniously marked them, “With perfect faith in his loyalty and his love, I ask him to destroy it unopened.”

Spoiler alert: he does not read them. That’s really not even a spoiler, though. The conflict arises early in the story and is solved shortly thereafter.

But ah, it’s not really solved at all. That’s the rub. The man’s solution to the problem does not provide closure. It only opens up a brutal attack of paranoia.

So what appeared to be resolution only winds up becoming the story’s central idea.

And that’s quite a trick on Chopin’s part.

The selection:

He took the package again in his hands, and turning it about and feeling it, discovered that it was composed of many letters tightly packed together.

So here were letters which she was asking him to destroy unopened. She had never seemed in her lifetime to have had a secret from him. He knew her to have been cold and passionless, but true, and watchful of his comfort and his happiness. Might he not be holding in his hands the secret of some other one, which had been confided to her and which she had promised to guard? But, no, she would have indicated the fact by some additional word or line. The secret was her own, something contained in these letters, and she wanted it to die with her.


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