A-Respectable-Woman-Summary-Analysis-and-Question-Answers-Grade-12-English-Section-2-Literature-Unit-1-Short-Stories
Grade 12: English 

Section Two: Literature

Unit 1: Short stories

Lesson 2. A Respectable Woman by Kate Chopin

Introduction

Kate Chopin, original name Katherine O’Flaherty (1851- 1904) was an American novelist and short-story writer. She was born and brought up in St. Louis and lived in New Orleans after getting married to Oscar Chopin. Her first novel At Fault appeared in 1890 and the second novel The Awakening in 1899. She wrote more than 100 short stories and among them, ‘Disiree’s Baby’, ‘Madame Celestin’s Divorce’ and ‘A Respectable Woman’ are more anthologized than others. The language in her novels and short stories is full of s**ual connotations and her novel The Awakening was condemned for its sexual frankness and the publishers had refrained from publishing it. Later after 1950, her works were reinterpreted and she was praised for depicting modern sensibility. The story ‘A Respectable Woman’ is taken out from her collection The Awakening and Other Short Stories (2005). The short story ‘A Respectable Woman’ is structured around the character of Mrs. Baroda and her inner conflict as she finds herself attracted to her husband's friend. The conflict follows the pattern of classical fiction and moves from exposition to rising action and then to climax and resolution.

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Characters:

  • 1. Gaston Baroda: the husband 
  • 2. Mrs. Baroda: the wife of Gaston Baroda who is attracted towards her husband’s friend
  • 3. Gouvernail: friend of Gaston Baroda who visits the family

Summary of the short story "A Respectable Woman" by Kate Chopin.

Mrs. Baroda is a little disappointed to learn that her husband expects his friend Gouvernail to spend a week or two at their plantation as they had been busy all winter, and she had planned a period of rest and conversation with her husband Gaston Baroda. She has never met Gouvernail, although she knows that he and her husband had been friends in college and that he is now a journalist. She pictures him as a tall, slim, cynical man with eyeglasses and did not like the mental image, but when she meets the slim but neither tall nor cynical Gouvernail, she finds that she was actually wrong in her perception and she indeed likes him in her first encounter with him.

Mrs. Baroda cannot explain why she likes Gouvernail, since she does not see all of the positive traits described by Gaston. He does not seem brilliant, but he does seem quiet and courteous in response to her eagerness to welcome him and her husband's hospitality. He makes no direct appeal to impress her otherwise, and he enjoys sitting on the portico (porch) and listening to Gaston’s experience as a sugar planter. But, he does not like to fish or hunt.

Although Gouvernail puzzles Mrs. Baroda, he is a lovable and inoffensive fellow. She leaves him alone with her husband at first but soon begins to accompany him on walks as she attempts to penetrate (enter) into the reserve in which he has unconsciously enveloped himself. Her husband tells her that he will stay for another week and asks why she does not wish him to stay. She responds that she would prefer him to be more demanding, which amuses Gaston.

Gaston tells Mrs. Baroda that Gouvernail does not expect a commotion (confusion and disturbance) over his presence and that he simply wishes for a break from his busy life, although she declares that she expected him to be more interesting. Later that night, she sits by herself on a bench, feeling confused and wanting to leave the plantation for a while, having told her husband that she is go to the city in the morning and will be with her aunt. Then Gouvernail happens to pass by and notices her sitting there and goes near her and seats himself next to her, not knowing her displeasure at his presence.

Gouvernail hands her a scarf on Gaston's behalf and murmurs about the night, and his silence disappears as he becomes talkative for the first time. He speaks to her of the old days and of his desire for a peaceful existence. She does not listen to his words so much as his voice, and she thinks of drawing him closer, although she resists because she is "a respectable woman." The stronger the impulse grows to bring herself near him, the further, in fact, does she draw away from him. Eventually, she leaves, and Gouvernail remains behind, finishing his address to the night.

Mrs. Baroda wants to tell Gaston of her strange folly (craziness), but she realizes sensibly that she must handle this feeling by herself. Besides being a respectable woman she is a very sensible one; and she knows there are some battles in life which a human being must fight alone. The next morning, she leaves for the city and does not return until Gouvernail departs. Gaston wants Gouvernail to return the next summer, but she refuses. She later changes her mind, delighting her husband, who tells her that Gouvernail did not deserve her dislike. She kisses her husband and tells him that she has "overcome everything" and that she will now treat him more nicely.

Thematic Analysis of the short story "A Respectable Woman" by Kate Chopin:

‘A Respectable Woman’ is structured around the character of Mrs. Baroda and her inner conflict as she finds herself attracted to her husband's friend. The conflict follows the pattern of classical fiction and moves from exposition to rising action and then to climax and resolution. In "A Respectable Woman," Kate Chopin delves into the psychology of Mrs. Baroda, a wealthy woman with a loving husband who faces temptation in the person of Gouvernail, a polite, unassuming visitor to the Baroda plantation. Mrs. Baroda does not instantly recognize what she really wants and eventually struggles with the self-imposed limitations of her identity as "a respectable woman." 

Nevertheless, just as the narrative implies that she has found the strength to triumph over her emotions, Mrs. Baroda approaches her husband and offers a sweetly ambiguous statement that reopens the question of her intent to act upon her emotions. She tells him, "I have overcome everything! You will see. This time I shall be very nice to him." At first glance, this statement seems to suggest that Mrs. Baroda has regained control of her emotions. Overcoming "everything" seems to mean that she has overcome not only her displeasure about Gouvernail, but also her unrespectable romantic feelings. However, because she modulates her announcement with the insinuation that she will be “very nice” to him on his next visit, she may mean that after overcoming her doubts and her mental restrictions, she has decided to state her desires in favour of having an affair. Chopin purposely leaves the meaning of this declaration unclear, but knowing what we know about her understanding and attitude toward female sexual independence, we might infer that Chopin is entertaining the idea that Mrs. Baroda will resist the ethical standards of her society and discover more about her needs and available choices as a woman.

Thus, depending on whether we read Mrs. Baroda's final decision as a repression of her desires or as a plan to pursue fulfilment of her emotions, our interpretation of Mrs. Baroda's character development can take one of two radically different paths. In the first case, we can view Mrs. Baroda as a woman who has never before faced any true emotional tests in her comfortable life as the mistress of her plantation. In this account of the story, Mrs. Baroda then undergoes a mental conflict within herself, and the climax of the story occurs at her decision to leave Gouvernail and take the train to the city--while she reminds herself that she is a respectable woman. She does not choose to see Gouvernail again until, some months later, she determines that she has defeated her baser emotions, and her assurance to Gaston Baroda indicates that she will feel free to treat Gouvernail with more courtesy, since she is no longer attracted to him.

Although this possible interpretation of "A Respectable Woman" would provide an interesting study of a character who discovers the strength of her will, the second main interpretation of the story is in many ways more interesting in its implications. In the alternative analysis, Mrs. Baroda effectively decides to indulge herself when Gouvernail visits. She faces a conflict within herself, but she comes to realize that she considers her individual identity as a woman to be more important than her social identity as a respectable woman. The fact that she initially does not understand her troubled feelings about Gouvernail suggests that she has never felt the same spark with her husband, although Gaston appears to be a kindly and worthy man. By choosing to invite Gouvernail for a second visit, she shows that she has developed a new comprehension and appreciation of herself, and in possibly having an affair, she hopes to find what has previously been missing in her life. 

A related issue besides that of female sexuality in "A Respectable Woman" is that of female independence. Indeed, traditional, respectable marriage in Mrs. Baroda’s milieu does not permit affairs. Mrs. Baroda seems to make a significant decision in choosing to ignore the sexual and emotional bonds of marriage in order to expand her horizons. Many of Chopin's female heroines triumph by challenging, transgressing, or overcoming boundaries, and Mrs. Baroda is no exception. Her boundaries are implemented through the social idea of respectability.

Notably, Chopin never introduces Mrs. Baroda's first name, suggesting that she has previously identified herself in terms of her attachment to her husband, but it may be that her future affair will allow her to reclaim a stronger individual identity and sense of self.

Question Answers of the short story "A Respectable Woman" by Kate Chopin.

Exercises

Understanding the text:

Answer the following questions.

a. Why was Mrs. Baroda not happy with the information about Gouvernail’s visit to their farm?

Answer: Mrs. Baroda was not happy because she was looking forward to a period of unbroken rest with her husband, Gaston Baroda, just to get rid from their stressful lifestyle that lasted throughout the whole winter season. In addition, Mrs. Baroda was already displeased with the information she'd received regarding Gouvernail from her husband and she had formed a different picture of him in her mind as he was a guy she'd heard a lot about but had never seen until that point in time.

b. How was Gouvernail different from Mrs. Baroda’s expectation?

Answer: She had never met Gouvernail, although she knew that he and her husband had been friends in college and that he was now a journalist. She pictured him as a tall, slim, cynical man with eyeglasses and did not like the mental image, but when she met the slim but neither tall nor cynical Gouvernail, she found that she was actually wrong in her perception and she indeed liked him in her first encounter with him. She also had a conversation with him one night on her estate that changed her hatred for him into a desire to establish a relationship with him.

c. How does Mrs. Baroda compare Gouvernail with her husband?

Answer: Actually, she could not discover those brilliant and promising traits which Gaston, her husband, had said her about Gouvernail. On the contrary, he sat rather mute and receptive before her chatty eagerness to make him feel at home and in face of Gaston’s frank and wordy hospitality. Gouvernail’s personality puzzled Mrs. Baroda at first as it was quite opposite to her husband’s personality, but she liked him (Gouvernail). Indeed, he was a lovable, inoffensive fellow.

d. Why and how did Mrs. Baroda try to change Gouvernail’s solitary habits?

Answer: Unlike her initial presupposition, she started liking Gouvernail. Indeed, she realized that he was a lovable, inoffensive fellow. Once while sitting together she tried to enter into his solitary habits but was pushed aside by the social conviction about a respectable woman. But at last, she assured her husband that she would be nice to him. It revealed her inner desire to make him open, frank and somewhat friendly with her.

e. How does Gaston disagree with his wife on Gouvernail’s character?

Answer: Gaston disagrees with his wife on Gouvernail's character because she says that Gouvernail is not friendly, less talkative and an uninteresting guy. He replies that Gouvernail is a very good and respectable person and is a man of ideas. So, she should not treat him like the way she did before.

f. Why is Gaston surprised with his wife’s expression towards the end of the story?

Answer: Eventually, she proposes, wholly from herself, to have Gouvernail visit them again. Therefore, Gaston is surprised and delighted with his wife’s expression and suggestion towards the end of the story.

Reference to the context:

a. What is the cause of conflict in Mrs. Baroda’s mind? What role does Mrs. Baroda ‘being a respectable woman’ play in this story?

Answer: ‘A Respectable Woman’ is structured around the character of Mrs. Baroda and her inner conflict as she finds herself attracted to her husband's friend. But being a respectable woman, she has to supress her inner desire to go close to her husband’s friend. It means she is pushed apart from him because of social conviction. The primary concern of Kate Chopin's short story "A Respectable Woman" is desire vs discipline. The feeling of being a respectable woman controls her urges and feelings for him. (Go through thematic analysis for more details.)

b. Sketch the character of Gouvernail and contrast it with Gaston.

Answer: We know about Gouvernail through his friend Gaston that they had been college friends and who is now working as a journalist. He is "in no way a society guy" or "a man about town," and that he is a heavy smoker. Gouvernail is a reserved guy, who does not talk much and who is simply boring and unexciting from the point of view of Mrs. Baroda. Whereas, on the other hand, Gaston is a sociable, frank and friendly guy.

c. Why does Mrs. Baroda not disclose her feelings towards Gouvernail to her husband?

Answer: Mrs. Baroda is greatly tempted that night to disclose her feelings towards Gouvernail to her husband. But she does not yield (surrender) to the temptation. Besides being a respectable woman she is a very sensible one; and she knows there are some battles in life which a human being must fight alone.

d. The last three sentences of the story bring a kind of twist. After reading these three sentences, how do you analyze Mrs. Baroda’s attitude towards Gouvernail?

Answer: It is obvious that there is a kind of twist in the last three sentences of the story. Nevertheless, just as the narrative implies that she has found the strength to triumph over her emotions, Mrs. Baroda approaches her husband and offers a sweetly ambiguous statement that reopens the question of her intent to act upon her emotions. She tells him, "I have overcome everything! You will see. This time I shall be very nice to him." At first glance, this statement seems to suggest that Mrs. Baroda has regained control of her emotions. Overcoming "everything" seems to mean that she has overcome not only her displeasure about Gouvernail, but also her unrespectable romantic feelings. However, because she modulates her announcement with the implication that she will be “very nice” to him on his next visit, she may mean that after overcoming her doubts and her mental restrictions, she has decided to state her desires in favour of having an affair. Chopin purposely leaves the meaning of this declaration unclear, but knowing what we know about her understanding and attitude toward female sexual independence, we might infer that Chopin is entertaining the idea that Mrs. Baroda will resist the ethical standards of her society and discover more about her needs and available choices as a woman. (Go through the thematic analysis for more details.)

Reference beyond the text:

a. The entry of an outsider into a family has been a recurring subject in both literature and movies. Narrate a story real or imaginative where an outsider’s arrival destroys the intimate relationship between the husband and the wife and causes break up in marital relationship without the direct mistake of anyone. Anton Chekhov’s story ‘About Love’ is the story on this subject.

Answer:About Love” is a classic Russian story by Anton Chekhov. In the story, Chekhov compares three love stories to show that “Love” is not limited by marital ties. He believes in genuine spiritual love. Morality, sin, virtue, social position, class, and reputation have nothing to do with love.

About Love” presents three different love stories. The first love is of Nikanor and Pelageya, the second is of Alyohin and a Russian girl, and the third between Alyohin and a married woman, Anna. The Love of Alyohin and Anna depicts the dynamics of romantic love almost at platonic level. It tries to show that ‘love’ as such is not bound by marital (conjugal) relations.

The first story is an example of violent love story. The main character- Nikanor- was a drunkard, and interestingly of religious minded. In due course of his stay in Alyohin’s house, he fell in love with Pelageya. He insisted that Pelageya should marry him because his religious convictions did not allow him to live with her without marriage. Sometime he used to beat her in his intoxicated state. To prevent herself from him she used to hide upstairs and sob. The second love-story is the materialistic love. The lady is concerned with the money only. Every time Alyohin held her in his arm, she used to ask for a month’s allowance. The third story, which is the main story, is the unexpressed/unfulfilled love which is spiritual/platonic in nature. It presents a sequence of events in the life of Alyohin and his attraction towards Anna.

According to the story, Alyohin was a student and his father was a farmer. Therefore, his father spent the amount needed for his study at university by mortgaging the estate. Because of it, he was in debt. To pay debt Alyohin had no options but to return to his farm at Sofyino and work hard until he paid off the debt. However, his desire to live civilized life continued and to fulfill it, he stayed upstairs, read books, and drank liquor but it did not last long. One night a priest came and drank the whole of his liquor. From that day onwards he started living downstairs and slept on the sledge in the shed (small hut) and began to eat in the servant’s kitchen.

Before he was here, he was appointed as honorary justice of the peace in town. During this period, he came in contact with Luganovich, who surprisingly invited Alyohin for dinner in his home. When they were having dinner, he got an opportunity to see Anna. From the very first sight, he started to like her. He found her beautiful, impressive and elegant. Hence, his first meeting with the lady became an unforgettable event. It was spring when he met her. In the summer, he was in his farm, but the memory of the lady hunted him. He desired very much to meet her, but could not meet until autumn. In autumn, he went to the town for a charity show where he luckily saw Anna. She showed her worry about Alyohin and wondered at his condition. After the show was over, he went to Anna’s house, talked with her husband, but returned back as usual without confessing his love for her.

After that, he kept on going to her house in his every visit to the town. At Anna’s house, he was welcomed cordially and regarded as noble fellow. When he met her, she would play piano with him, talk for hours, but they could not express their inner feelings to each other. The Luganoviches sometimes requested him not to hesitate in asking for any kind of help. He took some gifts from them and in return, he brought gifts from the village. But he never accepted money from them.

Days passed in the same ways; but both of them could not express their love for each other. They were bound to bottle up their passion/love because of social restrictions. At last, Anna’s behavior had been changed. She would frequently go to her mother and sister. She began to be moody. She felt that her life was unsatisfactory and ruined. At such times she did not care to see her husband or her children. Finally, she suffered from nervous breakdown/prostration.

At last, Luganovich was transferred to the western provinces and Anna had to go to Crimea for her mental treatment. When it was the time for Anna’s departure, a lot of people had come to the railway station to see her off. She had said goodbye to her husband and her children and entered the compartment. But coincidently, she had forgotten her basket. Alyohin entered into the compartment of Anna with it and then he had to say goodbye. When their eyes met together, their spiritual strength left them. He took her in his arms. She pressed her face to his breast, and tears flowed from her eyes. Kissing her face, he said that he loved her. In this way, they confessed their love for the first time and also parted forever. Alyohin got down in the next station and walked home to Sofyino.

This story has a frame. In the beginning the sky is grey and the trees are drenched. The environment is gloomy. In the end, when Alyohin unloads his heart (pours out his feelings/emotions/ passions toward Anna) the shining sun appears, after the rainfall. Alyohin tells this story in between this frame to his two guests: Burkin and Ivan.

b. Mrs. Baroda makes an expectation about Gouvernail even before meeting him. Suppose you are a mature girl/boy and your family members are giving you pressure for getting married. Write in about 200 words describing what qualities you would like to get in your future husband/wife.

Answer: We all want to have a good partner in our life who can remain as a backbone throughout our life. So I do believe that the following invaluable traits/qualities must be there in a future husband/wife for a happy and prosperous conjugal life.

1. Maturity - It is the quality of thinking and behaving in a sensible, and adult manner.

2. Openness – It is the quality of being able to think about, accept or listen to different ideas or people.

3. Honesty & Integrity - It is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.

4. Respect & Independence – It is a feeling of admiration for somebody because of their good qualities or achievements and a polite behaviour towards or care for somebody that you think is important.

5. Empathy - It is the ability to understand another person’s feelings, experience, etc.

6. Affection - It is the feeling of liking or loving somebody very much and caring about them.

7. Sense of Humour - It is the ability to laugh at one’s self and at life’s shortcomings that allows a person to maintain a proper perspective when dealing with sensitive issues that arise within the relationship.

Include the aforementioned points or qualities to produce your answer.

- ©drg/Indra Bhusal/Jhalak Rana

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