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Chopin’s Lilacs and the Story of the Annunciation

Chopin’s Lilacs and the Story of the Annunciation

When the theologian Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza writes that the myth of the Virgin Mary “sanctions a deep psychological and institutional split” (59) among women in the Catholic tradition, she captures what Kate Chopin also captured in her story “Lilacs.” There, sisterhood between secular and religious women appears fragmented and nearly impossible. To scrutinize the division, Kate Chopin fashions her story around the portion of the Virgin Mary myth told in St. Luke’s gospel of the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus spoken to Mary by the archangel Gabriel. Working with that text, “Lilacs” mocks a tradition prizing virginity and separating the cloistered from the secular. Irony prevails, but so too does the sorrow born of religious restraint and condemnation. From the tension in the Annunciation between the virginal and the non-virginal comes ages of women divided from one another on the basis of chastity and divided internally into spiritual and physical selves.

Chopin’s “Lilacs” plays out this division on the grounds of a Sacred Heart convent and in the apartments of a Parisian mondaine to question whether a life almost wholly spiritual or a life almost wholly physical can be anything but the subject of ridicule. The narrator tempts us to enjoy the ridicule only to have us feel more painfully at the story’s end the dolorous effects of con strained desire, effects which diminish both nun and secular woman.

As a story that draws so heavily on the details and symbols of the Annunciation story, “Lilacs,” we could assume, would want to remind us of Mary’s (and, by extension, woman’s) salvific role as the vessel chosen by God to ensure humankind’s redemption. But “Lilacs” fails to announce the good news for women as it sees too clearly that what was salvific for humankind ended up dividing women within themselves and within the Catholic tradition because of that tradition’s insistence on Mary’s virginity before and after childbirth. This insistence separated the ideal virginal mother from real women and mothers whose joyously experienced sexuality closed the doors to work within the clerical ministry even until today. The Annunciation story for Kate Chopin is a story told at the expense of women’s sexuality and spirituality, full and complementary as they might have been. The notion of a failed annunciation, then, opens “Lilacs”: “Mme. Adrienne Farival never announced her coming.

A Critique of Puritanism in Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown

Young Goodman Brown: A Critique of Puritanism

Given Nathaniel Hawthorne’s background, it is not a stretch of the imagination to say that Young Goodman Brown is a critique of Puritanism. Hawthorne lived in the deeply scarred New England area, separated from puritanism by only one generation. His grandfather had been one the judges who presided over the Salem Witch trials. Some of the principle motifs that run through Hawthorne’s works are hidden sin, the supernatural, and the influence of evil. Ironically enough, puritanism is also a part of those tales. What then is the moral/ philosophical import of Young Goodman Brown? It suggests, in an allegorical sense, that puritanism is a deceptive religion that creates a false reality; one to which it is not righteous to belong.

In an allegorical sense, one can say that Faith is a representation of Puritanism. When Goodman Brown leaves his “faith” to make “haste on his present evil purpose(Guerin, 375),” one tends to view his “faith” as virtuous, in that it contrasts with his “evil purpose.” But let us examine the …

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