Summary of the Story A Respectable Woman
The story ‘A Respectable Woman’ has been written by Kate Chopin. Kate Chopin 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. She wrote more than a hundred short stories and among them ‘Desiree's Baby’, ‘Madame Celestin’s Divorce’ and ‘A Respectable Women’ are the most popular ones. The language which she used in her stories and novels are full of sexual connotations. The short story revolves around the character of Mrs Baroda and her inner conflict as she finds herself attracted to her husband's friend Gouvernail. The conflict follows the pattern of classical fiction and moves from exposition to rising action and then to climax and resolution.
Mrs Baroda finds Mr Gouvernail staying with them in the sugar plantation. She is dissatisfied that they have been doing a lot of fun. She has hoped to take a rest but. She is also upset because her husband's friend Gouvernail is planning to stay a week or two at their plantation. She has never met Gouvernail, despite the fact that she is aware that Gouvernail and her husband were friends in college and that he is now a successful journalist. Before the meeting, Mrs Badora has a mental image of him as a ‘tall, slim, cynical; with eye-glasses, and his hands in his pockets.’ But a paradoxical thing happens after then. When she meets Gouvernail, who is slim but neither tall nor cynical, she discovers that she really likes him.
Mrs Baroda gets wondered why she loves Gouvernail since he makes no special effort to impress her in any other way. In the same way, she is unsure why she likes Gouvernail because she does not see all of his positive characteristics.
He doesn't appear intelligent, but in reaction to her excitement to welcome him and her husband's hospitality, he appears quiet and kind. He loves sitting on the field and listening to Gaston explaining sugar plantation methods. He does not seem to be very bright, but he does appear calm and polite. Mrs Baroda finds Gouvernail to be a little confusing, yet she finds him to be charming and inoffensive.
Unlike what she has heard from her husband Gaston, she finds him, way better than heard. She first leaves him alone with her husband, but as she works to overcome his nervousness, she begins to accompany him on walks. Her husband informs her that he will be staying another week and inquires as to why she does not want him to. Gaston is delighted when she says that she prefers him to be more demanding.
Mrs Baroda claims that she expected Gouvernail to be more interesting. Gaston tells her that he does not expect disturbance over his visit and that he just wants a break from his busy life. She sits alone on a bench later that night, puzzled and desiring to leave the plantation, having told her husband that she might go to the city in the morning and stay with her aunt.
She goes for the city the next morning and does not return until Gouvernail has left the city. Gaston requests that Gouvernail return the next summer, but she rejects. She subsequently changes her mind, much to her husband's surprise, who assures her that Gouvernail has not deserved her disapproval. She tells her husband, adding that she would now treat him with greater hospitality by kissing him and vows that she has "overcome everything”. In this way, the story ends.
Author of A Respectable Woman - Kate Chopin
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 the novel The Awakening in 1899. She has written more than 100 short stories and among them, ‘Desiree'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 sexual 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).
Main Characters of the Story
Mrs Baroda: the protagonist of the story wife of Gaston Baroda
Gouvernail: journalist, a college friend of Mrs Baroda's husband
Gaston Baroda: Mrs Baroda's husband.
Setting: Sugar plantation in the winter
Exercise of A Respectable Woman
Understanding the text
a. Why was Mrs Baroda unhappy with the information about Gouvernail's visit to their farm?
→ Mrs Baroda was unhappy because her husband's friend Gouvernail was intending to spend a week or two at their plantation, as she had planned a period of time for rest and relaxation which she had talked to her husband Gaston Baroda after they had been busy all winter.
b. How was Gouvernail different from Mrs Baroda's expectation?
→Gouvernall was different from Mrs Baroda's expectation as she imagined him to be tall, thin, and cynical, wearing eyeglasses but when she met him, he was neither tall nor cynical. She didn’t believe him as smart and clever but her mental sketch was totally different when she met her.
c. How does Mrs Baroda compare Gouvernail with her husband?
→Mrs Baroda finds Gouvernail attractive, but she does not perceive the same traits in him as her husband. She couldn't find any of the brilliant qualities that Gaston, her husband, had. Mrs Baroda considers him unsociable in comparison to her husband because he does not appear to be paying attention to her.
d. Why and how did Mrs Baroda try to change Gouvernail's solitary habits?
→Mrs Baroda wanted Gouvernail as more talkative and frank to her. She also wanted he should pay attention to her that’s why she tried to change his solitary habits. She expected him to be more interesting.
She attempted to change her solitary habits by assuring him to be more talkative and adaptable to the situation.
e. How does Gaston disagree with his wife on Gouvernail's character?
→Gaston disagrees with his wife's on Gouvernail's character as she has remarked his character as the less interesting and shy person/guy but Gaston remarks to him that he is a remarkable, friendly, interesting, and talkative figure.
f. Why is Gaston surprised with his wife's expression towards the end of the story?
→Gaston is surprised with his wife's expression towards the end of the story because she proposes by herself to have Gouvernail visit them again before the year ended which he has not ever expected from her side.
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 the story?
→The cause of conflict in Mrs Baroda’s mind is her mental image of Governail and the real character and his looks. In the same way, her attraction to her husband's friend is also the main cause of conflict in Mrs Baroda's mind. Mrs Baroda appears to be bound by society's perception of what makes a respectable woman.
Mrs Baroda seems to be attracted to Gouvernail, but she controls her urges to touch his face because she believes that she is a respectable woman and is probably afraid of what society might think of her. She controls herself.
b. Sketch the character of Gouvernail and contrast it with Gaston.
→ From the short story "A Respectable Woman", we can find that Gouvernail in the present is a journalist. He is not as social as his friend Gaston since he does not appear to pay enough attention to the people around him. Gaston is the story's only supporting character. He highly appreciates his friend Gouvernail, describing him as "intelligent" and a "man of ideas" to his wife.
c. Why does Mrs Baroda not disclose her feelings towards Gouvernail to her husband?
→ Mrs Baroda does not disclose her feelings towards Gouvernail to her husband because she appears in the story as a respectable woman. To be a respectable woman she has to follow the norms and values of society.
Mrs Baroda is well aware that society would view her actions because she is a married woman. Her beliefs about what makes a woman respectable in society take priority over her feelings and desires. Her fear of what society might think of her and her perception that she is a respectable woman prevented Mrs Baroda from telling her husband about her emotions for Gouvernail.
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?
→The last three sentences of the story bring a kind of twist in the story "A Respectable Woman". The story has presented a sudden change in Mrs Baroda's inner feelings and way of thinking in the last three sentences. She has found the courage to prevail over her emotions, she approaches her husband and makes a charmingly vague remark that reopens the issue of whether or not she intends to act on her feelings.
She tells him that "I have overcome everything! You'll find out soon enough. I'm going to be extra kind to him this time." At first sight, Mrs Baroda's remark seems to imply that she has recovered control over her emotions.
Overcoming "everything" seems to imply that she has triumphed over not just her dissatisfaction with Gouvernail, but also her unrespectable love emotions for him. Mrs Baroda has not only changed her mind about Gouvernail but she may also no longer be bound by society's view of what makes a respectable woman.
Mrs Baroda has achieved freedom outside of the boundaries of society. We can assume that Mrs Baroda has not only overcome her own and society's perceptions of what a respectable woman is, but she is also ready to pursue a relationship with Gouvernail by telling Gaston, “I shall be very nice to him."