Regret by Kate Chopin
In Regret by Kate Chopin we have the theme of loss, loneliness, detachment, commitment, love, independence and responsibility. Taken from her A Night in Acadie collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Chopin may be exploring the theme of loss or at least the sense of loss that Mamzelle Aurélie feels in her life having never had children to love and cherish. It is also interesting that Chopin never mentions to the reader whether Mamzelle Aurélie has any friends. We know that she has work men on her farm and that Odile is a neighbour but there is no mention of any friends which may suggest that Mamzelle Aurélie is lonely. Possibly due to the fact that there is such a void in her life (no children). Though she is not fully aware of it till she looks after Odile’s children. If anything there is a sense that Mamzelle Aurélie is detached from the world around her or outside her farm.
The theme of commitment is self-evident in the story, most noticeably by the fact that all of Mamzelle Aurélie’s attention is on her farm. If anything at the beginning she considers the children’s arrival to be a hindrance to her daily duties and tasks. Though the more she grows fond of the children, the more she is able to show them the same commitment that she had previously shown to her land. It is also interesting that she is reliant on Aunt Ruby to help her. The reader aware that it is Aunt Ruby who is the more experienced of the two women having had children herself. How fond Mamzelle Aurélie is of the children is also noticeable by the fact that she allows Elodie to sleep with her. Also she grows accustomed to telling the children bed time stories. Where once the reader may have felt that Mamzelle Aurélie may have been a harsh or stubborn woman, the children and their arrival have softened her.
It is also noticeable that when it comes to matters of responsibility, Mamzelle Aurélie main focus has been on the farm. It is as if she has escaped from the realities of her life (no children) and thrown all her energies into trying to be a successful farmer. A role that would have predominantly been male orientated at the time the story was written. Whether Chopin is exploring the inequality between sexes is unclear or whether she is suggesting that males and females each have a role in life is really left to each reader to decide for themselves. Some critics may suggest that Mamzelle Aurélie is already successful and able to compete in a man’s world (successfully) while other critics may suggest that she has escaped from what is a normal instinct for many women, a desire to have children. Whichever way the reader looks at the situation it may be important to remember that at the time the story was written it would have been uncommon for a woman to have been both a successful business person and a mother too. If anything Mamzelle Aurélie has made a sacrifice by focusing on her business rather than on starting a family of her own.
It is also interesting that Mamzelle Aurélie is hesitant to fully commit to the children at the beginning probably because she is aware that by doing so there will be a change within her. Though it is noticeable that she does change. Something that becomes more obvious to the reader when Mamzelle Aurélie takes down her sewing basket in front of the children and she begins to wear her white apron. Symbolically this is significant as Mamzelle Aurélie in many ways, by changing her appearance is becoming a woman again. Or at least partaking in what would (at the time) been the commonly accepted practices for a woman. Where previously (at the beginning of the story) Mamzelle Aurélie was wearing a man’s hat and an old blue army overcoat she changes her clothes to something softer and more feminine (as perceived by society at the time).
The ending of the story is also interesting as for the first time the reader gets to see just how affected Mamzelle Aurélie is by the children’s departure. Though she may not necessarily wish to admit it. Chopin by having Mamzelle Aurélie crying in the manner of a man is possibly suggesting or highlighting not only how deeply Mamzelle Aurélie feels about the children but she may also be highlighting the regret that Mamzelle Aurélie is feeling due to her never having had any children of her own. It is also interesting that she is unaware of Ponto licking her hand as this might further suggest that Mamzelle Aurélie has realised that her life, rather than having meaning (and working on the farm) has no meaning that will satisfy her. Unlike Odile and her children.