Kate Chopin's The Awakening


Kate Chopin's The Awakening is a work of fiction that tells the
story of Edna Pontellier, Southern wife and mother. This book
presents the reader with many tough questions and few answers. It
is not hard to imagine why this book was banished for decades not
long after its initial publication in 1899. At that time in
history, women did just what they were expected to do. They were
expected to be good daughters, good wives, and good mothers. A
woman was expected to move from the protection of her father's
roof to the protection of her husband. Edna didn't fit this mold,
and that eventually leads her husband to send for a doctor. It is
here that Edna Pontellier says words that define The Awakening, "I
don't want anything but my own way. That is wanting a good deal,
of course, when you have to trample upon the lives, the hearts,
the prejudices of others - but no matter_"

As the book begins, Edna is a married woman who seems vaguely
satisfied with her life. However, she cannot find true happiness.
Her "awakening" begins when a persistent young man named Robert
begins courting her. Edna begins to respond to him with a passion
she hasn't felt before. She begins to realize that she can play
roles other than wife and mother.

Throughout the book Edna takes many steps to increase her
independence. She sends her children away, she refuses to stay at
home on Tuesdays (as was the social convention of the time), she
frequents races and parties. Unfortunately, her independence
proves to be her downfall.

Edna stays married because divorce was unheard of in those days.
She wants to marry Robert, but he will not because it will
disgrace her to leave her husband. No matter how much Edna exceeds
social boundaries, she is held down by the will of others, despite
what she wants. In today's world divorce, sadly, is almost
commonplace, but in her time she would have been an outcast of her
society. By the end of The Awakening, Edna feels like a possession
- of her husband, of her children, and of her society. The only
solution she sees is to end her life, which she does by swimming
out into the sea until her strength gives out. This is a very
symbolic death.

I feel the theme of The Awakening is deeper than the obvious
themes of independence and women's rights. The Awakening presents
suicide as a valid solution to problems that do not offer many
choices.

Why do people commit suicide? Some common reasons are isolation
and loneliness, disruption of one's social life, and suicide for
the common good. It's easy to connect these with Edna's life: the
isolation of her small house, the disruption caused by Adele's
death, and the common good of the children.

However, her suicide had nothing to do with any lack of personal
freedom. She was, for the most part, doing whatever she wanted and
there were no signs that she intended to stop. Rather, it was the
lack of good, healthy alternatives that led to her demise.

Robert had left her in an attempt to protect her, himself, or
possibly both. This left Edna to pursue a minor romance with Alcee
Arobin. Or stay in a marriage that held no hope of fulfillment. Or
she could pursue other third-rate affairs, while being discreet
enough not to hurt her children. None of these options satisfied
her longing for the one who had "awakened" her. Edna chose
suicide.

The only shortcoming I found in The Awakening was its lack of
dialogue. The book is filled with page after page of descriptive
phrases, thoughts and actions. This doesn't leave much to the
imagination, and in spots, the book seems to drag.

The merits of The Awakening far outweigh its few faults. It tells
a story of independence, freedom and will power unheard of during
the times of its publication. It's a stirring book that forces you
to confront tough issues. It paints a picture of what goes through
the mind of a person who loses hope.
Like Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Chopin's The
Awakening tells us a story from the perspective of the oppressed.
It is far more than another romance novel with a tragic ending. It
is a book about the choices one will makes to protect one's
freedom, and Chopin wonderful job presenting them in The
Awakening.