Kate Chopin

A Pair of Silk Stockings

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A Pair of Silk Stockings Summary

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A Pair of Silk Stockings by Kate Chopin is a short story originally published in the September 1897 issue of Vogue. The main character is Mrs. Sommers, who receives a windfall of money and chooses not to spend it on her children, but rather on herself. The windfall itself is fifteen dollars, a sum equivalent to  over 400 dollars in 2016. Initially, she plans to buy her children new clothes with the money. Chopin suggests that Mrs. Sommers was at one point quite wealthy.

Before she can buy clothing for her children, she comes upon a pair of silk stockings. They are smooth enough to entice her to forego buying children’s clothes and purchase the stockings instead. Yet, she doesn’t stop there. Mrs. Sommers also buys herself boots, gloves, magazines, an expensive lunch, chocolates, and theater tickets. After the show ends, she makes her way home on a cable car, wishing that it would never stop. For once it does, not only must she return to more modest means, but she must see her children, whom she denied new clothes in favor of spoiling herself for an afternoon.

The story was well received, as were Chopin’s other short stories (many of which were published in Vogue). The stockings  represent consumerism and the temporary joy found in the self-satisfying act of pursuing enjoyment. It’s important to note that Chopin hints at Mrs. Sommers’ economic and therefore social decline following her marriage in three ways. She uses Mrs. Sommers’ thoughts themselves, describes  Mrs. Sommers as “little, and” Finally, she shows Mrs. Sommers as exhausted until the moment she encounters the silk stockings. Upon finding them, she is rejuvenated, though that rejuvenation from her afternoon of retail therapy as it was is short-lived.

Kate Chopin was an American author who wrote novels and short stories. She was born in 1850 and died in 1904, and she is credited as an influence for future 20th century feminist authors, such as Zelda Fitzgerald. Many of her stories were criticized as immoral. For example, in A Pair of Silk Stockings, Mrs. Sommers’ decision to spend her windfall on herself instead of her children would have been frowned upon in the 1890s South. Following Chopin’s death, her works gained popularity for their boldness and technique.

Kate Chopin was known for depicting the lives of women, particularly as they attempted to create individual identities. While she herself didn’t openly champion feminist or suffragist ideas, she wrote realistically and seriously about women’s lives and the struggles they encountered. The strength of women is a common theme in her writing, and it is present in A Pair of Silk Stockings.

Mrs. Sommers can at first be brushed off as a selfish woman, spending her windfall on her own happiness. However, it’s important to remember what she’s given up since her marriage. To treat herself took strength, because it would have been frowned upon in a society that identified womanhood with motherhood above all else.

She is faced with a “man vs. society” conflict—or rather, woman vs. society. In buying the silk stockings, Mrs. Sommers sets out to self-identify. She purchases luxurious items and experiences in order to identify herself as someone of high tastes and high society. However, it is society itself that would judge her for abandoning her plan to treat her children to newer, finer clothing in favor of treating herself.

Beyond that, society would judge her for identifying as anything other than a mother. She should be, in their minds, concerned with family first and herself second. Instead, Mrs. Sommers is as human as anyone else, and therefore as prone to desiring finer things. She ceases to think logically, and in so doing, discovers and unleashes her own identity. That same identity is the one she put away for marriage, the one she put away in order to conform to societal standards.

Rebelling against pressure to conform frees her, even if only temporarily. This, however, does not mean that Mrs. Sommers loves her children any less. Instead, she is expressing a desire for freedom, something women continue to fight for long after the story was written and long after even Chopin’s own death. In fact, that freedom is one that Mrs. Sommers would continue to fight for and dream of even after the end of A Pair of Silk Stockings. This is one of the many reasons this story, along with many of Chopin’s works, continues to enjoy popularity.

In more recent years, Chopin was honored with a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame in St. Louis, Missouri in 1990. A bust of her head was placed at the Writer’s Corner in the Central West End neighborhood of St. Louis in 2012.