Literature, Language, and Life

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Showing and Telling in Kate Chopin Short Stories

Showing and telling is a technique used by writers to give their readers the ability to either directly know the situation and atmosphere or to be able to create their own imagery through the writing. Showing is when an author gives an in-depth description of the atmosphere, surroundings, and gives the reader the ability to feel like using their own senses such as smelling, hearing, seeing, and touch through the characters. When an author tells something it is more straightforward and lacks much depth in meaning. Telling may be merely a line to tell the reader where they are or what is happening without much detail or explanation. In Chopin’s writings, there are many instances in which she shows but does not tell which allows the reader to gain a sense of thinking and use of imagining themselves through the characters. In “Beyond the Bayou” Chopin immediately uses showing as a way to start her story and give her reader the sense of being in the setting as seen when she writes, “THE bayou curved like a crescent around the point of land on which La Folle’s cabin stood. Between the stream and the hut lay a big abandoned field, where cattle were pastured when the bayou supplied them with water enough. Through the woods that spread back into unknown regions the woman had drawn an imaginary line, and past this circle she never stepped. This was the form of her only mania.” Chopin gives descriptions that allow the reader to imagine the place and reach a sense of understanding of what significance it had for the character. She then goes on to using telling by which she introduces her character, ” She was now a large, gaunt black woman, past thirty-five. Her real name was Jacqueline, but everyone on the plantation called her La Folle” Chopin simply tells her reader plainly who the character is with a short description of her age, size, color, and name. Telling in this sense is more of a way that the author informs their reader of something that is less relevant but may have an impact on the story later on. In “La Belle Zoraide” Chopin does a similar way of showing as she had done in “Beyond the Bayou” by which she starts by giving an in-depth explanation,”The summer night was hot and still; not a ripple of air swept over the Marais. Yonder, across Bayou St. John, lights twinkled here and there in the darkness, and in the dark sky above a few stars were blinking.” Chopin uses showing once again and then quickly moves on to introduce a character and inform her reader about them plainly by telling, “Manna Loulou was not always ready with her story, for Madame would hear none but those which were true.” The direct and straightforward method gives the reader no real description. The use of showing and telling allows the author to gain the readers attention and Chopin using large instances of showing and small areas of telling gives her writing a depth of meaning and correlation. By “telling” she gives us direct information and by “showing” she gives her reader an emotional and physical sense within her work.

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