Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

The Awakening ()

Feminista 100 Greatest Works of 20th Century Fiction by Women Writers

Edna Pontellier comes from good Presbyterian Kentucky stock.  She's married to Leonce, a New Orleans Creole businessman, and has two sons.  She doesn't particularly love her husband and says of the sons that she would give up the unessential for them, but not her own life.  Then, one summer on Grand Isle, she meets young Robert Lebrun who wakes her from a "life-long stupid dream."  With this awakening, she determines to live her own life without concern for her husband and children.  But when Robert leaves for Mexico before she can declare her love, she becomes involved with Alcee Arobin, a womanizer of low repute.  Leonce is increasingly mystified by her behavior, especially when she moves into a small house around the corner, while he and the children are away.  Unexpectedly, Edna runs into Robert one day, she is upset that he did not inform her of his return.  He confesses that he left because he loved her & she was married to another.  the two declare their love, but Edna is summoned to the home of a sick friend.  When she returns home, Robert is gone, leaving a note that he left because of his love for her.  Edna goes for a swim and continues out to sea until she drowns.

When this book was published, a cascade of condemnation was unleashed upon the author.  The topic of a woman's sexual awakening and subsequent adultery was considered unfit for any author, let alone a woman author.  The criticism was so fierce that Chopin published little else in the few years that remained to her and the book was largely forgotten until it was rediscovered by feminists in the 60's.

The criticism, while understandable in it's day, seems to me to be misguided.  If anything, The Awakening reads like a cautionary tale.  Edna comes across as a grotesquely selfish woman.  Her willingness to throw herself at two exceedingly callow and uninteresting young men at the expense of her marriage and family is inexplicable.  And in the end, she gets her just desserts.  Chopin seems to me to have done a creditable job of exposing the danger of elevating passion over love.

Moreover, the book is beautifully written, and for that reason alone, deserves too be read.  It richly deserves it's modern reputation as an American version of Madame Bovary. (see Orrin's review)


Grade: (B+)


Book-related and General Links:
      -The Awakening : Critical Reception
      -Domestic Goddeses: Kate Chopin
      -Kate Chopin
      -Kate Chopin
      -Kate Chopin--an Overview of the Life and Works
      -PAL: Perspectives in American Literature:
       A Research and Reference Guide: Kate Chopin
    -Literary Research Guide: Kate Chopin (1851 - 1904)
    -ESSAY: Ways of Interpreting Edna's Suicide
    -ESSAYS: Kate Chopin (Literary Traveler)
     Footprints in Clouterville
     Sunset in Grand Isle