The Awakening – Kate Chopin

theawakening

5/5 Stars. LOVED. IT.

When I read the critiques at the end of this edition, especially the one by Willa Cather… I was shocked. So scathing! Maybe not everyone only writes about the amazing beauty of nature, Willa, come on. And so what if Edna is so much of an idealist, where do you think that came from? Society stifling her own passions and thoughts, perhaps? Gah. Anyway …

Interestingly, the preface to the work included how Chopin did not consider herself a feminist, but she definitely challenged the social conventions that constrained women at the time… much of which I think is still very relevant today.

I loved experiencing “the awakening” of Edna as I feel like it relates to every woman when she realizes that at least in some parts of her life she acts not as herself… but as society wants her to act. She feels she should have certain wants and desires such as getting married, having children, devoting herself to her family, etc, without taking into account her own wants, desires, and passions.

One critique I do have is that Mr. Pontellier seemed a bit boring/flat maybe to an unrealistic point? But perhaps that was Chopin’s intention, to show that he was part of the facade that was prescribed for Edna, that she was to obey her husband and stifle herself. The following quotes really got me:

“‘You are burnt beyond recognition,’ he added, looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage.”

“They were women who idolzed their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as minsitering angels.”

 

“The acme of bliss, which would have been a marriage with he tragedian, was not for her in this world. As the devoted wife of a man who worshiped her, she felt she would take her place with a certain dignity in the world of reality, closing the portals forever behind her upon the realm of romance and dreams”

In regard to the last quote, I hardly think Mr. Pontellier worshipped Edna, maybe in his own mind he behaved as he thought he should. But how boring must it be to only act in ways that society pressures you to? I’m not saying that Edna was right to begin an emotional affair with Robert, but I couldn’t help but think: how could she not? She was met with no passion no spontaneity from her own husband–they weren’t the right sort of character match. She recognizes that she would rather be true to herself than have the familiar comfort of conforming to social convention to not be looked upon crticially by others.This really resonated with me because, as a woman, I often feel as though I am supposed to be quiet, “play nice,” and not say what I actually think if it might cause a confrontation. More recently, though, I’ve been putting myself out of my comfort zone in order to become more myself. Isn’t that insane? It’s uncomfortable for me to actually say what I think and feel because I’ve been socialized not to. Anyway…

I especially liked the ending, when she seemed to realize the fleeting nature of feelings and attachments and how in reality one is often alone with their experiences. Maybe in the end she felt she could not fully escape the confines of social convention and that is why she chose to die? Or maybe she just realized the futility of always trying to chase after her latest love-interest as such infatuations ultimately change or shift. I do not believe Edna was too much of an idealist and I don’t think she looked to her lovers to solve all of her problems or to completely fulfill her emotionally–I just think that the attachment she had with Robert was so strong and something that she hadn’t felt before so she felt compelled to chase it only to ultimately recognize the often caprice of feelings and attachments.

I took Robert for a shameless flirt since the beginning conversations he had with Mrs. Ratignolle. I doubted Robert had a genuine attachment to Edna, but I guess that doesn’t really matter, what matters is Edna’s experience of it and how it transformed her to pay more attention to herself and led her to discover different parts of herself (not all sensual). I guess I feel like the work makes a larger commentary on how one’s experiences are one’s own and whether they are grounded in reality sometimes is of less importance than what was learned from the experience.

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