Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Awakening: Kate Chopin

The Awakening is a touchstone in feminist literature. Chopin was a fantastic writer who was shocked at the reception of this novel, so much so that she stopped publishing. It is the novel of a woman who questions traditional gender rules and commits herself to doing as she likes.
When it was published in 1899, such an idea was appalling to the general public. The Awakening was pulled from the presses and it was banned until after Chopin's death. She was devastated.

Edna is a gentlewoman of twenty-eight years, married with two children. As is custom, she spends her summers at a lovely resort, socializing with other gentlewomen. It is at the resort that she meets Robert, a handsome, doting young man who spends every waking moment catering to Edna's every desire. Edna takes his admiration for granted, thinking nothing of his puppy love. It takes nearly the entire story for Edna to admit to herself that she returns Robert's love--which is socially unacceptable considering her marriage.

This novel has long stood as a standard for the women's movement. Edna is an example of the overly pampered housewife who grows bored with her situation and begins to question her role in life. She takes baby steps towards her liberation; small, seemingly insignificant thought processes that turn Edna into a woman shirking her traditional role and expectations.

I had a really hard time with this novel. There were so many problems with this story. For one thing, I had to overcome the archaic language that includes words like "darkies" and "quadroon". I had to overcome my personal beliefs about the ridiculousness of a housewife requiring the assistance of a nanny (what does a woman do who doesn't work, doesn't clean house, nor does she care for her children?). I then had to overcome the outdated traditions of "calling hours" and making excuses for not being available for said visiting hours. All those things aside, the novel could conceivably take place today. Here is a woman who has bought into the role of wife and mother, who has replaced her own identity with that of wife and mother, who becomes frustrated and begins to question those roles.

I am personally a proponent of questioning societal norms, and I firmly believe that marriage does NOT make a woman the property of her husband. Unfortunately, because of the era, this novel moves slowly and negates much of the process of self discovery through excuses from the husband. Rather than feeling like a cheerleader for Edna, I felt aggravated, anxious for her to stand up and take her life into her own hands with some real Umph!


  1. You may want to read it a few more times. There's something more there. I did not sympathize with Edna, but Kate Chopin created a world that is full of symbolism - think about the parrot and the mockingbird.

  2. Oh yes, there is definitely a lot of texture. I will certainly have to read it again. I suspect it is a novel that I will read multiple times over my life and it will have different meaning each time. I enjoy an author who can relate a feeling through symbolism and tone without directly saying "she felt trapped".

  3. I sort of thought KC used the supporting characters' actions and dialogue to create Edna and build her. It's rare that I enjoy the story when I don't like the main character much. That's what happened when I read The Awakening. I'm glad you featured it and thank you for the fun conversation, Chrissey!

  4. I have a book for you to read if you haven't read it yet. The Education of Little Tree is deep and meaningful. I'd love to hear what you think of it!

  5. Chrissey: Regarding "I had to overcome my personal beliefs about the ridiculousness of a housewife requiring the assistance of a nanny (what does a woman do who doesn't work, doesn't clean house, nor does she care for her children?): she's probably an example of Veblen's "leisure class".

    Does it remind you of "A Doll House"?

  6. I really enjoyed A Doll's House. Great connection, Coffee!
    Chrissey! Where are you?

  7. grand isle fRENCH QUARTER

    Chopin LOUISIANA

    I chose to visually represent Grand Isle, as Kate Chopin so expertly describes in her novella The Awakening. Much of her story setting is on Grand Isle. It is seen as a great escape from the doldrums of everyday life that would usually have been spent in New Orleans, in the Up town district. When lazily spending their days on the island, the main characters of the story loosen the conventions of proper and acceptable society for the unpretentious familiarity that being on the island fosters as a person loosens their garments-untying collars, removing shoes to become comfortable. Grand Isle is a world not only miles away from the vacationers real world, it is also a spiritual lifetime removed from the perceived normal everyday life they lived in New Orleans. For Edna Pontellier, the island has a magical quality to it in which she is awakened to her most private inward passions, and insight to the wonders of nature around her. As stated in chapter 7 “she began to loosen a little of the mantle of reserve that had always enveloped her.” She mentions the subtle and apparent influences that must have been present there that summer at Grand Isle, whether in the personage of her fellow summer sojourner Adele Ratignolle or the island itself. ….Edna had in the past experienced great infatuations hopelessly. In marrying Leonce, she had closed the portals of dreams and romance in her life. This particular summer at Grand Isle passion, romance, dreams ,and angst filled her senses-from music to conversation to Mother nature’s examples of life unfettered- the wind, the sea, the birds, the flowers and the people of Grand Isle.

  8. Excellent point, Crystal! Grande Isle is exactly that--a place to loosen one's reserve. What's fascinating to me is that it isn't until the summer of Robert that she takes that loose reserve with her back to New Orleans. There had to have been something very specific about that particular summer to have changed something in her thinking.