The Unexpected by Kate Chopin
In The Unexpected by Kate Chopin we have the theme of freedom, control, independence, honesty, escape, love, change and responsibility. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Chopin may be exploring the theme of love. At the start of the story Randall and Dorothea are very much in love. Though it might be important to remember that they are still both young and what their definition of love may be is not necessarily what love actually is. Though some critics might also suggest that Dorothea is being selfish by refusing to marry Randall it is also possible that she is showing a degree of bravery, independence and honesty. Though she may not directly tell Randall she will not marry him. She may in fact be showing Randall compassion. She knows that he is very ill and does not wish to hurt him. There is also a sense that Dorothea would lose her freedom should she marry Randall. Randall needs someone to look after him and the onus would fall on Dorothea. A young woman who has yet to live her life. It is also possible that should Dorothea and Randall marry. Randall would be in control particularly when it came to financial matters.
It is as though by marrying Randall Dorothea would lose any independence that she has. Something that would have been commonplace for many women at the time the story was written. Society was male dominated and very few if any women had freedom or independence once they married. They had a role to play. That being a housewife and a mother. This may be something that is off putting to Dorothea. It might also be important to remember that Dorothea does not really have a responsibility to Randall. Though society might suggest she does because of her relationship with Randall. She is free to walk away from Randall at any time. She has not committed herself to marrying Randall nor is she going to. She remains a free and independent woman throughout the story. Something that some readers might disagree with. True an individual might think that Dorothea has an obligation to Randall however it might be important to remember that Randall is most likely Dorothea’s first love. She is young and can change her mind even if this goes against what society believes.
If Dorothea were to marry Randall the relationship would soon falter as Dorothea no longer loves Randall. Her reason for not loving Randall might not be palatable to some readers however she still has a right to make up her own mind on who she wants to marry. She is allowed to be independent without having to contend with what is expected of her by society. Which may be the point that Chopin is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that at the time the story was written many women married for the wrong reasons and as such lost the independence that they previously had. It might also be a case that Chopin is exploring the theme of change. It is not so much that Dorothea has changed but it might be more of a case that Randall has changed. No longer is he the man that Dorothea fell in love with. True her reasons for not wanting to marry Randall may be unpleasant but nonetheless they have to be respected. Dorothea knows that she will only end up becoming a nurse to Randall should they marry and she may want something more out of life. Something that Randall can’t give her.
The end of the story is also interesting as Dorothea appears to be attempting to escape when she goes out to the countryside. Such is the pressure she may feel over her relationship with Randall that Dorothea knows she has to go somewhere that is unfamiliar to her. Where she may not be known or judged. Which is something that Dorothea is leaving herself open to. Being judged by society for her refusal to look after Randall. It may also be symbolically important that while Dorothea is in the countryside there is a sense that she is alive. While the reader senses the spirit of death when Dorothea was at home talking to Randall. Two different locations make Dorothea feel two different things. She is free in the countryside with no obligation to Randall (or to society). Yet she may feel trapped when she is in the house talking to Randall. If anything by fleeing to the countryside Dorothea may symbolically feel as though she is also fleeing from the feelings of feeling trapped and controlled by society. The fact that Dorothea does what she does highlights to the reader the importance of freedom and independence to Dorothea. Though her decision may be harsh to some it is a decision she has to make in order to remain free. Should she marry Randall she would be under his and society’s control.