Thursday, May 14, 2009
This is one of my favorite books and most enjoyed authors. If you have never read her, you might want to!
The Awakening is a short novel by Kate Chopin (February 8, 1850 – August 22, 1904), first published in 1899. It is widely considered to be a proto-feminist precursor to American modernism. The novel chronicles the life of Edna Pontellier, the book’s protagonist, as she examines her happiness, role as a mother, and place in society. The novel is commonly studied to review feminist issues, and discover underlying controversies, as well as the reasons why Chopin chose to include these issues in her novel. It has also been condemned for its overwhelming use of complex sexual themes, which caused a major uproar when the novel was first published.
The novel is written from Kate Chopin’s unique point of view. She was courageously willing to go against society and her previous writing style. This type of writing adds controversy and provokes thought from her readers. It was not common to read about women experiencing these types of issues. Women were looking for a strong, independent role model. Chopin simply gave her readers her version of the ideal woman. According to literary critic, Emily Toth, Chopin’s views were contrasted to the proper roles of women during her time, and her observations were ostracized by society.
The Awakening begins with the Pontellier family vacationing at the summer resort of Grand Isle. Edna, the protagonist, is the wife of a successful businessman, Léonce. Edna, her husband, and their two sons have rented a cottage at the resort. Since Léonce is constantly occupied with his work, Edna begins to rely on others in Grand Isle for company. She spends most of her time with a close friend named Adele Ratignolle; Adele acts a second mother to Edna, and teaches her many important life lessons during their time together. Later, she meets Robert Lebrun, who is the son of the woman who manages the cottages on Grand Isle. Robert has a notorious reputation for choosing one woman and acting as her attendant each summer. This summer proves to be no different, as he and Edna get to know each other better. Towards the end of the vacation, she begins to fall passionately in love with him. However, Robert realizes this relationship is ultimately a forbidden love, so he quickly makes a plan to run off to Mexico to get away and ponder his relationship with Edna.
Once Edna and her family are back at their home in New Orleans, she is a completely different woman. Edna seems to be giving up her old life, which she believes was trapping her for the majority of her adult years. Léonce eventually calls in a doctor to diagnose her, but no progress is made as he can find nothing physically wrong with her. Her husband decides to leave her home while he goes away on a business trip. At this point in the story, Edna isolates herself and ignores her regular responsibilities. She eventually moves out of her house. Moving out of the house is the point in the story where her rebellion has now reached a new extreme. She rejects everything around her, including her children, giving no thought about the future. Much to her chagrin, while Léonce is gone, she has an affair with Alcée Arobin, who has been given the reputation as the town’s biggest flirt. Nevertheless, he is only able to satisfy her sexual desires for a short time.
Eventually Robert returns to express his true feelings for her. Unfortunately, their reunion is interrupted as Edna is called away to help Adèle with her difficult childbirth. Adèle then attempts to convince Edna to think of everything she is sacrificing for this relationship. She tries to remind her of the life she once had, her husband, her children, her place in society, and her duties. When she returns home, she finds a note left from Robert, saying he has left and will not be returning. Reading his words, Edna now feels completely alone in the world. She returns to Grand Isle, where ironically, she learned to swim earlier that summer.