What Is “Ripe Figs” by Kate Chopin About?

Kate Chopin’s short story, “Ripe Figs,” contrasts the two characters, young Babette and her elder godmother, Maman-Nainaine, using the ripening of figs as a device to mask the underlying character contrast. Babette is told that she can visit her cousins when the figs on the tree ripen. The story follows the ripening process from “little hard, green marbles” to plump purple figs.

Maman-Nainaine uses the ripening of figs and blooming of chrysanthemums as a means to count the passage of time. Babette checks on the figs throughout summer with an impatience that does not betray her adolescence while Maman-Nainaine waits ever patiently. Chopin describes Babette as “restless as a humming-bird,” a stark contrast to Maman-Nainaine who is “as patient as the statute of la Madone.”

Chopin slips in her first clue that the story is about more than just ripe figs with the line, “not that the ripening of figs had the least thing to do with it, but that is the way Maman-Nainaine was.” The frequent allusion to nature and the passage of seasons are symbolic to the maturing of Babette as she transitions from adolescence and Maman-Nainaine as she approaches her twilight years.

When Babette presents the ripe figs at the end of the story, Maman-Nainaine remarks “Ah, how early the figs have ripened this year,” while Babette laments “Oh, I think they have ripened late.” Maman-Nainaine and Babette’s differing perceptions of the passage of time are consistent with those of a mature woman with a life behind her and a young woman with a full life ahead.