Introduction & Overview of Chocolates

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Chocolates Summary & Study Guide Description

Chocolates Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Bibliography on Chocolates by Louis Simpson.

"Chocolates" appears in Louis Simpson's collection of poetry Caviare at the Funeral in Section Three, directly after the title poem. Both the title poem, "Caviare at the Funeral," and "Chocolates," reference or feature Russian writer Anton Chekhov, the nineteenth-century playwright and fiction writer known for his realistic portrayals of Russian life. Simpson's idea of poetry as primarily a narrative act that details the real lives of people matches Chekhov's own idea of what makes effective writing. "Chocolates" is a narrative poem that recounts a true story about people who go to visit Chekhov. After struggling to make conversation, the group livens after Chekhov asks them if they like chocolates.

In his essay "Chocolates" from his Selected Prose, Simpson writes that he was at a friend's house reading the daily newspaper when something sparked his memory of hearing about the incident on which the poem is based. Simpson says that he picked up a notepad and wrote the poem in a few minutes. With the exception of a few minor revisions, the poem was published as is. Simpson notes two changes he made from the original story. The first is that in the poem the speaker describes the visitors as "some people," whereas in the actual incident the visitors were women. Simpson says he made this change to avoid the appearance that either he or Chekhov was condescending to women. The second change is the detail of Chekhov taking his visitors' hands as they left. This is something that Simpson says he imagines that Chekhov would have done.

This poem conveys the idea that human life consists of material events and things. Poetry itself should also consist of these events and things, and not metaphysical questions which can never be answered. Chekhov, though widely considered a genius, was uncomfortable talking about himself. In this poem his genius was in his ability to coax others to talk about subjects which really mattered to them, such as their preferences for different kinds of chocolates.

A number of the poems in Caviare at the Funeral take Russia or people associated withRussia as their subject. Simpson's mother's family was from Russia, and in his poem "Why Do You Write about Russia?", also included in this collection, the speaker remembers the voices of his mother and grandmother, who would tell him stories of life in Russia.

When I think about Russia it's not that area of the earth's surface with Leningrad to the West andSiberia to the East—I don't know anything about the continental mass.

It's a sound, such as you hear in a sea breaking along a shore

My people came fromRussia, bringing with them nothing but that sound.

For Simpson, the sound of the storytelling voice is the most human element of stories, more compelling than the story itself. He attempts to embody that voice in "Chocolates" and his other poems.

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