"Even as a child she had lived her own small life all within herself. At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life—that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions." Description of Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin's The Awakening.
Kate Chopin is my literary hero for many reasons. Mainly, for the similarities I find in my life which has coincided with hers. Chopin's early, strict, religious upbringing, her later life in northern Louisiana, and her ability to buck the system through her writing, are all areas in which I can relate.
As a lover of literature and history, I was thrilled to discover a direct tie to Chopin recently. Researching my family online, I came across a book, Kate Chopin's private papers by Kate Chopin, Emily Toth, Per Seyersted, and Cheyenne Bonnell. In it is a note, showing she had rented her Cloutierville plantation to my family in 1898 for a period of one year. I was ecstatic!
Had my family known her? Or, did she simply have a business transaction with them? It's hard to tell, but in any case, their paths had crossed! From what I know of that side of my family, many of them were as free spirited as Kate which is what may have led to the transaction in the first place.
Many years ago, studying Chopin in my college English lit. class, I was awakened to her ability to stir the pot, to question the oppressors, to live more freely not only through her writing, but in her real life in a time when that wasn't so easy.
Now, in the twenty-first century, as a forty-one year old woman who has all the advantages that Chopin did not, I'm a wimp, a coward, a disgrace to feminists throughout the world. Oh, I write. I write much like she did on taboo subjects like race and homophobia, sexuality, book banning, censorship and religion. I write until tears and laughter and.....paranoia erupt out of me. Then, I delete.
Why? Unlike Kate Chopin, I cannot seem to escape my upbringing. Many of my conservative, religious friends are rejoicing! Not me. That "dual life" that Chopin uses to describe her character, unfortunately still exists today and it torments me. Will I ever feel free to truly express my innermost thoughts without society's stronghold on me? Friends and family don't make it easy.
I was speaking to my dad the other day. We have a very large family and he was talking about how my sisters and sister-in-law like to talk to him and vent about things. I said, "I know what you mean. I do it too, just through my writing, online, but I end up deleting everything."
He and my step-mom live in an extremely conservative part of the country. Think George Bush, Jr. territory. He told me that my step-mom shows him my writing and she has printed everything. He said she has a folder full of my writing if I ever want it. Then, he said, "I don't know why she prints everything, maybe to blackmail you with." I responded with a flippant, "Well, it's not like I'm running for office or anything."
I had known that some of my friends and family talk about me, that they are embarrassed by my public shows of enlightenment and my challenges to perceived authority. They are not what control me. They, with their differing viewpoints and/or fear of having an open mind don't deter me.
I know that I shackle myself. When I finally break free, when I leave sarcasm at the door and write what's really inside me and I don't hit, "delete", I will have reached the courageousness of my hero, a person who was much stronger than me.