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The Awakening by Kate Chopin
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The Awakening (1899)

by Kate Chopin (Author)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1001 (42) 1001 books (32) 19th century (114) adultery (43) American (85) American fiction (21) American literature (128) Chopin (18) classic (204) classic fiction (17) Classic Literature (21) classics (143) ebook (19) feminism (197) feminist (35) fiction (629) literature (94) Louisiana (54) marriage (33) New Orleans (81) novel (90) novella (17) own (46) read (98) sexuality (26) suicide (69) to-read (77) unread (27) women (85) women's studies (16)
  1. 120
    The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories (Oxford World's Classics) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (JustJoey4)
    JustJoey4: Both published in 1899, both deal with the freedom of the wife. Interesting to compare the situation, actions and reactions of the main characters.
  2. 100
    Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (bucketyell, RWListen)
    RWListen: This is the American version of Madame Bovary - set in turn of the century Louisiana.
  3. 50
    A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf (roulette.russe)
  4. 40
    A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: A woman realizes she has a responsibility to herself that comes before that to her husband, children and societal expectations.
  5. 41
    The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (RosyLibrarian)
  6. 20
    Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (bucketyell)
  7. 00
    The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy (aliklein)
  8. 00
    Summer by Edith Wharton (collsers)
  9. 01
    My Ántonia by Willa Cather (chrisharpe)
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English (91)  Dutch (2)  All languages (93)
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This is an interesting novella, or long short story, about a woman unhappy in her marriage who seeks love and affection outside it, but is never able to resolve her conflicts. The story is set in and near New Orleans at the end of 1800s. Some thought it scandalous when it was published (1899); Willa Cather called it “sordid”. Interesting that unless she read the original languages, Chopin probably did not know Madame Bovary, published 1857--first English translation 1898; nor Anna Karenina, published 1873-1877--first English translation 1901; nor Effie Briest, published 1898--first English translation 1914. And yet her novel follows very much the trajectory, if not the details, of these others.

Later years have been more sympathetic to the portrayal of a woman trapped in a materialistic but loveless marriage and who chafes under the strictures of society when she discover that an alternative life is imaginable, embracing independence as a woman as well as the passion of love or even just the passion of the body. But in the end, the pressures of conforming to societal demands, and thwarted passion, and the impossibility of what she thinks of as true love, are too much to bear and our protagonist, Edna Pontellier, twenty nine years old, mother of two, drowns herself.

The novel opens with Leonce Pontellier, “…a man of forty, of medium height and rather slender build; he stooped a little”, smoking and reading a paper and waiting for his wife to return from the beach where she has been swimming with “young” Robert Lebrun. Leonce remarks on Edna’s sunburn and his reaction sums up much of his attitude to life and to his wife: “…looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property that has suffered some damage. “ Leonce,

…was very fond of walking about his house examining its various appointments and details, to see that nothing was amiss. He greatly valued his possessions, chiefly because they were his, and derived genuine pleasure from contemplating a painting, a statuette, a rare lace curtain—no matter what—after he had bought it and placed it among his household goods.”

Later in the novel, when Leonce is unhappy with Edna’s behaviour in various respects, it is noted that, “Mr. Pontellier had been a rather courteous husband so long as he met a certain tacit submissiveness in his wife.”

“Rather courteous” is hardly the description of a man fired with passion, but it does describe Leonce’s attitude towards Edna who begins to chafe under experiences that never bothered her before and which never weighed much against, “…the abundance of her husband’s kindness and a uniform devotion which had come to be tacit and self-understood.” But they bother her now, and early in the novel, Edna begins to sense an independence as she looks for something else; she is not sure what that is, but she knows it is not what she has, and that she is not a ‘usual’ wife in the sense of one who “…idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings a ministering angels.”

Rather, Edna begins to, “…realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her.” But this is fraught with danger because, “…the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its torment.” The Awakening is the story of Edna’s journey from this beginning, through “life’s delirium”; at some points it appears that she will be one of those who emerges, but in the end she is not.

Swimming and the metaphor of the sea play central roles in the novel. Edna learns to swim with Robert Lebrun and the first time she is able to strike off on her own in the water she suddenly realizes her power and shouts for joy: “A feeling of exultation overtook her, as if some power of significant import had been given her to control the working of her body and her soul. She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had sum before.” And, “As she swam she seemed to be reaching out for the unlimited in which to lose herself.” But she swims farther than she thought and has a jolt of fear, “A quick vision of death smote her soul, and for a second of time appalled and enfeebled her senses.”

Compare the metaphors of the sea. At an early stage, when Edna apprehends the dual life: “that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions”, the voice of the sea is, “seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation.” A perfect metaphor for the discovery and conflict and eventual torment that Edna is embarking upon. At the end, when she takes her own life, for the first time in that life, Edna “stood naked in the open air, at the mercy of the sun, the breeze that beat upon her, and the waves that invited her.” But now, the foamy wavelets, “coiled like sperpents about her ankles.” The sea is chill and deep, but “the touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft close embrace.” Like returning to the unconsciousness of the womb.

The embrace of death removes all cares, all torments, all conflicts but, at the same time, all hopes of happiness and joy. This is the basic conflict that Edna never resolves.

Robert Lebrun stirs the “first-felt throbbings of desire”, but then he surprises Edna by leaving for Mexico to try make his fortune there; Edna has, “the biting conviction that she had lost that which she had held, that she had been denied that which her impassioned, newly awakened being demanded.” In Robert’s absence, though she pines for him, Edna meets Arobin, a dissolute man of dubious moral character, but a man who appeals to “the animalism that stirred impatiently within her.” Edna consummates this animalism with Arobin, but the next day, “There was a dull pang of regret, because it was not the kiss of love which had inflamed her, because it was not love which held this cup of love to her lips.” The dull pang does not, however, preclude further consummation; Arobin had, “…detected the latent sensuality, which unfolded under his delicate sense of her nature’s requirements like a torpid, torrid, sensitive blossom.”

And then Robert returns and for a brief time, after some initial miscommunication, Edna thinks she might be happy with Robert, and they seem to be declaring their love for each other, yet she remains conflicted. Some time before Robert’s return, Edna describes what we might call a new philosophy of life:

“There was with her a feeling of having descended in the social scale, with a corresponding sense of having risen in the spiritual. Every step which she took toward relieving herself from obligations added to her strength and expansion as an individual. She began to look with her own eyes; to see and to apprehend the deeper undercurrents of life. No longer was she content to ‘feed upon opinion’ when her own soul had invited her.”

And with Robert, she says:

“You have been a very, very foolish boy, wasting your time dreaming of impossible things when you speak of Mr. Pontellier seeing me free! I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose. If he were to say, ‘Here, Robert, take her and be happy; she is yours,’ I should laugh at you both.”

Robert, “grew a little white” because he did not understand the meaning of what she said, but before it could be explained or explored, Edna is called away to assist with a birth, full expecting Robert to be waiting for her upon her return, and her “numb with the intoxication of expectancy” ,but his gone with only a note left: “I love you. Good-by------because I love you.”

This sounds noble, on one hand: Robert sacrificing himself so that Edna will not be scorned by society. But it is weakness; Robert is pusillanimous in the face of the ardent desire and love that Edna offers him. Edna is prepared to bear the opprobrium of society because she has thrown off those strictures determining her life; Robert has not. He says that when he was in Mexico, “I was thinking of you all the time and longing for you.” But when he has Edna and her love and her body in his hands, he doesn’t seize the moment.

This throws Edna in deep despondency. Now, she realizes, not only can she not live with the life she has, but the man she thinks she loves is not willing to fight for her at all costs.

“Despondency had come upon her there in the wakeful night, and had never lifted. There was no one thing in the world that she desired. There was no human being whom she wanted near her except Robert; and she even realized that the day would come when he, too, and the thought of him would melt out of her existence, leaving her alone. The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul’s slavery for the rest of her days. But she knew a way to elude them.”

These are Edna’s thoughts as she walks to the beach and the sea where she will drown herself.

Edna is a woman trapped in a limited, loveless, materialistic marriage. She is prepared to throw all of that over and not care what others and society think if she can live by her own needs; but she cannot bear the thought of not having someone to love as a partner to share her life. So her revolt against society’s strictures and morality is not just a cry for independence; it is a cry for being able to shape her own life and love with another. One might say she does not have the strength to carry her rebellion further; an alternative ending to the story would have been Edna scorning Robert for the weakling he is, dumping Arobin for the jerk he is, and pursuing her life further. But what, the author might be saying, are the options for a woman in that society and that time? How is she to live with no employment, no source of income, no appeal to a man except those like Arobin who just want to sleep with her? Chopin seems to be saying that finding the strength to flee one gilded cage does not solve all the issues; it just replaces one network of social restrictions and limitations with another that may be even more restrictive and more insoluble.
  John | Mar 27, 2014 |
Really did not sympathize with the protagonist. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
I'm more than a little annoyed. The first part of this book was just... well, you're just ambling along, and nothing is really happening. You get about halfway through, and then our main character, Edna, finally starts to--dun dun DUNNNN!--awaken. And it causes quite the stir and it makes things much more entertaining because she's doing what she wants, when she wants, and nobody can stop her or tell her otherwise what she can and can't do, or what she will and won't do. She follows no one else's desires but her own and it's only her judgment that reigns supreme. Hell, she goes so far as to almost have a lover even!

But there's the flaw in Edna. She ALMOST does things, she never goes the full length, never completely embraces her decisions. Every single thing she does seems half-hearted! Oh wooow, you decided not to listen to your husband and to do what you like. Great! Good! Won't make a difference either way! But you didn't divorce him. You didn't give him a chance to remarry and get a new wife and mother for his kids if you didn't want to do either of those jobs anymore. And what about you moving out of the house, Edna? You took all your things and didn't use any of your husband's money. Nice move of independence! But you moved down the street, in the same neighborhood, perfectly in reach of your husband. If you REALLY wanted to leave this life behind, why not change towns? Change states? Heck, you didn't have to move DOWN THE BLOCK. What kind of person does that when they're trying to show their independence?! Down the block. SHEESH. Could ANYONE make a more pathetic move as a show of INDEPENDENCE? *Rolls eyes* On top of that! She tries to take a lover, twice. And yet, as far as we know, she never gets as far as even SLEEPING with them! Mind you, I'm not complaining about that. I think cheating on your husband is a despicable action, especially since in Edna's case it was HER choice to marry him. If you commit yourself to something like that, and then have two kids with the man, then you PROBABLY know what you're getting yourself into, and you should at LEAST have the dang decency to be RESPONSIBLE for it! D:
And she just does this over and over and over. All these pathetic efforts to rebel against whoever it is she's trying to prove a point to, and they never quite send the message. She never goes far enough, and I'm not sure if it's because she just doesn't have the capability to be that forward, or if she was never planning to be that obstinate in the first place. *Shrugs* It just leads to this ridiculous feeling of growing and peaking irritation at the end of the book with the STUPID decision she makes to "solve" everything once and for all. *Rolls eyes* I'm not going to tell you what the ending is, since I don't believe in spoilers, however, know this: Her solution is just as ridiculous as all her efforts have been before, and, in my eyes, it's the ULTIMATE STUPID ACTION A PERSON COULD TAKE. She ought to be slapped for being such an idiot!!!!

This book, while I get the message it was trying to send, juts does a poor, POOR job of conveying a woman of any strength at all. The ending completely destroys whatever message that the book is trying to send, and Edna's overall determination to BE PATHETIC and make that choice is influenced by what? By the fact that the guy that she's loved for, oh, how long? Since... JUST THIS WEEK (if we're to go by how she felt at the start of the book, for not even a year passes from beginning to end)!! The point is, she makes a majorly LIFE-CHANGING, STUPID decision... JUSTBECAUSESOMEGUYDOESN'TWANTTOMAKEBABIESWITHHER. =__= .......my intense annoyance is RADIATING INTO A NUCLEAR BOMB.

I am IMMENSELY upset at this book for the message it sends. For an author who was supposedly of the feminist persuasion, she sure does a pathetic job of arguing for her beliefs! What a crock!

Listen, it's a decent book. It's short, it's easy to read, and it's really not hard to get through, regardless the way the main character acts. It's not as unbearably pathetic and moronic as are many of the books being written today with similarly half-assed main female leads. If you want to check it out, then I say go for it! It's a book that's a decent enough read, if you're not going to give any credit to storyline or the message it's sending, which, essentially beats the purpose for why the book is written, but hey, who's checking now-a-days anyway. It's still a far cry better written and less painful than some of the similar-in-theme stories written today, and at least Edna gets an ending that suits her pathetic nature, unlike in stories today where the Stupid Girls get the "Good Endings" and so on.

Read it! But don't buy it before you've checked it out. It just may be your cup of tea, but then again, it also may not be. You'll have to experience it for yourself before you decide. ( )
1 vote N.T.Embe | Dec 31, 2013 |
As much as I enjoyed "A Doll's House," I actually enjoyed this one even more. It is amazing to me to read about women who finally decide to leave their gilded cage and in turn do something so dramatic. I don't want to give the ending away for those who haven't read it yet, but suffice it to say that it is very intense and a beautiful tragedy. I have read this many times and I still enjoy it each time. ( )
  sealford | Dec 30, 2013 |
The Awakening. Kate Chopin. 1899. I feel like I might be the last person on earth to have read this book. I must have sent it and/or critical information about the book to at least one library each of the 33 years I worked at APLS. As most people know, “the awakening” is Edna Pontellier ‘s slowly growing awareness of herself as a woman who is dissatisfied with her life as a wife, mother, and a member of a rather rigid society. It is classified as an early feminist novel, but it so much more. I not only enjoyed reading about Edna, I really enjoyed the New Orleans setting. I’ll read more of Chopin. ( )
  judithrs | Dec 26, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Chopin, KateAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gilbert, Sandra M.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lammers, GeertjeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Robinson, MarilynneIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Showalter, ElaineIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walker, Nancy A.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Williams, Deborah L.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

Is contained in

The Awakening: And Other Stories (Oxford World's Classics) by Kate Chopin

The Awakening and Selected Short Fiction (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) (B&N Classics) by Kate Chopin

The Awakening and Selected Stories of Kate Chopin by Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin: Complete Novels and Stories: At Fault / Bayou Folk / A Night in Acadie / The Awakening / Uncollected Stories (Library of America) by Kate Chopin

The Awakening and Stories by Kate Chopin

Three Classics By American Women: The Awakening; Ethan Frome; O Pioneers ( Bantam Classics) by Kate Chopin

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A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside, kept repeating over and over:
"Allez vous-en! Allez vous-en! Sapristi! That's all right!"
Quotations
The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation. The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.
She missed him the days when some pretext served to take him away from her, just as one misses the sun on a cloudy day without having thought much about the sun when it was shining.
The years that are gone seem like dreams – if one might go on sleeping and dreaming – but to wake up and find – oh! Well! Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.
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Book description
First published in 1899, this beautiful, brief novel so disturbed critics and the public that it was banished for decades afterward. Now widely read and admired, The Awakening has been hailed as an early vision of woman's emancipation. This sensuous book tells of a woman's abandonment of her family, her seduction, and her awakening to desires and passions that threaten to consume her. Originally entitled A Solitary Soul, this portrait of twenty-eight-year-old Edna Pontellier is a landmark in American fiction, rooted firmly in the Romantic tradition of Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson. Here a woman engaged in self-discovery turns away from convention and society and toward the primal, irresistibly attracted to nature and the senses. The Awakening, Kate Chopin's last novel, has been praised by Edmund Wilson as "beautifully written." And Willa Cather described its style as "exquisite," "sensitive," and "iridescent."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0380002450, Mass Market Paperback)

"She grew daring and reckless. Overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out. Where no woman had swum before."

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:54 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Edna Pontellier, a Victorian-era wife and mother, is awakened to the full force of her desire for love and freedom when she becomes enamored with Robert LeBrun, a young man she meets while on vacation.

» see all 14 descriptions

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