Date of Award

1993

Document Type

Thesis

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Tom Greer

Second Advisor

Dr. Johnny Wink

Third Advisor

Dr. George Keck

Abstract

During the nineteenth century in America, women endured many restraints placed on them by society. These social restraints were often justified in the name of chivalry and the Bible. Fundamentalist religion, with its patriarchal nature and its strict moral code, hampered women's struggle for rights. The religious and social condemnation of divorce forced many women, rather than incurring the chastisement of society by seeking divorce from drunken and worthless husbands, to spend their lives in martyrdom. Most women also resented the limitations the chivalric code imposed on the full development of their minds and personalities. This code of chivalry led to the development of a "cult of domesticity, " which taught a woman to aspire to be "a beautiful, self-sacrificing being who made hearth and home her world, and lived only to nurture and inspire her husband and children. This "cult of domesticity" also involved a set of virtues to be possessed by the ideal woman. The national popular ideal of womanhood--as depicted in sermons, educational tracts, and other prescriptive literature--consisted of the virtues of piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity. Together, these virtues define a prescribed 'feminine nature' that many felt was contrary to woman's true nature. Some held that this prescribed nature was so entrenched as to render true feminine nature indiscernible.

It was into this society that Kate Chopin introduced her writing. In an era repressive to both women and creativity, Kate Chopin became a female writer whose insights made critics agree that she dealt realistically with the situation of women. She distinguished herself from the prevailing romantic literature and developed into a realist, critical of Victorian prudishness and of the limitations placed on women--an women as writers--of her time. The prescribed women's literature of the day portrayed certain stereotypical women: the wife, the sweetheart, the nurturer, the sinner, and the chaste widow. Kate Chopin created her own heroine--a woman who could not be categorized, would transcend the limits of society, and would realize her true nature. This heroine possessed certain qualities all centered on the theme of self-assertion repressed by an imposing, patriarchal society.

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