“A Vocation and a Voice” is Kate Chopin’s short story about an adolescent torn between his commitment to his religion and his attraction to a young woman.
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Time and place
When the story was written and published
Questions and answers
Accurate texts of the story
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Books that discuss Kate Chopin’s short stories
Unlike most of Kate Chopin’s short stories, “A Vocation and a Voice” unfortunately is not available online. There are three accurate printed texts.
- The boy: he later takes the name “Brother Ludovic”
- A streetcar conductor
- Suzima [also called Susan and Tzutzima]
- Gutro [also called the Beast]
- The country priest
The narrative takes place in the late nineteenth century over the period of a year or two. It begins in Woodland Park near St. Louis and follows back country roads toward the South, with some scenes set in Louisiana, and then turns back toward the North.
As we explain in the questions and answers below, some readers are interested in this Kate Chopin story because of its male—rather than female—principal character. Some are focused on the use of music in the work. And others are puzzled by the story’s ending.
You can read about finding themes in Kate Chopin’s stories and novels on the Themes page of this site.
The story was written in November, 1896, and first published in the Mirror, in St. Louis, on March 27, 1902.
Q: A Kate Chopin story with a male lead! This must be a first for her!
A: Although Chopin is best known for her works about strong, independent women, she in fact wrote stories about boys and men throughout her career, from early ones like “For Marse Chouchoute” or “A Wizard from Gettysburg,” to later ones like “Nég Créol” or “Ti Démon.” And some of her works are as much about men as about women–works like the early novel At Fault or stories like “A No-Account Creole” or “Athénaïse.” You can find all of her stories in The Complete Works of Kate Chopin.
Q: Does anyone know who or what inspired Kate Chopin to write this story?
A: Chopin’s biographer Emily Toth says that the story was inspired by William Marion Reedy, editor of the weekly St. Louis Mirror, where “A Vocation and Voice” first appeared.
Reedy, Toth notes, “published groundbreaking authors few others would touch, among them Oscar Wilde and Theodore Dreiser.” He was, Toth adds, “a former altar boy from Kerry Patch (the Irish ghetto) [‘The Patch’ in the story], and known for his sweet voice and angelic face.”
Q: Has anybody noticed that music plays a big part in “A Vocation and Voice” just as it does in The Awakening?
A: Yes, critics have been writing about this for many years. Peggy Skaggs mentioned it in 1985, and Nancy Ellis argues that “music, as ordinary and extraordinary experience in secular and sacred situations, becomes a thematic and symbolic expression in the lives of [Chopin’s] characters. Whether male of female, conventional or defiant, the people of Kate Chopin’s stories are influenced and changed by the power of music.”
In this story, Bernard Koloski notes, Chopin probably had in mind a song from Ludovic (1833), an opera by French composer Ferdinand Hérold (1791–1833), and she assigned that song to Suzima, who, like the woman in the opera, is selling religious and other goods. In the opera the woman is joined in her rondo by a chorus.
Chopin would use music by Hérold again in The Awakening. In the opening pages of the novel the Farival twins are singing a duet from Hérold’s opera Zampa (1831).
Q: I don’t understand the ending of “A Vocation and Voice.” Does it mean that the boy is now ready to give up his life in the monastery and stay with Suzima? He is conflicted throughout the story, not being able to decide what he wants. So will his running after Suzima be permanent or will he go back to his refuge in religion?
A: That’s a good question, but the story gives us no definite answer. Avril Horner says that “the final choices made by many of Chopin’s characters–as in ‘A Vocation and Voice’ and ‘Athénaïse’–might first appear as apparently emphatic and unambiguous.” Yet, she notes, “Chopin’s refusal to provide narrative explanations for her characters’ decisions leaves them open to different interpretations. This is typified most clearly by the end of The Awakening.”
“The tale of Brother Ludovic,” Horner adds, “is the tale of an individual who makes choices. His choices pose further questions for the reader. How far do the boy’s various rebellions–rejecting family life for a life on the road, then rejecting the road in order to follow God, finally rejecting the monastic life in order to follow the call, or the ‘voice,’ of the body–presage ‘intense dissatisfaction’ with tradition and convention? Can transcendence be found in the flesh as well as the spirit? Which is the ‘vocation’ and which is the ‘voice'”?
For students and scholars
Kate Chopin: Complete Novels and Stories. Edited by Sandra Gilbert. New York: Library of America, 2002.
Nolan, Elizabeth. “The Awakening as Literary Innovation: Chopin, Maupassant and the Evolution of Genre.” In The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin. Ed. Janet Beer. Cambridge UP, 2008. 118–31.
Johnsen, Heidi. “Kate Chopin in Vogue: Establishing a Textual Context for A Vocation and a Voice.” In Kate Chopin in the Twenty-First Century: New Critical Essays. Ed. Heather Ostman. Cambridge Scholars, 2008. 53–69.
Koloski, Bernard. “Kate Chopin: The Critics, the Librarians, and the Scholars.” In Popular Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers and the Literary Marketplace. Eds. Earl Yarington and Mary De Jong. Cambridge Scholars, 2007. 451–65.
Skaggs, Peggy. “The Boy’s Quest in Kate Chopin’s ‘A Vocation and a Voice’.” In Critical Essays on Kate Chopin. Ed. Alice Hall Petry. Hall, 1996. 129–33.
Day, Karen. “The ‘Elsewhere’ of Female Sexuality and Desire in Kate Chopin’s ‘A Vocation and a Voice’.” Louisiana Literature. 11.1 (1994): 108–17.
Ellis, Nancy C. “Insistent Refrains and Self-Discovery: Accompanied Awakenings in Three Stories by Kate Chopin.” In Kate Chopin Reconsidered: Beyond the Bayou. Eds. Lynda S. Boren, Sara deSaussure Davis, and Cathy N. Davidson. Louisiana State UP, 1992. 216–29.
Tuttleton, James. “A Solitary Soul: The Career of Kate Chopin.” The New Criterion 9.8 (1991): 12–17.
Dyer, Joyce. “Kate Chopin’s Sleeping Bruties.” Markham Review 10 (1980): 10–15.
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.
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.
Ewell, Barbara C. Kate Chopin New York: Ungar, 1986.
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.