“Ozème’s Holiday” is Kate Chopin’s short story about a man who spends his vacation helping a poor woman and her son gather the cotton harvest.
You can read the story online as it originally appeared in the Century magazine. If you’re citing a passage from this or other Kate Chopin stories for research purposes, it’s a good idea to check your citation against one of these printed texts.
- Ozème: An Acadian or a Creole plantation worker who is setting off on his annual vacation
- Aunt Tildy: An older African-American woman who raises cotton on a small piece of land
- Sandy: Aunt Tildy’s son; bedridden with an illness
- Lamérie: friend of Ozème
- Bodé: a boy who lives in Ozème’s neighborhood
The story is set in the month of October. Though the year is not mentioned, the story occurs after the American Civil War, probably in the 1870s or 1880s. The setting of the story is along the Cane River, in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, and the action takes place primarily on Aunt Tildy’s small homestead.
Readers often focus on aspects of race raised by Ozème’s willingness to help an African-American woman—although Ozème’s own racial and ethnic background is not clear—and they wonder about why Ozème does not want people to know what he has done.
Kate Chopin wrote the story between September 23rd and 24th, 1894. The story was first published in the Century magazine in August of 1896. It was also published again in Chopin’s collection A Night in Acadie in 1897.
Q: Is Ozème actually related to Aunt Tildy?
A: No. It was common in the American South in the nineteenth century—and common in Kate Chopin’s fiction—for both white people and people of color to refer to older African Americans as “Uncle” or “Aunt.”
Q: What is Ozème’s ethnic background? Is he an Acadian, a white Creole, a Creole of Color, or something else?
A: This is a complicated question. Scholars do not agree on the answer. Per Seyersted says that “very likely he is a Cajun,” an Acadian, a descendant of French-American exiles from Acadia, Nova Scotia, who were driven from their homes by the British in 1755. Most of the Acadians (or ‘Cajuns) in Chopin’s stories are comparatively poor, living off the land, farming or fishing or working for the Creoles. White Creoles are descendants of French settlers in Louisiana. Most of the Creoles in Kate Chopin’s stories are comparatively wealthy, usually landowners or merchants. Creoles of Color are of mixed race and sometimes own land and—before the Civil War—even slaves.
Marcia Gaudet argues that what Seyersted says “is unlikely for several reasons. Ozeme’s eyes are blue and his hair is light brown. This is not a likely description of a Cajun since Cajuns typically have dark eyes and dark hair. However, blue eyes and light brown hair are not unusual for Creoles of Color.”
Anna Elfenbein, though, notes that “the racial scene in Chopin’s Natchitoches parish was complex and might have taxed the powers of the most sociologically minded writer of fiction. However, Chopin was unusually nonchalant about observing racial distinctions that were crucial to her Cane River neighbors but less significant to a woman with a St. Louis origin. . . . In her careless handling of the question of race in ‘Ozème’s Holiday,’ Chopin was being more faithful to the real complexity of the racial situation of the Cane River region than an attempt at a more careful handling would have permitted.”
Q: Why is Ozème ashamed to tell others where he spent his vacation?
A: Apparently, he wants to maintain his reputation. Per Seyersted, who assumes that Ozème is a Cajun, notes that “when he tells [Aunt Tildy] to work harder herself or he will use the rawhide on her, it is . . . a reminder that he has no obligation to help a former slave. This racial and social prejudice is one of the reasons why he ‘felt quite shamefaced as he drove back to the plantation,’ his work completed.”
But Barbara C. Ewell writes: “Ozème . . . has a regrettably strong sense of duty. Step by evasive step, he is comically drawn into an act of charity on his annual vacation, picking cotton for some disabled black acquaintances. . . . For Ozème, sportive unconventionality remains a proper, though ironic, disguise for his dutiful morality.”
If you have additional questions, would you contact us?
Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie. Edited by Bernard Koloski. New York: Penguin, 1999.
Kate Chopin: Complete Novels and Stories. Edited by Sandra Gilbert. New York: Library of America, 2002.
These articles and books may be available online through university or public libraries.
Hebert-Leiter, Maria. Becoming Cajun, Becoming American: The Acadian in American Literature from Longfellow to James Lee Burke. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2009.
We thank Joel Miller for his contributions to this page.