52 in 52 Week 8: The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The Awakening by Kate ChopinKate Chopin

The Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899)

How interesting that this book began and ended at the sea, and I was reading it by the sea! 

This book is considered an early feminist novel and from the Naturalism time period (1890's to 1920's) in American Literature.
. . . in spite of the romantic tradition in which she wrote, Kate Chopin explored naturalistic ideas. This is especially so in THE AWAKENING (1899), in which she expresses through the character Dr. Mandelet the naturalist view that romantic love is an illusion damaging to women's social status since it determines for them the biological role of motherhood. The illusion of love, he says, is "a provision of Nature; a decoy to secure mothers for the race." In spite of this, Chopin's heroine, Edna Pontellier, maintains a romantic view of experience and her suicide, in sharp contrast to that of Crane's Maggie, is a triumphant expression of individual will over circumstance. 

The main character, Edna, response to Dr. Mandelet's view:

"Yes," she said. "The years that are gone seem like dreams--if one might go on sleeping and dreaming--but to wake up and find--oh! well! perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one's life."  
And that is what 28 year old Edna does, she "awakens" to herself and the possibility that she can be more than a mother and an extension of her husband. He is verbally condescending if not verging on abusive, and she is awakened to other possibilities when a younger man, Robert Lebrun, whose specialty is making female guests at his mother's summer resort feel attractive and cared for, begins to pay attention to her.

This is what I wrote before I looked up anything about the book:

I had no idea what to expect from this book. All I know is that there are numerous questions about it in the "Never-Ending Book Quiz" on Good Reads, and it was on my 100 Great Books list. 
I am sure the feminists love it, but I wanted to puke. What a selfish brat of a woman who “finds” herself when she has two small children to take care of.  
Her husband even seemed willing to explore what was going on and had genuine concern as evidenced by going to the doctor for help and advice, but she just shut him out!  
You make your bed, lady, you lie in it. Life is not all about personal happiness! UGH! The writing was beautiful, but the message STUNK! I think it is in the classics genre because this woman was writing way ahead of her time in the evolution of the women’s liberation movement. YES, men can be jerks sometimes. YES, sometimes we marry so young that we often don’t know what we are getting ourselves into,  but PLEASE! 
I see many women who are “awakening” to who they really are, and they find they might have married the “wrong” man that inhibits their “self-actualization,” and most don’t see the need to fight for their marriages, but my favorite line in the book is from the natural mother, Adele Ratignole, who reminds the protagonist, "Think of the children, Edna. Oh think of the children! Remember them!"   
Apparently, Edna didn't care to think of them because she does what feels good, and what a mess! I read this on the heals of four Shakespearean tragedies hoping for something lighter, but at least Shakespeare has heroes and villains based on morals of good and evil.  
This woman is no heroine.

It is interesting to read about the novelist:
Kate Chopin was never a member of a suffragist group of women, and certainly she wouldn't have labeled herself a feminist. She was a woman with a house full of children--a wife and mother who happened to write. She was, however, a strong and independent woman (probably because her father died and four, and she was raised by strong women); she smoked and defied convention by going out alone--without a male escort--wherever she wished to go in New Orleans. She was, however, aware of women's issues. The leading New Orleans newspaper was edited by a woman and a good many editorials championed women's rights. The notion of feminism was in the air, so Chopin was well aware of the various women's rights movements, even though she was not an activist. Despite the budding women's rights movement, when The Awakening was published the reviewers scathingly condemned the novel. One reviewer wrote that "one would fain beg the gods, in pure cowardice, for sleep unending . . . ." A reviewer in St. Louis, Chopin's hometown, gasped, "one feels that the heroine should pray for deliverance from temptation. . . .This is not a healthy book. . . . It is a morbid book." . . . Chopin, however, humorously trumped all of her male critics by publishing this statement: "Having a group of people at my disposal, I thought that it might be entertaining (to myself) to throw them together and see what would happen. I never dreamed of Mrs. Pontellier making such a mess of things and working out her own damnation as she did. If I had had the slightest intimation of such a thing, I would have excluded her from the company. But when I found out what she was up to, the play was half over, and it was then too late." Today the novel is regarded as a masterpiece of American fiction and is required reading in universities and high schools throughout America. Long after her death, the United States finally awakened to the genius and art of Kate Chopin. (The Book of Great Books: A Guide to 100 World Classics, p. 62). 
It is a morbid book.

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