Since its publication in 1899 this short novel has touched many readers as it tells a story of a married woman changing her social role. This parallels the feminist movement of the time of publication in which more women were dealing with the same problems of sexism and materialistic portryals of women in society. "The Awakening" is truly a story that tells of the new world vs. that of past traditions.
Kate Chopin'sThe Awakening
Kate O'Flaherty was in St. Louis, Missouri in 1850. She was the third of five children, though she was the only one of them to live past the age of thirty-five. Most of her education was administered privately at Sacred Heart Academy, a Catholic bording school in St. Louis. The rest was given to her by her great-grandmother Victoria Verdon Charleville, who taught Kate French, music and the gossip on women of the past. Kate came from a line of independent women, Victoria's mother ran a shipping business after becoming the first woman in St. Louis to obtain legal separation from her husband. Another close friend of Kate's was Kitty Garesche, although the two became separated during the civil war. These two relationships are the only accounts of Kate ever having any close female friendships.
In 1870, at the age of twenty, she married Oscar Chopin. The pair shared a French-Catholic background. Oscar adored Kate's independence and intelligence, thus allowing her to be more liberal with her personal freedom than most other wives at the time. Kate and Oscar moved to New Orleans where they had five boys and two girls. Unfortunatly, Oscar was not an able businessman as they were forced to move to a small parish in Louisiana. Oscar died at the age of thirty-three from swamp fever, forcing Kate to take over his general store and plantation.
In 1884 she sold the business and moved back to St. Louis to live with her mother. Her mother's death forced Kate to write in order to support herself and her young family. She was immediately successful, writing short stories based on people she had known in Louisiana. For the next fourteen years she wrote two collections of short stories, two full-length stories and two novels. In 1904, she died from a cerebral hemorrhage on August 22, after collapsing at the World's Fair, two days before.
List of Works
Kate writes her first poem, 'If It Might Be'
The poem is published in the literary and political journal America.
Two stories, "Wiser than a God" and "A Point at Issue" published in the St. Louis-Dispatch.
Kate's first novel, At Fault, is published privately.
Kate destroys the manuscript of Young Dr. Goose after it is rejected by several publishers.
"Desiree's Baby" published in Vogue.
Bayou Folk published. Kate writes "Story of an Hour."
A Night in Acadia published. Kate begins work on The Awakening by June.
Kate completes The Awakening in January.
The Awakening is published, receives less than favorable reviews.
Kate writes "The Gentleman from New Orleans."
Is listed in the first edition of Who's Who in USA.
During summer in the late 19th century the Pontellier's are vacationing at Grand Isle, a popular resort area. Edna Pontellier is living in a time where woman are only "allowed" to be mothers and nothing more. Edna does not like this and becomes very frustrated with her place in life. The society of this time does not allow her to have an opinion or a life outside of raising her children and being a good wife. During the Gilded Age women, to sum it all up, had no identity of their own. Edna refuses to conform to this when she awakens to the realization that she has lived such a sheltered existence. Edna revolts against society's rules. This causes her husband to become embarassed by her. He feels that she is his property and now it has becomed damaged by these wild ideas inside her head. She further embarasses him by breaking social codes, such as becoming too tan. Leonce, her husband, also argues with her about the fact that he feels she is not a good mother. This hurts Edna greatly, but Leonce soon leaves to go back to New Orleans on bussiness. This liberates Edna. The Creoles fascinate Edna. They have such freedom of expression and yet they are coformed to the roles that society sets for them. The woman have no unique identity. A flirtatious man named Robert talks Edna into an evening swim, thus breaking another social code. The water soothes Edna and she soon realizes that she has never known true passion or love. Adele warns Robert to back off from Edna because she is not like them and might take his flirtations seriously. Robert wants to be taken seriously though, and he starts moving in on Edna even more. Soon they fall in love with each other. Edna next learns how to swim. She has only waded in the ocean before, but now she can swim freely. With this new skill comes a new sense of freedom. Edna discovers a new confidence in herself and lets her feelings towards Robert flow. Robert can not accept the fact that he has fallen in love with a married woman and runs away to Mexico. Edna realizes how blind she was not to see the pain and suffering that was coming with the love that she felt. The Pontelliers' return to their home in New Orleans and Edna rebels even more. Edna starts painting, and it is in this new freedom of expression that she finds the courage to disobey her husband. Edna next goes on to search for her confidant from Grand Isle, Mademoiselle Reisz. Even the Mademoiselle notices the change in her friend. She also informs her that Robert has been writing letters asking about her. After she leaves her visit with her old friend Edna returns home and boredom takes over her. She meets Arobin, with whom she has an affair with. She also moves out and gets a place of her own to experience more freedom. Although she appears to have what she wanted, independence, she feels more alone than ever. Edna feels that there is no one that she can relate to, nowhere she fits in. Robert returns and suprises Edna, but he is still not ready to accept and act out on their love. Edna also has an "awakening" to the fact that she needs to take better care of her chidren, after witnessing the birth of Adele's baby. Edna returns to the Grand Isle devestated that Robert is not with her. She feels that there is no choice but to kill herself. The water has been her comforter all along. Edna walks herself into the ocean. This marks her final "awakening," and the end of the novel.
Kate suffers a stroke and dies two days later.
She is the main character and subject of the novel. She is very dynamic as she goes through many changes in her lifestyle.
She is the foil to Edna as she is a devoted housewife. Represents the antithesis to Edna's change or awakening.
A role model to Edna. Older character whose talent for playing piano, which gives her a means of expression, separates her from traditional, womenly roles.
Edna's husband who does not understand his wife's change. He lacks excitement and drive to create any joy for her.
A Few Excerpts from The Awakening
"Well, for instance, when I left her to-day, she put her arms around me and felt my shoulder blades, to see if my wings were strong, she said. "The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth."
There was something in her attitude, in her whole appearance when she leaned her head against the high-backed chair and spread her arms, which suggested a regal woman, the one who rules, who looks on, who stands alone.
“In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning 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. This may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of twenty-eight—perhaps more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is usually pleased to vouchsafe to any woman. But 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 tumult!”
Edna's true love. He naively rejects her, thus driving her to suicide.
…perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.
Water symbolizes her retracing her existence back into the womb. When she swims she seems to be meeting a new and invigorating companion who has opened up a whole new realm of sensuality. This new freedom makes her feel more independent and free.
The motif of flight operates on much of the same level as the image protruding from its egg in Hesse's Demian. It symbolizes a certain awakening, like a bird taking flight, in which one's existence overcomes a struggle. I believe Chopin used this in order to portray Edna as a woman a little late in flight.
Kate Chopin: A Re-Awakening
BHS Women's Literature
Exploring Kate Chopin's The Awakening
Paul B., Copyright 2002