Free Awakening Essays: A Reader Response

Free Awakening Essays: A Reader Response

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A Reader Response to The Awakening  

I had not read The Awakening before, and these notes are on a real “first reading” , and as a result deal mostly with my emotional response and thoughts on the style and general content of the story,

I enjoyed the language and the “texture” of the writing. The subtle characterizations were done well, although the introduction of the characters seemed a bit unclear at times. The languid pace of the novel seem to fit the story and location of the action on one level, but seemed at odds with the violent, brash , turbulent nature of the emotional heart of the novel, Edna’s trying to connect to her true self. I often found myself wanting things to move on.

At times the writing reminded me of Hemingway(of all people) in its description of eating and drinking , small actions that tell a lot about a character, and frequent use of French or Spanish phrases within the text:
“Robert rolled a cigarette. He smoked cigarettes because he could not afford cigars,...” (44)
“She was hungry again, for the Highcamp dinner, though of excellent quality, had lacked abundance. She rummaged in the larder and brought forth a slice of “Gruyere” and some crackers. She opened a bottle of beer...” (116)
“Well, good-by, a jeudi,”...(108)
“The sun was low in the west and the breeze was soft and warm.”(53)

But unlike Hemingway, I often got the feeling that Chopin did not trust either her writing and the images and metaphors she used, or the reader to understand her more subtle sections. She seemed to feel often that she had to go back and tell the reader what a certain image or action “really” meant , as if we wouldn’t understand.

It was difficult, especially at first, to identify with Edna. I thought at first that this woman just had too much time to think and little else to do with her life,(Which ultimately might be Chopin’s point). A woman with so little to really “worry about”, in the context that most of us have daily problems, mostly of a material kind, to take up our thoughts. Also. her reaction to her children,(as well as her husbands), made me feel for them.(This was the first thought that came into my mind when Edna walked into the ocean. Is finding freedom for our soul synonymous with freedom from our responsibilities?

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In the end, I personally don’t find suicide to be a noble, drive towards freedom. I think it is the giving up of hope and freedom. Was Edna’s situation such that this was her “only” choice?
Or did fatigue set in, and she just grew tired of the fight.

Still, in spite of the above objections, on first reading, I liked the story. I read it basically in one sitting, wanted to find out what happened in the end, and enjoyed the writing. I want to read the story again (and hypertext) and take more time with it.

One nice bit of foreshadowing I did notice was in chapter 13 when Edna leaves the church to rest at Madame Antoine’s, and the description of her retiring in the small room on the white bed, which seems very much like the final scene in the novel when she gives herself up to the ocean.(p,77, third paragraph)

HYPER-Text Response

I read the novel a second time, then read through the hyper-text, which I found opens up many new areas to explore. I still am having a hard time with Edna’s final resolution (Which I believe was to “give up” more than a direct decision to choose suicide) to her predicament, but I think that I may be letting my twentieth century attitudes affect my reading too much. After these second readings, I am able to see more that Edna felt she had run out of choices,(unless she continue to go from man to man searching for something that I don’t believe even she knew what she was looking for). She could become the wife/mother, as M. Ratignolle personified, or the lonely, bitter artist as M. Reisz, but she saw nothing in between. WAS this inability to see any other way a weakness in Edna’s personality, or was the societal pressure so strong that NO woman would have been able to make another way for herself. I think that the discussion between Edna and Adele, when the women are talking past one another, neither understanding the others point, indicates that Chopin believes that even when Edna tries to verbalize her feelings, there is no one who understands. I still tend to think that Edna could have, if she had a , for lack of a better word, stronger personality, made a world for herself between the extremes.(At one point M. Reisz tells Edna that “... to succeed the artist must possess the courageous soul.”, which M. Reisz hints that Edna does not.) Edna did move into the small house and begin to work as an artist. That seems to be a beginning! But I believe that Chopin felt, at least in this novel, that there was no real choice left to Edna.

In the end, Edna just ran out of strength. Note the description of her final swim, “-but it was too late; the shore was far behind her, and her strength was gone.” And a few lines before this, “Her arms and legs were growing tired.” and “Exhaustion was pressing upon and over-powering her.” Spiritual as well as mental exhaustion. She could realize for herself no satisfactory solution. She died of a kind of ennui, an inability to see any way out.

I loved reading the book, more on second and third times through. The “thickness” and beauty of the images and style, very romantic. The foreshadowing was interesting to note(The daydream Edna had of the man, naked, standing at the sea looking out, or the use of the opera “Zampa”). It is ironic that within the context of all this beauty,(beautiful settings, houses, people, language, dreams), such unhappiness and finally death is hidden. Chopin gave Edna a very beautiful cage!

 

 
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