The story “A Pair of Silk Stockings” begins with Mrs. Sommers coming to possess fifteen dollars. She carefully considers how to spend the money and decides to buy her children new clothes. The author reveals to us shortly after that she used to have money to spare, but has never looked back or regretted her decision to marry. Mrs. Sommers goes to the store tired and hungry and discovers some soft stockings. She decides to buy a pair but does not stop there. She travels upstairs to buy new shoes and have gloves fitted, ignoring or forgetting completely her children’s clothes. She then decides to buy magazines, eat at an up-scale restaurant, and watch a show at the theatre. Her last desire is presented to readers in the cable car where she wishes to continue on riding forever.
I think Ms. Chopin executes many techniques well, but two that are most interesting are the pattern or escalation in Mrs. Sommer’s spending and- what I will call- the “Rooting for her” technique. The pattern in this story, like that in “The School” starts small with Mrs. Sommers temptation to buy the stockings. She gives in and spends the $1.98. This surprises the reader but is not ridiculous. Though she just said she was going to buy clothes for her children, she indulges herself. The reader supposes that she will move on to spend the rest of her money the way she originally intended. But, without a moments hesitation, Mrs. Sommers heads upstairs to be fitted with new shoes and gloves. These purchases slowly escalate from the stockings in price. She continues to buy more expensive or bigger objects or experiences, from the gloves to luxury magazines to the restaurant to the show. What I think is special about the use of this pattern, is that it does not break by wildly changing directions the way it does in “The School” and other stories. Instead, the author tells us in the very last line that Mrs. Sommer’s next impulse is to never come back to her responsibilities and leaves us wondering whether the pattern continues or ends in her going home to her family. This keeps the brains of readers churning long after they read the last line.
Secondly, Ms. Chopin does a great job of making us sympathize with her character. Subtly, she mentions that Mrs. Sommers has never before given in to wishing for nice things for herself since marrying Mr. Sommers or bought anything but bargains. Doing this, we do not believe that she pampers herself often if ever. She is not spoiled nor embarrassed of her social position. On the day of the shopping trip, poor Mrs. Sommers is exhausted from taking care of her children and cleaning and has failed even to have time to eat, herself. Readers immediately pity her and can recognize the hardship in being a mother, and especially, a woman in that time. This passage in particular reveals the author’s purpose in writing this story. In order to show us the hardship in having these responsibilities, we have to first understand the character’s life and respect her. Then, even after she begins buying extravagant items, we continue to like her. With lines like “her stockings and boots had worked marvels in her bearing-had given her a feeling of assurance, a sense of belonging to the well-dressed multitude” we understand her yearning to just fit in sometimes. Even after eating richly at the fancy restaurant, she tips the waiter, showing the audience that even in indulgence she is not greedy. This tiny detail works wonders for our perception of the character. Towards the end of the story, when Mrs. Sommers goes to see the play, she takes in all of her surroundings and does not take any of it for granted, unlike some other women in the theatre described as “gone there to kill time and eat candy and display their gaudy attire.” If Kate had not wanted us to see the struggle that is trying to prove your value as a woman in society, even through money if intelligence got you no where as a woman in the 1890s, these details would have been radically different. It would not have been difficult to make a woman purchasing extravagant, unnecessary items seem selfish.
Implementing this method into your own writing is a valuable skill to have. By choosing these concrete details carefully, you can leave an imprint of what you want the reader to pick up on. If you can make the reader understand your character, you can take them anywhere. And, if you can keep them interested, by letting them speculate about what happens in the end, like Kate Chopin does by letting the reader decide if the pattern continues at the end of this story, you can leave them remembering and pondering your message overall after they finish reading.