Kate Chopin’s Grand Isle

The most notable author
associated with Grand
Isle is
Kate Chopin with
her major novel,
The
Awakening, taking place
there.  Like many New
Orleans Creole families,
she visited the resorts
on the island as a young
mother with her family.  
In both this novel and
her short story "
At
ChÈniËre Caminada
" she
relied on her experience
there.  She mentions
trips from Grand Isle to
The ChÈniËre for Mass
on Sunday, exploring the
ruins on Grand Terre,
dreaming of pirates and
treasures and most of
all the sea.

As renowned Chopin scholar Emily Toth comments in her book Unveiling Kate Chopin:

For young mothers, like Kate Chopin, Grand Isle was wholesome: no open canals or
     cisterns or swarming mosquitos threatened children or adults with deadly diseases.
     No one locked doors.  The island was a tropical paradise, with palm trees, vines,
     orange and lemon trees, acres of yellow chamomile, and no streets – only grassy
     green or sandy paths.  It was seductive to the imagination, too, with tales of
     shipwrecks and pirate gold from Barataria Bay, the old haunt of the pirate Jean Lafitte.

Chopin’s enjoyment of the resort life and people there is evident in both The Awakening and
“At ChÈniËre Caminada.”  Three weeks after the ChÈniËre hurricane devastated the area in
1893, Chopin wrote "At ChÈniËre Caminada".  This short story tells of Tonie, a poor fisherman
from Caminadaville who falls in love with Claire DuvignÈ, a Creole tourist on Grand Isle.  The
story explores the class distinction of Creole superiority accepted by the Cheniere residents.  
Tonie accepts the fact that he would never be able to have her because she is a Creole.  He
is glad to hear that she has died because he believes that: “She is where she belongs; there
is not difference up there; the curÈ has often told us there is not difference between men.  It
is with the soul that we approach each other there.  Then she will know who has loved her
best.” (IV) In the story the
famous bell from Catholic church at The ChÈniËre, rang the Angelus
ending the only day that Tonie had Claire to himself.

Chopin most famous work, The Awakening, is a novel that explores the sensual, sexual and
emotional awakening of the main character, Edna Pontillier.  She is seduced by the island, the
ocean, the ambiance and  the people which allow her to see life, and more importantly
herself, in a different perspective.  This metamorphosis begins on Grand Isle, continues on a
visit to ChÈniËre Caminada, reaches a peak in New Orleans and is completed again at Grand
Isle.  Chopin paints a picture of Grand Isle and The ChÈniËre as beautiful, peaceful, calm and
relaxed places full of beautiful sights, smells, sounds and experiences.  In The Awakening
Edna and her family stay at a resort on Grand Isle.


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