‘An Idle Fellow’ by Kate Chopin: Short Story Analysis
‘An Idle Fellow’ is an almost surreal short story or scrap with hidden symbology penned in 1894 or thereabout by American feminist writer Kate Chopin. It tries to reinforce the idea that books and knowledge from books is not true wisdom. To understand the world we live in, Kate Chopin wishes us to get back to observing nature and to break away from all previous prejudices and stereotypes that we often see in books. This is because most of the books of antiquity, the contemporary world, and the present-day books contain male patriarchal gender mindsets that look at the world in a discriminatory manner. It would not have happened if every person, regardless of gender identification and sexual orientation, race, tribe, and creed, had a say in the happenings of the past and the chronicling of world affairs in books. A similar theme of getting back to nature is seen in a previous scrap by Kate Chopin titled ‘The Night Came Slowly’, which I have analyzed here. The narrator of ‘An Idle Fellow’ is not given any gender, which indicates that Kate Chopin wants to transcend the notion of gender in this scrap because both men and women pursued wisdom and bookish knowledge in the Romantic Period in English Literature.
There is a mention of a man named Paul. He represents the true thinker and intellectual who realizes that wisdom and true knowledge are not found in books. The narrator, who I will continue to refer to as a woman, is tired and weary of pouring over books of all subjects in different languages and genres. She has been studying and reading since the morning when she started fresh in life as a young woman. Ever since, she has continued reading even though night has come or her old age of maturity. She worked hard and was earnest in her quest for true knowledge. She has literally and metaphorically burnt the midnight oil night after night to glean more wisdom from books in the many libraries of the world. However, she realizes late in life that real knowledge means giving up books totally and devoting oneself to studying the patterns of nature and the human beings that make up this beautiful world, the only world we know:
- Where life truly exists.
- Where we first heard the words of wisdom from our ancestors that make life better.
- Which is the only heaven or place of residence we know of that can support us.
She was not idle for so long, but now that she is tired of books, she gives it up to be idle. However, this idleness is the true wisdom that she was seeking all this while. It has already been seen in the personage of a friend, Paul. Paul spends his time observing nature, people and pondering on the vagaries in nature and people. By studying people, he has learned the world better than being locked up in a garret reading books penned by a small minority of people with a narrow-minded set of writing tools.
There are friendship and companionship between the narrator and Paul. The idea that the narrator could also be a woman is to drill into our heads that friendships can exist between a male and a female, though the world in Kate Chopin’s time thought otherwise. The narrator scolds Paul for being idle, but he controls her chiding because he knows his way is the right way to a better world. He muses on the thrush bird singing on the branches of an apple tree. The thrush bird calls to her mate, who built a nest with her on the apple tree; she will have no other. There is a very evident Biblical angle here. The bird could be the Biblical Eve seated in the tree of knowledge or the tree of wisdom waiting for Christ. For more thoughts on these matters, you can check out my review of The Secret History of the Gnostics by Andrew Phillip Smith here.
By studying nature, musing on the clouds, inhaling the scent of the clover fields, and the thick perfume of the rose hedge, Paul and the narrator come closer to the real world where men, women, and children live. From lofty generalized thoughts, they come down to what the world is like for people. Paul reads people through their faces and their eyes and therefore knows so much. However, he would not have been able to do all this if he were not idle. Thus, his idleness was an essential factor in gaining the secret of wisdom. There is an old African saying that when one man dies, a thousand book stories die with him; he never dies alone. A whole galaxy of stories and books that lies within him dies when he closes his eyes for good.
The narrator repeats several times that her friend Paul is a strange fellow. However, his strangeness appeals to her and makes her decide to spend the rest of her days on Earth with Paul. Paul has learned the language of the Gods by observing nature, which she wishes to learn from him. The narrator is knowledgeable, but Paul is wise. Thus, the scrap ends with the narrator confessing that Paul is a strange man, but it is the ones who are strange who indeed know the language of God because they can see through the language and conversations of humankind.
I enjoyed reading and reviewing this short story or scrap penned by American writer Kate Chopin. I have reviewed more short stories by her on my blog, which you can check out here. I hope to read, review, and analyze more American literary fiction and non-fiction content this month. I wish to celebrate America’s rich bookish content. I hope to read and review more works by Kate Chopin soon.
If you are interested in book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, you can check out my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in purchasing my books, you can check out my blog’s products page or my author’s page on Amazon. There is a lot of good stuff to buy! Happy reading to you always!
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