Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Awakening - Kate Chopin

I don't usually like to read older books, and I prefer to remain on the more contemporary side of the literary sphere, but I had read a part of this novel a long time ago and it has stuck with me all these years. When I saw it on sale at Chapters, I couldn't help but sift through the pages, read the paragraph that I fell in love with, and purchase it on the spot.

Although it is not something I would typically pick up and rave about, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Chopin has a sort of haunting voice, and even as she discusses the everyday activities of the upper-class in the late 1800's, there is something deeper and less evident in other novels that I have read from this time. Chopin was actually ridiculed for this novel and her career was all but over with its publication. Reading it gives the reasoning.

Edna Pontellier is a wealthy, upper-class 28 year old with two children and a husband. As she summers in Grand Isle (near New Orleans, I believe) with her family and some friends, she becomes aware of herself for the first time. She declares herself to have always been different from others, but for the first time she realizes how much she truly desires the independence that she has never allowed herself to have. She attributes this need for solitude to a budding relationship that she establishes with the young Robert, believing that he is the first to show her the value in being herself as opposed to being a part of a class or a part of a marriage only. When she returns home, she lapses further into her changing mind on her social statuses and her status as a wife and mother. She decides to leave her home and her family, initially in pursuit of her own solitude, but later for hope of a relationship with Robert. With one of the saddest conclusions I have ever read, Chopin opens your eyes to a world of individualism in women that the late 1800's were clearly not ready to see.

I think that the only thing that bothered me about this text was the fact that she seemed to go back on her new-found individualism through her obsession with Richard. She proclaims throughout the novel that she desires only to be alone with herself, as well as how important it is for her to make her own way in life, yet in the next paragraph she will wonder about where in the world he might be and when he might return to her. I believe that I only think like this because I live in a world where if a woman wants to do something, she does it, and it is rarely as a result of a man. I suppose that in Chopin's time it was less likely for a woman to set out on her own with no desire to have the stability a man would offer than it may be to find a woman like Edna. I think that that maybe Chopin might be expressing only a section of Edna's personality in her desire to be with Robert, and instead of assuming that she needed only to be with him, I need to recognize that Edna herself does not understand what she wants. She believes that it is a man simply because it always has had to be a man. If tragedy did not strike in the final page, I think that Edna slowly would have discovered this about herself. She simply needed to find something for herself, but time did not allow her this. It was probably for the best as well, with the fact that Chopin's career was shot with the boundaries that she overstepped with Edna in the first place.

I give this novel a 4/5. I really love it. There are part of it that make you want to scream at Edna, and there are parts that make you want to weep for the misery of it all. I think that it is a brilliant example of the uprising of women, and although I am not a feminist, I would urge this novel on anyone interested in the lines of gender being crossed.

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