The Awakening – Kate Chopin
4/4.5 out of 5 stars
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In The Awakening Kate Chopin tells the story of Mrs. Pontellier, or Edna, a married woman of 28 with several children. While she’s on holiday at Grand Isle she finds herself attracted to Robert Lebrun. Throughout the novel she starts to feel restless, confused, but also more confident as an individual. This leads to her acting in a more and more unconventional manner. In the end, she realizes that she does care for her children and her husband, but that she’s not willing to give up her own identity for them.
Reading this I couldn’t help but wonder how the novel was perceived when it was published back in 1899. Surely, a mother who does not particularly care for her husband or her children (not in a manner that was considered healthy at the time, or “the natural sensibility” of a woman) must’ve been an unspeakable subject? According to the Wikipedia page, the novel did indeed lead to controversy and was considered immoral. However, she did get some positive reviews alongside the negative ones. I would love to read more about Kate Chopin’s life and career one day, because it must be a fascinating story.
I have to admit that I didn’t particularly like Edna. Even though I can imagine that some of her feelings of wanting to break free from the conventions that bind her are reasonable, I couldn’t help but think she’s selfish in her treatment of her husband in particular, since the children were still raised by nannies and their grandmother. Not that I felt any special sympathy towards Mr. Pontellier either. Before reading the book, I read the review of this book by Ana at thingsmeanalot. She remarks that this book is still highly relevant in its treatment of the subject of women who do not particularly love their husband or children. Maybe I read the book with this remark in mind, because the book left me with the unsettling feeling that I am perhaps ridiculously conventional in my ideas on marriage and children. I do get that you can have sexual feelings for a man other than your husband, but that does not mean it is right to act on them. I might have to add that I think it’d have been more right for Edna, since marriage was so different back then and it wasn’t often that people married for love. However, I find it hard to say the same about the children. I somewhere might understand that a woman might not care so much for her children, but then I instantly start to think that she should and that I do not want to “get” that part of Edna’s character. I do not find fault with her leaving the everyday care to a nanny or a grandmother per se, but more her feelings of choosing herself over them.
Apart from these more personal feelings towards the story, I really liked reading it. It was intriguing. There was some foreshadowing and inevitability about the story, but it somehow never got on my nerves. I also loved the style. It’s highly readable and I love how it shows a character’s growth and development through everyday occurrences. I do not know a lot about style and genre, but Wikipedia tells me that Kate Chopin is a naturalist. Which leads me to conclude that apparently, I like naturalist writing?
I do wonder about the ending however (this might’ve been influenced by my reading of Anna Karenina). There do seem to be a lot of novels that deal with the theme of a women feeling restricted, who think about- or end up having an affair, are “liberated” so to say, but end up committing suicide in the end in the second half of the nineteenth-century. On the one hand, I think this book might be progressive in its portrayal of women. At the same time, I wonder if it can be considered “conventional” in that a woman who tries to break free from her restrictions, an “abnormality” so to say, seems to make the almost “natural” choice to end her life. Or should I interpret it as the ultimate rebellion?
*end of spoiler*
I highly recommend reading this book, but I’m sure many have already read it. The Awakening is a fast, but meaningful book. I do think it is perfect for either the Women Unbound, or the 1% Well-Read Challenge.
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