Racial politics and the literary marketplace in the local color fiction of Kate Chopin

Mary Victoria Lamothe, Fordham University


Issues of black power, miscegenation, the breakup of the plantation and slave economies, and post-bellum poverty in the South all recur throughout Kate Chopin's local color fiction and inform the portrayals of power and gender that have invited critical scrutiny. Examining the author in relation to the racial and gender constructions of the culture that fueled the literary marketplace, I view Chopin's more feminist, canonical fiction through the lens of her successful children's-market fiction to reveal her uses of conservative ideology of racial hierarchy. Kate Chopin published stories remarkably similar to those of the conservative children's market in adult, urbane journals like the Atlantic Monthly. In spite of its progressive history and reputation, the Atlantic was solely interested in Chopin's writing that rebuilds Old South race and power structures. The fact that such a large percentage of her financially successful writing served a conservative ideological function reflects the desire of publishers to rewrite the history of American race relations. In order to explore the importance of race in Chopin's writing career, I examine the ideologies of the Atlantic Monthly and similar publications, their editors and their editorial policies. Finally, I demonstrate the relationship between Chopin's publication of racist literature in the Atlantic and the youth-oriented periodicals and her more canonical, feminist literature. Stories such as “La Belle Zoraïde,” “Athenaïse,” and “Desirée's Baby” have been widely anthologized and often embraced as examples of Chopin's subtle workings of freedom and power questions to which she returns in greater detail in works like “Story of an Hour” and The Awakening. I argue, however, that Chopin reserves her discussion of social and sexual liberty for white women; her African American characters who seem to be foci of sympathy or respect actually function as lessons for or assistants to white women.

Subject Area

Literature|American literature|American history|African Americans

Recommended Citation

Lamothe, Mary Victoria, "Racial politics and the literary marketplace in the local color fiction of Kate Chopin" (2002). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3045130.