History: First published in 1899. It is widely considered to be a proto-feminist precursor to American modernism. 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. 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.
Unlike Chopin’s other books, The Awakening uses a more direct style to portray a more tainted and unwholesome story. She is able to tell the story in a simple and direct way, while still writing in her genuine style using vivid details. Chopin was simply trying to introduce a new type of novel into her strict society. She was attempting to show how trapped women in difficult circumstances sometimes feel and what could happen if that struggle becomes unbearable. Chopin was trying to illustrate a balance between happiness and duties.
Plot: 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. Unable to resist the water, she swims out as far as possible, suffers from exhaustion, and drowns.
Review: I listened to this book, read by Walter Zimmerman who has the worst monotone ever. So I couldn’t get the real feeling of the book. Kate Chopin was well ahead of her time. The novel was met with a great deal of controversy. Even fans of her work prior to this novel, shunned her. She was a pioneer creating women characters beyond the role of wife and mother. She wrote about women’s feelings, sexuality, and independence. It took America decades to catch up with Kate Chopin. It is important to add that Chopin used a lot of symbols in all of her work and that The Awakening is full of them. These symbols serve to add meaning to the text and to underline some subtle points. Understanding the meaning of these symbols is vital to a full appreciation of the story. Some of the major symbols include birds, art, sleep, piano playing, the gulf, the moon, and learning to swim.
Opening Line: “A green and yellow parrot which hung in a cage outside the door, kept repeating over and over: "Allez vous-en! Allez vous-en! Sapristi! That's all right!"
Closing Line: “There was the hum of bees, and the musky odor of pinks filled the air.”
Quotes: "I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself. I can't make it more clear; it's only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me."