“Charlie” is Kate Chopin’s short story about the devotion between a tomboy and her widowed father. It is Chopin’s longest short story.
Read the story in print
Time and place
When the story was written and published
Questions and answers
Articles and book chapters about the story
Selected books that discuss Kate Chopin’s short stories
Unlike most of Kate Chopin’s short stories, “Charlie” unfortunately is not available online. There are two accurate printed texts.
- Charlie (Charlotte) Laborde: seventeen-year-old daughter of Mr. Laborde
- Mr. Laborde: widower
- Paula and Pauline Laborde: five-year-old twins, Charlie’s youngest sisters
- Julia Laborde: nineteen, Charlie’s older sister
- Amanda (sixteen), Irene (fourteen), and Fidelia (ten) Laborde: Charlie’s other sisters
- Miss Melvern: governess for the Laborde daughters
- Blossom: servant in the Laborde household
- Aunt Maryllis: cook for the Laborde household
- Demins: son of Aunt Maryllis
- Aurendele Bichou: ‘Cadian girl seeking to sell some chickens
- Odelia: sister of Aurendele
- Ma’am Philomel: living in the Laborde household
- Uncle Reuben: servant in the Laborde household
- Lulin: working at the railroad terminal
- Tinette: whose baby died of the measles
- Nannouche Bichou, Xenophore Bichou, and their parents: Aurendele’s family
- Firman Walton: on a business mission from New Orleans
- Mr. Gus Bradley: neighbor attracted to Charlie
- Aunt Clementine: Mr. Laborde’s sister
- The girls at the Seminary in New Orleans
The story takes place on Les Palmiers plantation in Louisiana, and in New Orleans, in the late nineteenth century.
Some readers, as we explain in the questions and answers below, focus on ideas about “the strong and the weak, the masculine and the feminine, the active and the passive sex.” Some compare Charlie with Jo March in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
You can read about finding themes in Kate Chopin’s stories and novels on the Themes page of this site.
The story was written April, 1900, but it was first published only in 1969, in The Complete Works of Kate Chopin, edited by Per Seyersted (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press). Kate Chopin had sent “Charlie” to Youth’s Companion, a magazine that had published other stories she had written, but the editor did not accept it. Apparently Chopin did not send the story to other editors.
Q: I’m a translator and am wondering about the meaning of the word “Coonpine” in this sentence in “Charlie”: “And the girls didn’t think I’d ever learn to dance until I gave them a double shuffle and a Coonpine!” What’s a “Coonpine”?
A: Chopin scholar Tom Bonner offers this response: “Coon pine” refers to a dance step, influenced by physical behavior of raccoons and associations with coon songs and dances of black-faced performers in minstrel shows across the 19th century. Raccoons were and are known for their tree climbing and unusually erect manner of doing so. They are also known for their black-banded faces. Near mid 19th century “coons” and “possums” were meat often consumed by black slaves and poor people. Whites frequently associated the animals with Black people, and the term “coon” eventually became a racial slur. The minstrel shows throughout the 19th century and as late as the early 1950s were popular in the North and the South. The songs often had sources for their music in English folk songs but with lyrics adapted to that music from the racial folkways. In “Charlie” the reference is likely to exaggerated steps and kicks by a dancer in an upright position, perhaps even moving her hands in washing-like motions. The phrasing in the story indicates movement from a shuffle to this different step with the racial, animal, and tree imagery. This influence on a white character echoes the general pattern of elements from social mannerisms and entertainments that come from the lower economic and social classes into the more privileged ones, similar to the transmission of the Blues and Jazz across the social divide. In contemporary poetry A.R. Ammon’s “Coon Song” has some of the features of the past. In an interview, however, Ammon limits his discussion to the animal imagery in the poem. Something to think about.
Q: Could you say that Charlie’s affection for her father in this story becomes a fixation?
A: There certainly is, as Per Seyersted notes, a “strong affinity” between Charlie and her father, but Seyersted stresses in the story the “interplay of the strong and the weak, the masculine and the feminine, the active and the passive sex.” And Ann Blythe notes that “there is no hint of anything abnormal or unhealthy in the feelings of either, no suggestion that this healthy father-daughter relationship is in any way delaying or hampering [Charlie’s] maturing as a young woman or growing in need and ability to respond to other men.”
Q: Has anyone noticed that this story resembles Louisa May Alcott’s earlier Little Women in its presentation of Charlie?
A: Yes, Barbara Ewell speaks of Charlie’s “blunt confidence and rowdy exploits” being similar to those of Jo March, and Pamela Knights writes that “whether in domestic, educational or social environments, Charlie, one of Jo March’s most vigorous descendants, is, like her predecessor, the one who harmonises least in the Laborde family ‘bouquet.'”
“Charlie,” Knights adds, “in spite of her status as daughter, and (it is hinted) wife, will be no passive dependent, but an actor on her own stage in the future.”
For students and scholars
The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Edited by Per Seyersted. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969, 2006.
Kate Chopin: Complete Novels and Stories. Edited by Sandra Gilbert. New York: Library of America, 2002.
Shaker, Bonnie James. Coloring Locals: Racial Formation in Kate Chopin’s Youth’s Companion Stories. Iowa City, IA: U of Iowa P, 2003.
Giorcelli, Cristina. “‘Charlie’: Travestimento e potere.” In Abito e Identità: Ricerche di storia letteraria e culturale, II, edited by Giorcelli, Cristina, 25-75. Rome, Italy: Assoiciate Editrice Internazionale, 1997.
Koloski, Bernard, ed. Awakenings: The Story of the Kate Chopin Revival Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009.
Robert L. Gale. Characters and Plots in the Fiction of Kate Chopin Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2009.
Beer, Janet, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Ostman, Heather, ed. Kate Chopin in the Twenty-First Century: New Critical Essays Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2008.
Arima, Hiroko. Beyond and Alone!: The Theme of Isolation in Selected Short Fiction of Kate Chopin, Katherine Anne Porter, and Eudora Welty Lanham, MD: UP of America, 2006.
Beer, Janet. Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Studies in Short Fiction New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Stein, Allen F. Women and Autonomy in Kate Chopin’s Short Fiction New York: Peter Lang, 2005.
Walker, Nancy A. Kate Chopin: A Literary Life Basingstoke, England: Palgrave, 2001.
Koloski, Bernard. “Introduction” Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie by Kate Chopin New York: Penguin, 1999.
Toth, Emily. Unveiling Kate Chopin Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1999.
Koloski, Bernard. Kate Chopin: A Study of the Short Fiction New York: Twayne, 1996.
Petry, Alice Hall (ed.), Critical Essays on Kate Chopin New York: G. K. Hall, 1996.
Boren, Lynda S. and Sara deSaussure Davis (eds.), Kate Chopin Reconsidered: Beyond the Bayou Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1992.
Perspectives on KateChopin: Proceedings from the Kate Chopin International Conference, April 6, 7, 8, 1989 Natchitoches, LA: Northwestern State UP, 1992.
Toth, Emily. “Introduction” A Vocation and a Voice New York: Penguin, 1991.
Papke, Mary E. Verging on the Abyss: The Social Fiction of Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton New York: Greenwood, 1990.
Toth, Emily. Kate Chopin. New York: Morrow, 1990.
Elfenbein , Anna Shannon. Women on the Color Line: Evolving Stereotypes and the Writings of George Washington Cable, Grace King, Kate Chopin Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1989.
Taylor, Helen. Gender, Race, and Region in the Writings of Grace King, Ruth McEnery Stuart, and Kate Chopin Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989.
Bonner, Thomas Jr., The Kate Chopin Companion New York: Greenwood, 1988.
Bloom, Harold (ed.), Kate Chopin New York: Chelsea, 1987.
Skaggs, Peggy. Kate Chopin Boston: Twayne, 1985.
Quinn, Arthur Hobson. American Fiction: An Historical and Critical Survey New York: Appleton-Century, 1936.
Rankin, Daniel, Kate Chopin and Her Creole Stories Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1932.