- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 2nd edition (September 17, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780393960570
- ISBN-13: 978-0393960570
- ASIN: 0393960579
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 812 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #162,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Awakening (Norton Critical Editions) 2nd Edition
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About the Author
Margo Culley is Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She is the editor of American Women’s Autobiography: Fea(s)ts of Memory and A Day at a Time: Diary Literature of American Women, and co-editor of Women’s Personal Narratives: Essays in Criticism and Pedagogy and Gendered Subjects: The Dynamics of Feminist Teaching. She teaches courses in American studies, women’s studies, and ethnic studies.
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The Awakening is the story of wealthy and unhappy Edna Pontellier. She lives in New Orleans though the story opens when she is vacationing on the Louisiana coast with her husband and their two young sons. Her husband is portrayed as a stuffy bore and the children as always wanting something. At the summer resort she meets a variety of people. Her close friend is very conventional, pregnant again, and would sacrifice anything for her children. Another female vacationer is a pianist and an unconventional single woman. She offers an alternative view of life for a woman. Edna falls in love with the resort owner's flirtatious son Robert Lebrun. When she returns to her daily life in New Orleans, Edna is despondent. She misses Robert and she is unhappy being a wife and mother. She tries to carve out some independence with her painting. When her husband leaves on an extended business trip, she has an affair with a notorious womanizer. She ends the affair on her own terms. Still unhappy and unfulfilled, she rents a small house which she intends to live in on her own. Her husband is appalled, but he is mainly concerned about appearances. In a move worthy of today's best spin doctors, he makes arrangements to renovate their house in order to explain his wife living elsewhere. In the meantime, Robert returns, sparks fly, and he leaves again. Edna returns to the coast alone.
That is a lot of story in a short book. The writing is descriptive and evocative without being too flowery. The real power is in the main character daring to defy a woman's prescribed role. She tries to assert herself in small ways, but becomes bolder when this does not work. There is a great scene when Edna decides to sleep outside in a hammock. Her husband orders her in the house. When she refuses, he sits on the porch with her all night. He drinks wine and smokes cigars while she tries to sleep. It is a great example of the passive-aggressive behavior that occurs in most marriages at some point. I noticed that some reviewers do not like the character of Edna. She is not particularly likable, but neither are any of the other characters in this book. She is an unhappy woman who does not like society's rules. She has very few options and makes a lot of blunders along the way. The book really resonated with me at this time in my life and also at this time in our social and political climate. I'm so glad I re-read this!
Chopin’s character, Edna, is married to Leonce, a businessman, who seems to only accompany her for the family vacations in Grand Isle and is away on business the rest of the time so they can live and vacation in the manner of the wealthy. In fact, he leaves Edna to carry on as she pleases on these excursions with her best friend, Adele Ratignolle, and a handsome son of the Lebrun family, Robert, who manages the cabins. Edna and Leonce’s twins are taken care of by the “quadroon”, a racially mixed servant, whom Edna relies on almost entirely for the care of her children. She does express love for her children but motherhood is not her forte. Leonce pays less attention to his children then his wife and has no idea Edna is unhappy. Adele Ratignolle is the perfect friend, mother and wife. She is often faint and ill because of her constant state of pregnancy. Often, as a friend, she warns Edna to watch out for Robert’s propensity and temporary affection toward married women. Edna and Adele have a very close relationship and at least in one moment in the story it becomes that of a tender, almost sexual in nature, affair, but Chopin leaves that question unanswered to remain in the reader’s imagination. Then there is the quiet, solitary, pianist, Mademoiselle Reisz, whom Edna visits regularly once she returns home and is her only confidant regarding her emotional affair with Robert. Edna admires the Madame’s solitary life and herein Chopin leads us to believe Edna idolizes a lifestyle where one can do as they please.
Robert travels to Mexico to avoid an impending affair with Edna, now an artist, while she paints and dreams of sensual moments that do not involve her husband, sending her twins to visit the in-laws. Conveniently, Leonce is out of the picture long enough for her to become attracted to a replacement for Robert, Alcee Arobin, the local womanizer. Edna finally succumbs to Alcee’s persistence and consummates this affair, but continues to long for Robert. Robert does return from Mexico eventually, but the couple’s emotions battle each other to a final losing end.
Chopin leads the reader through Edna’s search for meaning of her true self, her identity crisis, and her “awakening” through the subject of sexuality. She explores topics like homosexuality and infidelity in a frank but very uncommon style for the late 19th century.
I enjoyed reading The Awakening and appreciate Chopin’s honesty and courage not only as a feminist, but as an author who brought to the public’s attention the need to re-evaluate the roles of men and women in marriage and parenting. Maybe Edna’s feelings could also apply to today’s families that spend so much of their time going separate ways instead of building lasting bonds together.
Like it or not we are sometimes subjects of our sexuality here in the 21st century as they were in 1899. This book was controversial simply because Kate Chopin let those feelings be known, quite the opposite of these days and times.
I didn't like it. The writing is uneven, and Edna had a pretty good life compared to a lot of women today, let alone in Kate Chopin's time. However, it bears keeping in mind that Chopin was trying to do something different and somewhat revolutionary for the time. She was bending the formal rules of prose-writing and trying to break away somewhat from the realism that dominated the novels of her time. Both efforts work better in the dialogue than they do in the descriptive text, at least for me. The extended metaphor, however, is well-executed, if a bit on the nose.
For my son, who read the book this year for AP Lit, Edna's character was insufferable, and the way the other characters existed to price her was unendurable. I agree that it's tiresome, but after speaking with a friend of mine who is smarter than I am by a lot, I think maybe that Chopin intended it to be so as a way to illustrate the cognitive dissonance involved in Victorian American bourgeoise society when a wife and mother was not good in either role.
All that said, parts of it are gorgeous, and Chopin was way ahead of her time, which makes the book worth reading.