Creole bodies and intersecting lives and oppressions: an intertextual dialogue between Kate Chopin and Alice Dunbar-Nelson

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University of Alabama Libraries

Differing and contentious definitions of the term "Creole" have tried to produce rigid boundaries defining who to include and who to exclude within a "highly-contested identity space" (Stouck 272) by historians, writers, scholars, and even within Creole communities based on hegemonic dichotomous "either/or" structures. Moreover, these differing attempts at forming exclusive definitions have only revealed Creole to be a category that resists and complicates dichotomous structures. This project compares the nineteenth century Creole short stories of Kate Chopin and Alice Dunbar-Nelson to show how these boundaries are complicated and fissured by the ambiguities of race, gender roles, and female sexuality embodied by the colorful characters portrayed in their fiction. Through their stories, both writers interrogate the social inequalities of gender, race, class, and feminine sexuality, as it existed in the South, specifically in Louisiana. Their stories are more than social commentaries; by centering Creole subjects, they also challenge and disrupt normative standards of proper roles and markings of gender, race, and class. Chopin and Dunbar-Nelson are both identified as "women" who lived in the same region, but this shared identity does not mean shared lived experiences: the constructed categories of race, class, and sexuality greatly affect and cause individuals to experience oppression in different ways. An intertextual dialogue between these two writers illustrates how they each create different texts of race and human experiences within a common Creole community. Because of such hegemonic control of what is published, read, and studied, only certain voices are heard, while others are silenced, therefore, forming a narrow, one-sided commentary of lived experiences--an incomplete picture. To study Chopin while ignoring the work of Dunbar-Nelson only offers one side to a subject whose multiplicity of meanings foster considerable academic debate. Only by placing the stories of these two different authors, one widely anthologized and one not, side by side to see how they interact or contrast with each other, can we then attempt to formulate answers and thus gain a clearer, more whole, picture of the oppression and privilege structures of domination have on women's lives.

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Women's studies, American literature