Proclaimed as one of the foundational pieces to the feminist movement in literature, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening tell the story of a married 20-something woman living during the turn of the century in New Orleans desperate to free herself without regard to her responsibilities to society and family. Chopin’s dynamic Edna discovers herself and finds an increasing need to flee from her oppressive and loveless marriage. Tragically, Edna ends her story with a collection of selfishly made choices and a decision to abandon her role as mother and wife.
I am still finding it difficult to form a solid opinion of The Awakening. I respect its place as a significant representation of the birth of the feminist movement in American culture during the latter part of the 19th century, but I find the main character’s responses to her circumstances frustratingly selfish and a bit childish (think Rose DeWitt Bukater in Titanic pre-Jack Dawson). However, at the same time, I recognize these responses and behavior as a result of society’s practice of treating women partially as property and partially as naive and fickle beings in need of supervision, restrictions, and protection. In some respect, I understand a person, forced into constraints and prevented from growing as an adult, to behave selfishly as Edna. On the other hand, I find it difficult to respect her because she fails to truly grow. She discovers her sexual being, but at the expense of her responsibility to her children. She discovers the capacity to love, but falls into an obsessive state of a man rather than fully engrossing herself into her full potential. Edna leaves her family not for some greater and nobel venture, but for the affection of another man. Her behaviors represent the stigma of women today - that they do not see much else to life that finding true love and acceptance from a knight in shining armor.
The delivery of The Awakening was one that I found refreshing. The vast majority of the story moved at a slower and very descriptive pace. It forced me into a state of full absorption of the surroundings and day-to-day living in Edna’s world. The remaining pages of the story kicked into full gear for me and I could not help but finish the book without quoting Anchorman - “Well, that escalated quickly.” I felt as if Edna was slipping from my hands and I could not fully absorb her actions before she left the pages of the book.
The Awakening is a short novel, and given its representation in female literature and bleak ending, I would recommend this book despite my own frustrations with the main character. Fun Note: It is also on the Banned Books List (because of its place in fiction during the time of its publication date, as well as its original cover, many libraries removed the book from the shelves).
The Awakening | by Kate Chopin | 190 pp.