In Plain Sight

“Dead End.” Street sign seen through my window during Nor’easter # 2 (of 3, so far.) March 8, 2018

New England weather such as it right now, I’m reading more. Needing to replenish my books-to-read queue, between storms I stopped by The Book Rack, a funky, used-bookstore in Arlington, MA. Perusing its chock-a-block “Classics” section, I spotted a paperback edition of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and, vaguely remembering something about its feminist pedigree, gladly paid a whopping $3.00 for Chopin’s “masterpiece”—as declared by its faded, blue, time-worn cover.

The Awakening was first published in 1899, shocking Victorian readers with its frank acknowledgement of female sexuality. So there’s that. Kate Chopin, born in 1851, is a stunningly beautiful writer. So there’s that. The Awakening details how wealthy, New Orleans-based Creole families vacation pre-air conditioning. So there’s that.

There this, too:

Madame Lebrun was busily engaged at the sewing machine. A little black girl sat on the floor, and with her hands worked the treadle of the machine. [Madame Lebrun] does not take any chances which may be avoided of imperiling her health . . . The sewing machine made a resounding clatter in the room; it was a ponderous, bygone make. In the lulls, Robert and his mother exchanged bits of desultory conversation.  (p. 38, AVON BOOKS, 1972.)

What are we to make of this? Is that sarcastic remark regarding Madame Lebrun’s delicate health meant to elicit sympathy for the little black girl producing such resounding clatter? Maybe. A child performing a function most contemporaries of Madame Lebrun—who owns the resort where these Creole families vacation—would have performed themselves? Perhaps. So is Chapin slyly asking us to consider that child?

I wish I knew. Definitively. Because I so long to believe that this ground-breaking novelist saw her sewing room scene with woke eyes. But that Chopin supplies that little, black girl with the plainest of adjectives—I mean, c’mon! The sewing machine got fancier labels—but no name tells us something, I think. And that one family’s nanny is simply the quadroon says the same thing, too, I’m afraid.

But here’s the thing. Once I understood that a (probably very hot and thirsty and exhausted) little girl was in that sewing room, too, she participated in every paragraph I read. That nameless child started when, suddenly, Robert, a young man in his twenties, loudly whistled out the opened window to his brother, three stories below. Silently she took in Robert’s and his mother’s conversation—and, perhaps, gauged whatever they discussed in terms of more hardship for herself? She may have even noticed what Robert’s mother did not: that at the mention of Mrs. Pontellier—whose sexual awakening is what this book’s all about—the besotted young man blushed, maybe. Got flustered, maybe. (Chopin merely had him suddenly leave.)

I see you, little black girl. I see you, quadroon.





8 thoughts on “In Plain Sight

  1. Uh, Oh, my sweet sistah, Patricia, I typed my very heartfelt, detailed, and thorough response with all of my thoughts and ideas and something went wrong and it didn’t go through! Oh, no! I’ll try again another time or maybe I’ll have to do a shorter summary. WOW, I wonder what’s wrong? I’ll also write on your Facebook page. Sister, this was happening for a little bit early this year and it had happened a long time ago for a short while but it eventually corrected itself. I wonder what’s wrong? I’ll for sure write on your Facebook page and try again another time even if I have to do a shorter summary, my so, so very dearest and darling sistah and friend, Patricia!!!!! 🙂 <3

  2. My so, so very right on, wondrously wonderful soul sistahfriend Christian Quaker white woman I don’t think it’ll let me do a more detailed reply so I’ll try several shorter replies. YOU, sistah, just went straight to this black woman’s very heart and spirit as you truly SAW the little black slave girl in the story, and the quadroon, too. YOU, my sweet white sistah, so, so very much supported, affirmed, validated, recognized, and acknowledged ME as your ever-loving black sistah, other black women and girls, and all black people, too, as YOU truly deemed this precious little black girl, and the wonderful quadroon, too, as vital, as important, as WORTHY!!!!! YOU recognized and deemed the little black slave girl as important, that HER STORY, HER PERSPECTIVE were important, and for the special quadroon, too, and that surely their lives were very difficult!!!!!! 🙂 <3

  3. My precious sistah, Patricia, I, too, wish along with YOU that this brilliant feminist author with this feminist pedigree book WAS asking us to consider that so, so very dearest child. I just so love and my very heart and spirit soared and leapt for such joy when you wonderfully said, ” I see you, little black girl. I see you, quadroon.” WOW, my sweet white sistahfriend, Patricia, YOU just so, so very much moved me in my very heart of hearts and spirits with these so, so very precious, loving, caring, and kind words and YOU, Patricia, and all of this just mean the world to me and I just so, so very much love and cherish YOU, sisterfriend, and all you do here and as usual as always once again very graciously and generously straight from your so, so very beautiful heart and spirit!!!!! 🙂 <3

  4. How fun to go to The Book Rack to replenish your book supplies and to have even more to read with the fierce weather you are all having in your beloved area, Patricia! I’ve seen and heard on TV, NPR, and on the Web about the ferocious weather you are all having there and I’ve been praying so hard and so much for all of you as I do as always anyway that you are all safe and sound with this really inclement weather, my so, so very dearest and darling friend, Patricia!!!!!! 🙂 <3 I'm such a book lover, too, being an avid reader and a book addict, sistahfriend!!!!!! 🙂 <3

  5. Sister, I think of how sometimes back in the day and at present some white authors view the black persons in their writings with The White Gaze, in particular with The White Male Gaze. WOW, our Kate Chopin is just brilliant and I’m so, so very glad that she was a feminist and that her powerful book, The Awakening, has a feminist pedigree. I sure hope along with you that Chopin WAS very much indeed asking us to consider the so, so very dearest black little slave girl, her plight, her perspectives, her positioning. I’d not heard of Kate Chopin before, my friend!! WOW, I learn about such awesome new people and new great things from you, my dear, dearest, precious, Patricia!!!!! 🙂 <3

  6. My absolutely FANTASTIC sistah and friend, Patricia, the title of this very masterful composition in the written word is just perfect and perfectly fitting and applicable to the very great themes and topics of this salient and succinct, beautifully and brilliantly composed, engaging and endearing blog post article so emboldening, encouraging, and inspirational for me as your ever-loving black sistah!!!!! YOU have truly spoken to this black woman’s very heart and spirit here as you do as usual as always once again, sistah!!!!! 🙂 <3 The picture accompanying this very fine and excellent writing is just perfect here, picture-perfect, and gives ME and all of us a very vibrant idea and picture to show us even more how raging the weather has been in your precious area! Oh, how I so love when you once again as usual as always very graciously and generously feature and include such interesting and fascinating links with this awesome blog post articles and very many of your other riveting blog post articles, too, sistahfriend!!!!! 🙂 <3

  7. I meant to say also how I love how you question and challenge the possible White Gaze in wondering where our brilliant author Kate Chopin was at in all of this and I just so love as well how you love and cherish this little black slave girl and the quadroon as well in deeming them as important and worthy, and how along with this deep and precious love for these so very dear black characters in the book you just so, so very much love and cherish ME and other of your black sistahs and also your black brothahs, too, as your very own my and our so, so very right on, wondrously wonderful soul sistahfriend Christian Quaker white woman, Patricia!!!!! 🙂 <3 YOU ARE my very life's and eternal blessings and Spirit so, so very much loves and cherishes YOU A WHOLE LOT AND SO DO I A WHOLE LOT AND A WHOLE BUNCH, TOO!!!!! 🙂 <3 I thank-YOU and Spirit continually FOR YOU, Patricia, and FOR YOUR VERY PRESENCE IN MY VERY LIFE!!!! YAY for YOU, Patricia!!!! WOW!!!! YAY!!!! YAY YAY YAY YAY!!!!! YAY for our very sistahhood and friendship, Patricia!!!!! WOW!!!!! YAY!!!! YAY YAY YAY YAY!!!!! I feel even better and brighter with even more greatly added sheer joy and cheer from this very uplifting, beautiful, brilliantly beautiful blog post article here once again as usual as always, Patricia!!!!! 🙂 <3 YOU ARE such a joy and a blessing, my so, so very dearest and darling sistah and friend, Patricia!!!!!! 🙂 <3

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