by Kate Chopin
To completely understand a novel and the author's point of
view, it is extremely helpful to examine important aspects
that scholars have noted within literary pieces. Readers
may be given a better interpretation of characters, several
minor themes, effects the novel had on society when it was
first published, or other points the author is trying to
convey. I found this to be true for Kate Chopin's, "The
Awakening". By exploring comments made in Emily Toth's, "A
New Biographical Approach," and contemporary reviews from
the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Book News, I was given a
greater comprehension of the novel.
Emily Toth shows the social significance of "The
Awakening", for women in the 1890's. She briefly discusses
the reaction of society and the criticism the novel
received after being published. Toth explains that "The
Awakening" was "condemned," mostly by "male critics,
editors, and gatekeepers," eventually resulting in ending
Kate Chopin's literary career. Female scholars however, saw
Chopin's work in a positive light and "praised the book's
artistry." This proves that the novel addressed powerful
issues between men and women in society and served as a
statement for women during the late 1800's.
As a reader, it is obvious that the major theme of "The
Awakening" is the main character's realization of life.
Edna Pontellier goes through changes, in which she abandons
all expectations from her husband and society in general.
The fact that Edna is a women, ignoring her duties as a
mother and a wife, to explore life and find herself,
appalled the male critics of the late nineteenth century.
This type of behavior was not allowed from women during
this time. They were to be proper, loving wives, and good
mothers to their children. By stating that Chopin's career
was ended as a consequence of publishing The Awakening and
presenting a women who challenges societal norms, Toth
conveys the novel as a convincing piece, which frightened
male critics and society as a whole.
A contemporary review from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, by
C.L. Deyo, published on May 20, 1899, is helpful in
analyzing and tracing the main characters "awakening," from
its beginning to end (Edna's death). The article states
that Edna was aroused when Robert Lebrun "revealed her to
herself." Edna was not treated like a person by her
husband, but rather a decorative piece of property. After
Robert leaves to Mexico, Edna continues to open her eyes to
The review also mentions societies objections to Edna's
experiences, and suggests a lack of courage in facing
society as the reason Edna sacrifices herself to the sea.
Edna realized her worth and passion for life. She also
wanted passion in a loving relationship, but felt passion
and love could not be provided by her husband, Robert, or
any man. As result, Edna's unwillingness to sacrifice
passion and wait for love, left her empty and more hopeless
than before the "awakening." Edna could not function or
survive in society, unfulfilled. Therefore, "she swam out
into the sun kissed gulf" and lets herself drown.
Lucy Monroe mentions some minor themes within "The
Awakening", in a review published March, 1899, in Book
News. Monroe discusses the unity of women throughout the
novel and how accurately it reveals life. It is true that
the women characters have a bond. They give advise, hide
secrets, and discuss their problems with each other. "The
Awakening" also depicts Louisiana Creole life, clearly and
precisely. The novel displays leisure class activity and
the abundance of free time such people posses.
Total understanding of an author's messages or meaning is
nearly impossible upon a first, or even second reading, of
complex novels. There are a number of points a reader may
overlook, misinterpret, or completely misapprehend. By
reading what scholars have written about literary works, I
was given a more intelligent view of "The Awakening". I
learned about the opposition Chopin met because her book
challenged the social norms of her time. I was also
introduced to some minor themes and given an insightful
reason for the main character's suicide.
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