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4.0 out of 5 stars The Awakening: a not so simple book, May 13, 2000
This review is from: The Awakening (Mass Market Paperback)
Kate Chopin's controversial novel The Awakening was greeted with immediate attack by critics who believed it to be too provocative and questioned her motives and morals. Set in Louisiana, the protagonist Edna Pontellier, struggles to reach her awakening through her journeys and experiences in New Orleans and the Grand Isle. The Awakening is filled with symbols and different themes which reveal Edna as a complicated and intricate character. Throughout the novel, there is a constant dualism between Edna Pontellier's outward existence and her inner self. Her outward existence conforms to society and her duties as a wife and mother, and in contrast, her inner self is represented through her dreams. Her dreams are to be free and to no longer be viewed as an ornament hanging off of her husband. Symbolized by the parrots who are tamed and domesticated in the gilded cage, she feels restricted by her current life and desires to escape. The birds also foreshadow her departure by their cries of "Allez vous-en!" (Get out!) and reveals the theme of escape from maternal and matrimonial bondage. When she moves out of her husband's house, her new home is known as "the pigeon house." This is significant because pigeons are not caged and therefore, able to roam free. The dualism between New Orleans and the Grand Isle symbolizes constraint and freedom. New Orleans is proper society and extremely hectic, whereas Grand Isle possess more of an relaxed atmosphere and is much like the Garden of Eden. It is in Grand Isle where she meets and falls in love with Robert Lebrun. Edna faces a dilemma of choosing between her husband and children or Robert Lebrun. She believes that in Robert she has found her true self and identity, but later realizes that her infatuation with Robert is only a sexual desire and can be satisfied by any other man. It is ironic that in the end Mr. Pontellier and Robert Lebrun turn out to be the same-a common man. Like Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, Edna becomes alienated from society. Her final dinner party parallels the Last Supper where she invites 12 guests symbolizing the 12 disciples. After the conclusion of her party, she returned to Grand Isle where the voice of the sea "speaks to the soul" and attracted Edna for a spiritual and emotional cleansing. Kate Chopin's novel with its simple short sentences and chapters is actually not simple at all. The Awakening is filled with many symbols and themes, all of which helps increase the readers understanding of Edna Pontellier. It must be read with close attention to detail. Although the ending was some what disappointing, it is still worth reading. This book about feminism that shocked the literary world over a hundred years ago will still shock readers today.
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