International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Kate Chopin’s Beyond the Bayou Explores How One Woman Overcame Her Life-Long Fear

Posted 1 March 2008 in StressPoints by Carole Koepke Brown

Kate Chopin’s short story, Beyond the Bayou, describes how the story’s protagonist, La Folle, comes to suffer a debilitating, life-long fear. The remainder of the story, which tells how she overcomes this fear, can be easily accessed through an Internet search on the story’s name.

Carole offers biographical background on Chopin, some of which was provided by Annette Chopin Lare, Carole’s colleague at Moravian College: Chopin was born Katherine O’Flaherty in St. Louis in 1850. She wed Oscar Chopin in 1870 and moved to New Orleans. In 1879, financial problems prompted their move to Oscar’s ancestral region of Cloutierville, Louisiana—a tiny hamlet surrounded by plantations. Chopin’s short story “Beyond the Bayou” came out of her five years in Cloutierville, but she did not start writing for publication until she returned to St. Louis, well after her husband died of malaria. Chopin first published “Beyond the Bayou” in 1893. It was based on the life of Jacqueline, a former slave. A revised version of the narrative was included in Bayou Folk (1894), her collection of short stories.

These are the opening paragraphs of Chopin’s story:
The bayou curved like a crescent around the point of land on which La Folle's cabin stood. Between the stream and the hut lay a big abandoned field, where cattle were pastured when the bayou supplied them with water enough. Through the woods that spread back into unknown regions the woman had drawn an imaginary line, and past this circle she never stepped. This was the form of her only mania.

She was now a large, gaunt black woman, past thirty-five. Her real name was Jacqueline, but every one on the plantation called her La Folle, because in childhood she had been frightened literally "out of her senses," and had never wholly regained them. 

It was when there had been skirmishing and sharpshooting all day in the woods. Evening was near when P'tit Maître, black with powder and crimson with blood, had staggered into the cabin of Jacqueline's mother, his pursuers close at his heels. The sight had stunned her childish reason
(Chopin, 1967, p. 99).

Chopin, K. (1967). Bayou folk. Americans in fiction. Ridgewood, N.J.: Gregg Press.

Erratum: A correction to the authorship of this column was corrected on April 7, 2008. The column was submitted by Carole Koepke Brown.