In our time, the idea of feminism is often portrayed as a modern one, dating back no further than the famous bra-burnings of the 1960s. Perhaps this is due to some unconscious tendency to assume that one's own time is the most enlightened in history. But this tendency is unfortunate, because it does not allow readers to see the precursors of modern ideas in older works. A prime example of this is Kate Chopin's novel The Awakening, which explores the marital infidelities of a woman stuck in a loveless marriage as she searches for her purpose in life. In it, we see how an institutionalized union such as marriage is, almost by necessity, dispassionate, while forbidden loves are characterized only by passion, either physical or emotional. Because of this, we can observe that The Awakening is a feminist novel; through its unflattering portrayal of the institution of marriage and its positive stance towards feminine liberation, we see Chopin's belief in the equality and independence of the sexes.
But we cannot discuss feminism without a definition of the term. Since this term is one that has been thrown about for many decades and used by various groups to define themselves, it is imperative to pin down precisely what we mean by the word "feminism". The first definition that may come to mind is the belief in female superiority - the belief that, either by accident or design, females are inherently superior to males; or, equivalently, that males are inferior to females. This is just as imbalanced as the traditional European belief in male superiority, and this is not the type of feminism that we observe in Chopin's work. A second, somewhat improved, definitio...
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...ial conventions in general illustrate a belief that females as a whole have the right to independence. While this idea seems almost trivial in our time, it was scandalous when the novel was written. It is with this in mind that we must conclude that The Awakening is, in fact, feminist, and at the same time promotes an emotional independence that many would still not dare to strive for today.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. New York: Dover, 1993.
Deyo, C. L. "The Newest Books". St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 20, 1899: 4.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "Self-Reliance". Ralph Waldo Emerson: Selected Essays. Ed. Larzer Ziff. New York: Penguin, 1982: 175-203.
Hofstadter, Douglas R. "Pattern, Poetry, and Power in the Music of Frédéric Chopin". Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern. New York: Basic Books, 1985: 173-189.
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