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Wolff’s Critique of Chopin’s The Awakening Essays

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Wolff’s Critique of Chopin’s The Awakening


The critical case study to the novel establishes a definition of a type of critical response, and then gives as close an example that fits that mode of criticism—BORING! First, the book has these forms of criticism laid out contiguously, as if they occurred only spatially and not temporally. This flattened and skewed representation of critical approaches, taking an argument out of its context (an academic debate) and uses it as if it were a pedagogical tool. Just as criticism in many ways takes the life out of the text, by dissecting it and making it a part of an argument, the “model critical approach” takes the life out of criticism.

It is interesting to see how the different Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism are altered by the text they are describing. For example, I have one volume on Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, and another for Great Expectations, both of which demonstrate the extent to which the object of critique affects the critique itself, such that “deconstruction criticism” in an intellectual vacuum is something different than when a scholar tries to apply it to a particular text, altering both the text as well as the principles of deconstruction. The Awakening gender criticism takes on a different feel from Great Expectation gender criticism even though they are informed by the same principles, because gender in the early Victorian Dickens is different than in the turn of the century American Chopin. In this way the criticism co-constructs with the primary document something different than both the criticism and the original text. Such a syntheses have produced exciting and innovative ideas, refreshing and reviving works from the tombs of academia. Unfor...


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... is also a politics involving real becomings, an entire becoming clandestine. (A Thousand Plateaus 188)

Finally, the sea is a common trope for mother, and maternal—that from which life springs. We are presented with Edna running away from Protestant society (the dynamo, the father) to Catholic Creole society (the earth-goddess transformed into the Madonna). She runs away from her father, and there is no mother for her to run towards except the archetypal sea. If these mythic formations say anything, the novel says something about Edna’s own lost mother. Is the tragedy of the book that this mother is never found even though Edna followed the trail to the musty scent? Is the tragedy of the story Edna’s mother died giving birth to Edna, leaving Edna with only one memory of her mother—the musty scent of childbirth? Does this inform her attitudes toward motherhood?



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