In Possession of the Letter: Kate Chopin's "Her Letters"
Weinstock, Jeffrey, Department of English Language and Literature
Copyright 2002 by Northeastern University. Intellectual Property Rights owned by Jeffrey Weinstock. This material is copyrighted, and any further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without the permission of the copyright owner.
Chopin, Kate; American literature; Literature by women; American fiction -- 19th century;Self-actualization (Psychology) -- Fiction
Given all the attention to and debate surrounding Kate Chopin's novel, The Awakening, it is particularly interesting to note that Chopin experimented with the same themes of female sexual awakening, adultery, and gender constraints in several of her short stories including her obscure and brilliant short story "Her Letters," published in Vogue in 1895. This essay argues that "Her Letters" is in fact in many ways a less problematically feminist statement than The Awakening. As in the latter text, a conflict is structured in "Her Letters" between societal expectations of the wife's subordinance of thought, expression, and personhood to the needs of her husband and female desire for independence and recognition of sexual and social equality. The conclusions of the text are that women, like men, do indeed have sexual needs and desires, and that love, not social or financial status, is the foundation for marriage. At the same time, "Her Letters" also has a more general and uncanny conclusion which turns on the double-meaning of the term possession, considered both in the sense of ownership and control of property by an individual and in its opposite sense of control of an individual by an entity or idea. While highlighting the desire for self-possession, the disturbing effects of a bundle of letters on first an unnamed wife and then the equally anonymous husband demonstrate the ways in which subjectivity is constructed from without, that is, following psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, the ways in which language and culture "construct" or "constitute" identity.
Studies in American Fiction, 30:1 (Spring 2002): 45-62