Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Awakening by Kate Chopin - Book Review #60

Thursday, July 29, 2010
The Awakening
by Kate Chopin

This story of a woman's struggle with oppressive social structures received much public contempt at its first release; put aside because of initial controversy, the novel gained popularity in the 1960s, some six decades after its first publication, and has since remained a favorite of many readers. Chopin's depiction of a married woman, bound to her family and with no way to assert a fulfilling life of her own, has become a foundation for feminism and a classic account of gender crises in the late Victorian era.

I still don’t have a solid opinion on The Awakening by Kate Chopin and I’m not sure if I will have anytime soon. If Edna, the main character of the novel, was a hero who fought the battle against society and traditions that couldn’t have been won at her time then she deserves our applause. Or maybe she was just a spoiled, bored and rich woman who didn’t know what she wanted and didn’t see what she had then she deserves our reproof. Or there could be a third option – she was, as her husband suspected, mentally ill, in this case we should pity her. I’m turned between these three possibilities.

It could be the first possibility. She could have being feeling trapped without any alternatives of becoming her own person with her own interests and being focused on her own desires and goals. I could see how impossibly hard it would be for a woman to achieve something like this at the end of the 19th century.

On the other hand I couldn’t help to notice that despite how absent her husband always was, the moment this metamorphose started to happen to Edna he tried to be attentive and then just left her alone, as doctor advised, and let her do whatever she was pleased to do, but she still wasn’t satisfied. It seemed like she wanted something and she wasn’t satisfied, because she didn’t have it. Then she got it, but she wasn’t satisfied again or anyway. Some might call it a search for oneself, I call it – capriciousness. This brings me to the second possibility – her being spoiled and bored.

And there is the third possibility of Edna being mentally ill. No, don’t get me wrong I don’t think that she was crazy just because she didn’t want to be a perfect housewife. It is her mood swings and how she ended everything makes me conjecture that she was a bipolar.

Despite my undecidedness on Edna’s character, I still think that The Awakening was a great work that influenced a lot of feminist fiction that followed it. The whole time I was reading The Awakening I had a feeling that I’ve already read it, but I’m more than sure that I haven’t. I guess I had this feeling because the events and feelings described in The Awakening, by our time, have become a cliché, which proofs how influential this book has been. Kate Chopin’s writing is clean, light and easy readable. Also The Awakening can be a good study case for symbolism. I will give you just one quote, but this book is full of symbolism:

She put her arm around me and felt my shoulder blades, to see if my wings were strong, she said. “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings.”
In conclusion, I think that The Awakening, one of the earliest feminist novels, is worth of reading to at least see and try to comprehend the beginning of the movement in fiction.


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