“Ripe Figs” is Kate Chopin’s short sketch about a young girl seeking permission to visit her cousins.
Read the story online
Time and place
When the story was written and published
Questions and answers
Articles and book chapters about the story
Books that discuss Kate Chopin’s short stories
- Maman-Nainaine [in the context of this story, French for “Godmother”]
- Babette: Maman-Nainaine’s goddaughter
The story takes place in Louisiana, in the late nineteenth century.
Readers sometime wonder if this is, in fact, a short story. As we explain in the questions and answers below, it might be thought of as a sketch instead. It might also be thought of as a children’s story, like many of Chopin’s other works. And the focus in the story on the processes of nature are representation of Chopin’s themes in other stories.
You can read about finding themes in Kate Chopin’s stories and novels on the Themes page of this site.
The story was written on February 26, 1892, and published in Vogue on August 19, 1893, one of nineteen Kate Chopin stories that Vogue published. It was reprinted in Chopin’s collection of stories A Night in Acadie in 1897.
Q: Does “Ripe Figs” deserve to be called a short story? It’s only one page long!
A: The original Vogue version calls it an “Idyl.” Some critics think of it as a sketch.
Q: My professor says she remembers reading an article arguing that “Ripe Figs” is a good story for first approaching Kate Chopin, that it is a little version of some of Chopin’s later works. Is there such an article? Where could I find it? What does its author mean by that argument?
A: Yes, the article is called “‘Ripe Figs’: Kate Chopin in Miniature.” It was written by Elaine Gardiner. You can find its publication data below.
Gardiner argues that Chopin employs in “Ripe Figs” three techniques that she uses in her other work, including The Awakening–contrasts (youth and age, patience and impatience, innocence and experience); natural images as emotional correlatives and structural parameters (sugar cane, figs, chrysanthemums); and cyclical patterns (growth, movements directed by the seasons).
Q: I understand that some critics think of “Ripe Figs” as a children’s story. What do they mean by that?
A: Twenty-six of the short stories Kate Chopin wrote are ones she sent to magazines intended for children–magazines like Youth’s Companion or Harper’s Young People (although some, like this one, she sent to Vogue and other magazines)–or ones with subjects and themes similar to those. Today we know Chopin mostly through her works about intelligent, sensitive, adult women seeking integrity, independence, and fulfillment, struggling with social and cultural constraints. But Chopin had other subjects for her work, and some of those subjects appealed to children.
Peggy Skaggs writes that this story “reveals beautifully the differing perspectives on time of the child and the adult, expressing in one short page virtually the essence of the generation gap.”
Barbara Ewell describes “Ripe Figs” as a “fine lyrical sketch that captures a fragile sensuousness in a child’s eagerness for the ripening of the figs. . . . Chopin’s harmonizing of [Babette’s] wait–and, implicitly, all human life–with the slow processes of nature gives a characteristic poetry and dimension to this simple event.”
And Pamela Knights notes in the Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin that some of Chopin’s children’s stories “offer glimpses of young people demonstrating the competence, judgement and articulacy more usually ascribed to adults.” Babette in “Ripe Figs,” Knights adds, “presents Maman-Nainaine with evidence, in a beautifully appropriate form, that the older woman’s stern contract has worked its course.”
Q: What are we supposed to understand by Chopin’s statement, “That is the way Maman-Nainaine was”?
A: In Kate Chopin’s nineteenth-century Louisiana, Bernard Koloski writes, Creole culture often “shapes Creoles’, ‘Cajuns’, blacks’, and others’ understanding of what is natural.” Creole Maman-Nainaine gives no reason for why Babette is to visit her cousins when the figs are ripe or for why Frosine is to return the visit when the chrysanthemums are in bloom.
Maman-Nainaine and other Creoles in Chopin’s fiction, Koloski writes, are “people who speak and act with authority and who by their words and actions show others that the authority they possess is deserved, is just, intrinsic, as ‘natural’ as the ease with which they live their lives and influence other people’s.”
You can see another Creole character like Maman-Nainaine in Chopin’s short story “A Matter of Prejudice.”
For students and scholars
The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Edited by Per Seyersted. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969, 2006.
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.
Knights, Pamela. “Kate Chopin and the Subject of Childhood.” The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin. 44–58. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Branscomb, Jack. “Chopin’s ‘Ripe Figs’.” Explicator 52.3 (1994): 165–67.
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.
Ewell, Barbara C. Kate Chopin New York: Ungar, 1986.
Skaggs, Peggy. Kate Chopin Boston: Twayne, 1985.
Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969.
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.