preview

Awakening

Powerful Essays
When Kate Chopin's "The Awakening" was published at the end of the 19th Century, many reviewers took issue with what they perceived to be the author's defiance of Victorian proprieties, but it is this very defiance with which has been responsible for the revival in the interest of the novel today. This factor is borne out by Chopin's own words throughout her Preface -- where she indicates that women were not recipients of equal treatment. (Chopin, Preface ) Edna takes her own life at the book's end, not because of remorse over having committed adultery but because she can no longer struggle against the social conventions which deny her fulfillment as a person and as a woman. Like Kate Chopin herself, Edna is an artist and a woman of sensitivity who believes that her identity as a woman involves more than being a wife and mother. It is this very type of independent thinking which was viewed as heretical in a society which sought to deny women any meaningful participation.

The fact that Edna is an artist is significant, insofar as it allows her to have a sensibility as developed as the author's. Furthermore, Edna is able to find in Mlle. Reisz, who has established herself as a musician, a role model who inspires her in her efforts at independence. Mlle. Reisz, in confiding to Edna that "You are the only one worth playing for," gives evidence of the common bond which the two of them feel as women whose sensibilities are significantly different from those of the common herd. The French heritage which Edna absorbed through her Creole upbringing allowed her, like Kate Chopin herself, to have knowledge or a way of life that represented a challenge to dominant Victorian conventions.

In Creole society, women are dominated by men, but at least the freer attitude toward sexuality allows a woman opportunities for romance which are lacking in Anglo-Saxon culture. But sexual freedom is of little interest to Edna unless it can be used as a means of asserting her overall freedom as a human being. Learning to swim is thus important to her, because it allows her to have more control over the circumstances of her own life through the overcoming of the dread of water and the fear of death which it symbolizes. Again, the process through which Edna attains liberation and, in the author's words, begins to "do as she likes and to feel as she likes," is a gradual one. From stat...

... middle of paper ...

...otagonist, or the heroine. She dares to rebel against prevailing society, and even the very title of the book, as named by Kate Chopin, "The Awakening" is analogous to danger.

Is the truth then so dangerous and horrific that one risks suicide? And if so, is this applicable to everyone? Similarly I would ask the question, if this were to be the case, or if even not, why is that most of the population is not committing suicide? Surely they are living lives which they would not prefer, for example, most people according to polls would not report their job unless they had to and were paid for it.

Most marriages end in divorce. Indeed, the degree and level of suffering and pain throughout the populace is almost unfathomable. Perhaps, Ms. Chopin was living out a vicarious reality through Edna in committing suicide...and perhaps, this may be the underlying reason for the great reception which this novel has enjoyed...as well as staying power. Similarly, it has also been appointed a kind of jewel of the vanguard of women's rights. Indeed, "The Awakening" is one novel which exemplifies the attempt -- even realization -- of American womanhood's escape from personal and domestic bondage.
Get Access