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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Awoken,
This review is from: The Awakening (Paperback)The lot of women in the 19th century wasn't a terribly impressive one -- many of them had been reduced to babymakers and inoffensive "property" for the men.
And Kate Chopin caused a massive scandal when she wrote about one woman who drifted from societal normal in "The Awakening," leading to a world of exploration, love, and ultimately tragedy. Her misty, vaguely dreamlike writing can pull a reader into the world of 1900s New Orleans and its society, but her heroine sometimes feels more like a vessel than a fully-realized person.
Edna Pontellier is the wife of successful New Orleans businessman Léonce, and mother of two lovely young boys. Yet she is dissatisfied by her life, and feels no connection to the other wives and mothers, who idolize their motherhood and subservience. And when she encounters handsome young Creole Robert Lebrun while on vacation, she begins to "awake" to the feelings she has left behind during her marriage.
Distancing herself from Leonce and her sons, Edna begins exploring art and emotions that have been denied her by the strictures of her society -- as well as an affair with the flirtatious Alcée Arobin. She even moves out into a cottage of her own, much to the horror of those who thought they knew her. Her romantic feelings have not moved on from Robert, but his return makes her realize how different she has become...
Kate Chopin's most famous work is often cited as a sort of proto-feminist work, with a woman rebelling against the male-dominated role she has been given. The fact that a story about a woman abandoning her husband and kids caused such a scandal only adds to that belief.
But that's a rather restricted label to give such a versatile author, and "Awakening" is a book with too many facets to be so restrained. In many ways Chopin resembles a Southern version of Edith Wharton, exploring the stultifying society that she once dwelled in, and the often-tragic consequences of people -- particularly women -- who dared to step outside those unforgiving boundaries.
Chopin's lush writing elevates this story even further, weaving an atmospheric, vaguely dreamlike web around everyday New Orleans. She makes readers feel the heat of a summer's day, the remote beauty of a party, the eerie majesty of an empty sea. And though "The Awakening" is infused by a feeling of languid dreaminess, Chopin creates a feeling of tension and inevitability that grows as the book goes on. It's almost a shock at the book's finale, when that tension releases in a quiet burst of poetic language.
And to her credit, Chopin is able to make her points about women and society without setting up straw-men. Such characters as "angel of the house" Adèle Ratignolle and the stuffy Leonce (who sees Edna as his personal property and expects her to obey) are examples of the usual society of the time, yet Leonce is a fully realized character who loves -- but can never understand -- his wife.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that Edna herself is at times rather thin as a character. While she has many conflicting desires, she sometimes seems like a mere vessel for all those desires to be displayed over time. But there are some scenes where she does seem like a fully realized person, such as when she meditates on her lack of housewifely virtues, is struck by wild mood swings around her sons, and befriends Mademoiselle Reisz.
"The Awakening" is more than just an early feminist novel -- it's an exquisitely written story about the roads that our own desires can take us down, and the tragedies that can come from it. A must-read, if nothing else for Kate Chopin's powerful writing.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars after all.. its a solitary soul,
However, the biggest controversy is the ending. Whether it is another awakening or something else (you should decide it for yourself), I think the book should have gone with its original title- A Solitary Soul.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars well written, poor themes,
By A Customer
besides the problem i had with the themes and plot, it was a very well written book, and i don't agree with it being censored. It was far ahead of it's time, and may be worth a read..Just don't expect too much out of it.
2.0 out of 5 stars This is not feminism,
The book is written beautifully, hence the two stars. But Edna is completely unidentifiable. She is twenty-eight, yet she seems to do everything on impulse. Yes, maybe she did rush irrationally into an ultimately loveless marriage -- but her husband is not a monster, so doesn't she at least owe him some consideration? Not to mention her children -- she seems to not have the slightest regard for them, only showing affection in fits and starts.
This book should be read, if only to show what strength is not -- strength is not what Edna does in the end of this story. However, you may find yourself struggling to get through it, as Edna is often very frustrating. In conclusion -- this is NOT feminism. In fact, before reading this story I had immense respect for Kate Chopin, respect gained from reading her short stories. I lost some of that respect after seeing what she apparently believed was the solution for Edna's problems.
5.0 out of 5 stars an interesting read,
5.0 out of 5 stars Awakening Opens Eyes,
This review is from: The Awakening (Paperback)Saralee says
The Awakening is a part of many required reading lists and is also a fashionable choice for book club discussions. Why is this novel that was written more than 100 years ago relevant today?
During the 1890s, if you were a part of the well to do Creoles of New Orleans you spent your summers at Grand Isle - a resort for those who could afford it. Edna Pontellier is there with her husband, their children and their servants. As the story opens, Pontellier is on the beach with Robert Lebrun and her husband is deciding whether to dine with his family or if it would be more socially beneficial for him to spend the evening at his club. We soon learn that appearances and social position are what matters most to Pontellier's husband and as long as she abides by those rules, she will get along just fine. When she decides not to abide by the rules, the story becomes interesting and the book significant.
Kate Chopin was one of the first to write about women outside of their mandated roles as satisfied domestic companions. She boldly wrote about what a woman feels like who discovers sexuality and independence and it was courageous for her to write this book. Pontellier was raised as a Presbyterian in Kentucky and it was on a whim that she married her husband who was part of the Creole Catholic establishment. Her character enjoyed taking risks but was heartbroken with the consequences.
What did you think about Pontellier's relationship with her children? Was she selfish or bold by putting her needs first? What do you think she did that offended society most? At what age should someone read this book? How did you feel about Pontellier's last act of defiance? Did her character win or lose? Why did this book end Chopin's promising career as a writer? I recommend reading a text of The Awakening that includes both the context and criticism. The context will help you understand what all of the French phrases mean and also explain Creole society and the background in which the story takes place.
She is trapped in a dull marriage in New Orleans in a social climbing, status seeking family where - instead of summering in the Hamptons or a mountain retreat - she and her husband and their servants vacation at Grand Isle. Like a good husband in that society, he leaves Pontellier each week to return to the city to make money. While he is gone, she enjoys the company of the other families in a social setting where rigid rules govern the proper behavior and emotions that may be expressed regardless of true feelings.
Pontellier's social rules instead are far more like a modern country club environment where certain manners are demanded, at least in public, until the lights are low, drinks are flowing or the spouses are absent. For Pontellier, these rules rapidly give way to her expression of her inner desires and thoughts.
What are the boundaries for an individual and for a society in the expression of personal desires? Was Pontellier only lusting in her heart or did she actually sin? Morally, is there a difference? Do you think modern authors like Erica Jong or John Updike treat sensuality and marital rules differently than Chopin?
This was a shocking novel in 1899 but today Pontellier's turmoil and dilemma would be neither unusual nor frightening and perhaps that is why modern man and woman usually succeed in handling these situations in a far better way than Pontellier.
2.0 out of 5 stars Dispensable,
4.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece,
Her newfound self came due to simple boredom. She feels as though her life has no meaning and she can only hope that there is more to life than what she has experienced thus far. She is no longer interested in the "high-class" business life of her husband Leonce.
Throughout the French New Orleans setting of life Edna compares herself to two women in hopes to find her place in the world. One of the women is Madame Ratignolle who is the perfect motherly housewife. The other woman is Mademoiselle Reisz who is the free-spirited type who can and will do what she pleases. Edna finds herself idealizing Reisz for her domineering ways rather than a simple housekeeper.
All though this book does not keep you on the edge of your seat , it is written in a way that really keeps your attention. The book has many details in it regarding Edna's life and her different relationships. The book also comes to an extremely ironic end where Edna Poniteller ends up drowning herself, which goes to show how people will go to great lengths for what they believe in. All Edna really wanted in life was love through equality and when that didn't come to be she felt as though her life as she knew and wanted, was over.
2.0 out of 5 stars Utterly out of Sympathy,
When I began the Awakening, I expected to enjoy it. The opening description of the resort and Loisiana were wonderfully lush - beautiful simple language. But the book was really ruined for me because I could find absolutely no sympathy or even interest in the protagonist. In the end, I felt that she was rather selfish and petty. Her awakening to me wasn't much.
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly not heavy-handed,
Kate Chopin wrote this story of female self-actualization back in the late 19th century, but it's as applicable today as it was then. I think we all feel trapped by decisions we've made capriciously, and we all consider, even briefly, escape. The main character in this novel not only realizes that she has trapped herself, but she actively seeks to free herself. Her action, rather than just emotion and despair (a la Goethe), is what separates her from the herd.
Here's the low-down: Edna is a woman, probably in her 30s or so, married to a successful financier and mother to two charming children. She summers on an island, probably to escape summer diseases in the city, New Orleans. One summer she acquires a friend, Robert. Although married women in this society frequently have male friends, Edna is an outsider, and she takes Robert's attentions far too seriously. Apparently, he is similarly infatuated. Basking in Robert's attention, Edna understands at last that she has discarded her youthful dreams and hopes and that her current life is unfulfilling. She takes small steps toward freeing herself, and Robert seems a willing accomplice for a while.
But Robert sees the hopelessness of such an infatuation: Edna is married, after all. Abruptly, Robert leaves the island and heads off to Mexico, presumably to seek his fortune. Edna is devastated. Even after she returns to town, her emotions are in turmoil. But loneliness actually proves helpful. She relearns who she is, reclaims the dreams of her youth, and abandons her husband and children. The author is careful with this last, making it seem tragic and irresponsible, yet ultimately unavoidable. By the last 20 pages, Edna is free.
And then Robert returns. Edna says that she does not feel obligated by their mutual love; she says that she is an independent woman now who is not the property of any other person. But she's lying. Her actions show that she is dependent on Robert, needy for his love and attention. I still can't decide if the author created this break between words and behavior on purpose, or if she really intended us to believe that Edna was wholly independent.
In fact, the only weak part of the story, in my opinion, is that Edna does not take responsibility for her own awakening. She claims that Robert "awoke" her.
Edna does in the end devise a solution that proves her ultimate freedom and independence, and it is the only solution that works. But I won't spoil it by writing it here.
The thing that makes this book so lovely is that it isn't preachy. So many modern girl-power novels just sort of slam you over the head with the girls-first-and-men-suck mantra. This book is about Edna; it doesn't purport to be about all women. It's a very personal work, and the narrative hand is light. It leaves us, the readers, free to recognize the little bits of Edna in us all, and although the rest of us may not ultimately choose Edna's course, it gives us hope that such freedom is possible, even after the fact.
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The Awakening by Kate Chopin (Paperback - Nov 4 1993)
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