April 17, 2014

A Morning Walk: the resurrection and the life

The April 17, 1897, issue of the Criterion in St. Louis published a story titled "An Easter Day Conversion," which its author Kate Chopin later renamed "A Morning Walk." The tale introduces the reader to Archibald, who people believe is in his 50s though he is only 40. It is the beginning of spring, and Archibald is walking amidst in the wind after a fresh rain in his village. "The spring was nothing new to him," writes Chopin, "nor was its sounds, its perfumes, its colors; nor was its tender and caressing breath; but, for some unaccountable reason, these were reaching him to-day through unfamiliar channels." But Archibald is not walking for beauty or sentiment, but for the practicality of imbibing fresh air for his health.

A man of studious habits and "mental preoccupation," he is all the same impressed by the beauty of the morning. He forgets the name of his 20-year old "saucy" neighbor Lucy when he meets her on the side of the road. They walk together, Lucy slightly teasing the older man, and she leads him to the church. It is Easter morning after all. Archibald surprises himself by going in to mass with her. He all but ignores the prayers, the songs, and the mass in general — until he hears the minister say, "I am the Resurrection and the Life." Those words were enough to cause Archibald some kind of religious conversion:

This was his text. It fell upon ears that had heard it before. It crept into the consciousness of Archibald, sitting there. As he gathered it into his soul a vision of life came with it; the poet’s vision, of the life that is within and the life that is without, pulsing in unison, breathing the harmony of an undivided existence.

He listened to no further words of the minister. He entered into himself and he preached unto himself a sermon in his own heart, as he gazed from the window through which the song came and where the leafy shadows quivered.

Besides the religious message of the story, the short text is rich with interesting thoughts and symbols. Archibald goes from a practical man who knows nothing of sentiment, a man who lopped the heads off flowers, to a man of faith. And who is Lucy, the woman who he mistakenly calls by several different names (despite having only two lines of actual dialogue in the text)? Though deemed an older man, he is somewhat attracted to her and sees her romantically, or even sexually:  "He looked down into the girl’s face, and her soft, curved lips made him think of peaches that he had bitten; of grapes that he had tasted; of a cup’s rim from which he had sometimes sipped wine." The story also uses the presence of flowers for its symbolism, much like another of Chopin's stories, "Lilacs."

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