The Awakening by Kate Chopin

"Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one's life," wrote Kate Chopin.  And The Awakening, her most famous work, certainly roused many.  This novel tells of a Louisiana wife who discovers the strength of her own sexuality and tries to wrench it from the hands of a patriarchal society.  And just as Edna Pontellier is ostracized for trying to master her own sexual fate, so was Chopin shunned after writing this book, her reputation and career destroyed.  Today, however, The Awakening is considered a masterpiece, and along with her short stories, it has set a standard for younger generations of women, who have learned to value their individuality and independence.


Maxine's Review

I got lucky.

A few years back I suggested ‘Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons’ for our book club and later for The Boutique.  I was perusing the shelves at my local bookstore when the book jacket caught my eye.  What I didn’t expect was to appreciate the story so much.  Stella made a list of AHEBB Book Club Reading List.  In 1987 the character Slip suggested ‘The Awakening” by Kate Chopin, because “It’s one of the books that should be on everyone’s must read list”.   Stella and I knew we had to review it for our site.  Coincidently, it is also one of the many books Cheryl Strayed brought along on her PCT hike in the novel Wild.  That is how we came to ‘Boutique’ The Awakening, by Kate Chopin. 

Kate Chopin was born in 1850 Missouri.  One of five children, she lost two sisters at birth and two brothers in their prime.  Her father died shortly thereafter. Chopin lived with her mother, grandmother and great grandmother who became strong influences on her, which are reflected in her writing.

Our story begins at a holiday resort in New Orleans owned by Madame Lebrun.   Many of the wealthy spend their summers here and it is here where we meet Edna and Leonce Pontellier and their two young boys.  Even on holiday, Leonce is preoccupied with his work and often departs on business leaving Edna alone with her new friend Adele Ratignolle.  This friendship opens Edna’s eyes to more candid expressions that liberate Edna from her reserved self.  This budding friendship with Adele and other Creole women around the resort begins Edna’s ‘awakening’. 

Edna spends much of that summer with Adele and Madame Lebrun’s son Robert. What began as an innocent friendship with Robert begins to blossom into more and Edna begins to do things she has always wanted; learn to swim, and continue to paint.  This independence sparks a transformation in Edna.  Sensing the change Robert leaves before he or Edna act on their feelings.

Back at their home, Edna is withdrawn and sad.  She becomes consumed with her painting and forgets everything else.  Her husband is mortified and worries what people will think.  Leonce must leave again on business and hopes all will return to normal when he gets back.  His departure spurs Edna into her most independent acts.  However by doing so she now is faced with a reality she cannot bare.  

Haunted by this new awakening Edna goes out alone into the world. 

The Awakening is a classic, historical, feminist story.  I appreciate the importance of this novel and the author with the courage to write it.  Chopin delved into women’s independence and sexual desires which was rarely done at this time.  The story deals with Edna’s unhappiness in her marriage and society’s inability to allow her to change it.  I felt Edna was self destructive and selfish.  I did not connect with her.  She leaves her husband, abandons her children and chases a young man with enough brains to run from her.   Was this really love or lust?  Does it matter?  Is this the price Edna will pay for freedom?  While I am glad to have finally read The Awakening, it will not be one I need to reread in the future.  I can express my individuality and wishes just fine, perhaps thanks to Kate?

Rating:  I understand the importance of this novel but did not connect with characters.  Enjoyed the writing style.


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