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The Impact of Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism, and Local Color on The Awakening

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Four major literary movements can claim some aspect of The Awakening, for in this "small compass . . . [is illustrated] virtually all the major American intellectual and literary trends of the nineteenth century" (Skaggs, 80). The Romantic movement marked a profound shift in sensibilities away from the Enlightenment. It was inspired by reaction to that period's concepts of clarity, order, and balance, and by the revolutions in America, France, Poland, and Greece. It expressed the assertion of the self, the power of the individual, a sense of the infinite, and transcendental nature of the universe. Major themes included the sublime, terror, and passion. The writing extolled the primal power of nature and the spiritual link between nature and man, and was often emotional, marked by a sense of liberty, filled with dreamy inner contemplations, exotic settings, memories of childhood, scenes of unrequited love, and exiled heroes.

In America, Romanticism coalesced into a distinctly "American" ideal: making success from failure, the immensity of the American landscape, the power of man to conquer the land, and "Yankee" individualism. The writing was also marked by a type of xenophobia. Protestant America was faced with an influx of Catholic refugees from the Napoleonic Wars, of Asian workers who constructed the railroads, and the lingering issue of Native Americans. An insular attitude developed, the "us and them" in Whitman. The major writers of the period were Irving, Cooper, Emerson, Poe, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Whitman, Dickinson, and Melville.

There are various romantic elements in The Awakening. Perhaps the most obvious and elemental are the exotic locale, use of color, and heavy emphasis on nature (cl...

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...cause Robert to leave.

Works Cited and Consulted

Chopin, Kate, The Awakening; A Solitary Soul. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1992

Delbanco, Andrew. "The Half-Life of Edna Pontellier." New Essays on The Awakening. Ed. Wendy Martin. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988. 89-106.

Koloski, Bernard, ed. Preface. Approaches to Teaching Chopin's The Awakening. By Koloski. New York: MLA, 1988.

Martin, Wendy, ed. New Essays on the Awakening. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.

May, John R. "Local Color in The Awakening." Culley, 189-95.

Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969.

- - -. "Kate Chopin and the American Realists." Culley 180-6.

Skaggs, Peggy. "Three Tragic Figures in Kate Chopin's The Awakening." Louisiana Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of the South 4 (1974): 345-64.
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