Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Awakening

The Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899)

In this classic novel by Kate Chopin, we are introduced to Edna Pontellier, a young woman trapped in an unfulfilling marriage who suddenly realizes her true potential for happiness, though it may be out of her reach. The Pontelliers are vacationing in Grand Isle, Louisiana when Edna meets and befriends Robert, a single man in her social circle. They spend a great deal of time together and she hopes to continue their friendship when they return to town, but he, realizing his feelings for her are far beyond friendship, leaves for Mexico. Deeply upset, Edna tries to carry on and ends up befriending another man. Though the feelings are stronger on his side than hers, she pursues him until Robert returns to town unexpectedly. During this time she also moves out of her house, realizing how much happier she is when she does as she pleases.

I liked the general theme of this novel, which I know is heralded as a feminist classic. The prose was quite beautiful in parts, too. I especially enjoyed this passage, which comes at a pivotal point:

"There were strange, rare odors abroad- a tangle of the sea smell and of weeds and damp, new-plowed earth, mingled with the heavy perfume of a field of white blossoms somewhere near. But the night sat lightly upon the sea and land. There was no weight of darkness; there were no shadows. The white light of the moon had fallen upon the world like the mystery and softness of sleep."

Isn't that lovely?

However, I was never very drawn to the characters, nor did I feel like I knew them well. Even Edna remained a mystery as I felt I only knew part of what was going on with her. She didn't expound on her feelings about her husband or why she married him. Chopin only really scratches the surface of the inner life of her characters.

Since this is a classic I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that it ends tragically, and I don't know that it was necessary. Why couldn't Edna realize the sort of life she envisioned for herself? She had already begun. She stopped waiting around the house on Tuesdays, her day to be called upon by her friends, and she moved into another place and made it her own. There were few consequences to these actions so I don't quite know what was stopping her from continuing on this way. Had something dramatic happened to pull her back into society, or had her husband forced her back, I would have been more convinced.

I had been quite looking forward to reading what I expected to be a feminist novel, but I'm afraid it fell a bit flat for me. If you have other early feminist classics to recommend, let me know in the comments!

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