Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Awakening

Reading a seminal work often has drawbacks.  I might not "get it," just might not see the beauty and the purpose behind the work of supposed genius.  I might not feel the same passions as others.  I kind of feel that way about The Awakening by Kate Chopin.  I think I "got it" for the most part - feminism, freedom, blah, blah, blah.  And I think some of the paragraphs are quite captivating.  But there is just not that wow factor I was expecting.   Instead, I found myself attached to the mostly inanimate objects in this short novel.   I ended up noticing the "period-ness" (my word) of the piece instead of the emotional weight.  I enjoyed the discussions of fashions, food, culture, and living arrangments much more than the breaking free of a "repressed" woman. 

The Awakening (Dover Thrift Editions)
I am told The Awakening did wonders for the women's movement.  But swept away with that free-love, I-have-rights- too, I-am-not-anybody's-property, it's-my-body, my-choice-crusade were some of the things that made womanhood great back then. 

So what to do when the emotional interior (read: overt feminist tendencies) doesn't do anything for you, but the exterior catches your eye? Make a list of the things which we ought to have and don't because of this stinkin' book. Here's my list of the things we should have kept around:

1. Hot chocolate prepared on a stove.  My mom used to make this for me on cold winter mornings and it is nothing like the packet kind.   There is a scene imprinted upon my mind of our main character and another extraneous woman having hot chocolate that bubbled up on the stove.  That sounds so good!  If only it weren't 100 degrees outside.

2. Referring to a meteorologist as a "weather prophet."  I know, I know, the science of meteorology has come a long way in the 100+ years since this book was written, but wouldn't it be a much more popular profession if it was called "prophecy?"

3.  Having a reputation for actual accomplishments.  Sadly, this is not true of the protaganist unless you count painting and swimming.  She is like yesteryear's Paris Hilton, if Paris had children she ignored.  It is more true of her husband Mr. Pontellier.  He actually went out and made money in that evil stock market and he put up with lack-luster attention on the home front.  New hero of the novel, anyone?

4. Sun hats with long white gloves and wearing all white in the summer.  I love the picture from the front of my edition.  It just speaks to that era so well.  I was going to say we should keep around veils, but those are more closely associated with Sharia law lately and that is not a thing we should keep around (Kate Chopin taught me that).

5. Throwing dinner parties without lifting a finger.  Now this is something I can really get behind!  As one who likes a good party as much as the next gal, I also realize all the planning and preparation that goes into one.  Not so for Edna, she has help for just that sort of thing and she sits, laughing and smiling with her guests while the courses are brought out.  Then, she gets all the credit for being the perfect hostess. 

There you  have it, the reason the women's lib movement has destroyed the fabric of society in 5 short points.  Any questions?

Note: I am not usually as sarcastic and snarky as I was in this post, please excuse the flippant tone.

Rating: 3.5 out of 7




  1. Bring on the flippant! I'm right there with not "getting" this book. She just seems whiny and privileged. Boo hoo for her.

  2. Stopping by from the hop. Have a great weekend!

  3. I found the lead character to be very selfish and not at all someone to admire-I like her short stories a lot more-I do admire her writing style and her ability to create a sense of place-on Chopin I would say first read her most famous short stories-all can be read online

    I enjoyed your post a lot

  4. I actually really liked The Awakening but also love your post! Keep up the snarky - it suits you :)

  5. I'm with you on The Awakening. I just wanted to reach into the book and slap Edna and say, "You have kids now and they need you, so deal!" I think she had too much time to sit around thinking about herself. That always seems to breed discontent no matter what. I much prefer Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" as a feminist text. I have read a short story by Chopin that was much better than this novel. Anyways, nice review.

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  8. It might help to know that kate chopin did not intend to write the seminal feminist novel. Like the Modernist authors, they wanted to keep the best things of their Victorian society, while changing some things and realizing that a whole new way of life was on the horizon. Many were apprehensive about the changes, while still seeing the flaws of their own time. What Chopin wrote was the discontent Edna had in being confined to only the constricted life she led. It is easy to sit at the beginning of the twenty-first century, with a ballot in your hand and a college degree on your wall, and understand what she felt. I agree she was terribly selfish, and in the end didn't know how to deal with life, but I think the book gives us a now obsolete glimpse into a life we cannot imagine.

    For the record, I HATED this book the first THREE times I read it. Then when I was in Prague, one of my teachers told me she absolutely LOVED it and I should give it one more try. Sometimes it takes growing up a little to gain a different perspective, and hearing someone else's perspective from a completely different culture (i.e. post-communist europe).

  9. (sorry for all the comments - I had a typo. Let's edit before we post, tara.)

  10. tara: for the record, I didn't hate it, I just didn't get crazy about it and want to tattoo some of the quotes on my body. Rather, I made it through it and found parts interesting and others annoying.

    other commenters: I don't think of her as selfish, so much as immature. The woman was definitely not ready for most of what life handed her. Yes, she was 29 years old, but her mental stability was not that of a 29 year old wife/mother.

  11. I believe that dressing in all white would be wonderful, and on labor day we'll have a white party and it will be wonderful, and then we'll walk into the ocean and...oh wait. But I'm serious about the white.

    I think now that I'm on my feminist kick I will need to reread this and see what I find.

    And, my grandma made hot chocolate like that.

  12. I have always really enjoyed this novel, but I didn't have a very good explanation for why until I took a Victorian lit. class.

    What I like about the novel is the way it presents and describes the life of a redundant woman. Edna's kids didn't actually need her, they had the quadroon (the casual racism of the novella also interests me). She had other people to plan her life for her, and all she had to do was show up. She didn't need to do anything, except not make a fuss. Her existence only needed to be Paris Hilton to be successful, despite her own desires (which she never did manage to discover). I find that type of role fascinatingly sad.

    I have also always loved the ending because of the arguments it inspires. The ambiguity interests me, and the way people read the ending presents intriguing views on societal roles of women now.

    I guess what I really love is the discussion surrounding the novella more than the story itself.

    This was a very fun and thoughtful post! Thanks for sharing the snark.