Kate Chopin and the Dilemma of Individualism
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In an exquisitely compact piece titled “Emancipation: A Life Fable,” Kate Chopin narrates the journey of a beast that has spent his entire life hitherto locked in a cage. Thanks to the “care and protection of an invisible protecting hand,” this creature has never wanted for anything: “When he thirsted, water was brought, and when he felt the need of rest, there was provided a bed of straw upon which to lie.”1 This snug existence has satisfied the creature so much that he had come to believe that there couldn’t possibly be more to the world than what experience has already shown him—that the narrow ray of sun that penetrates his dwelling “existed but to lighten his home.” But everything changes when, one day, the door accidentally swings open (presumably as a result of the owner’s carelessness). According to the narrator, the creature is initially quite put out to find the door ajar and would have closed it if not for the fact that “for such a task his limbs were purposeless.” Unable to shut himself off from the world outside, he finally pokes his head through the door. However, the immensity of the open sky and wide world prove overwhelming for this being that had never before seen beyond the four walls of his cage.
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