Thoughts on The Awakening by Kate Chopin

NOTE:   This is NOT a review.   I’m going to imagine this post as a book club meeting where everyone who shows up has actually read the book.   Thus, I’m going to ask questions and state opinions based on the idea that you know at least some of what I’m talking about.    What is most fun about a book club – is that everyone should feel free to discuss EVERYTHING!     I really battle with the whole idea of reading-before-meeting;  people coming to book club not reading the book – I do understand that we can’t always have time to finish the selection.   and I do want everyone to feel welcome whether or not they’ve read it.  Purely selfish, of course – I want to be able to feel welcome if I show up but didn’t read the book!  ha.     HOWEVER…  I want to talk about all of this, damn it!   Unexplained spoilers will be shared here in multitude;  fair enough?

taassbkc by Kate Chopin

First published in 1899; I read the Bantam reissue 1992, 153 pages.

I am a bit embarrassed.      I have been seeing this on more than a few bloggers’ lists of must reads and had assumed I hadn’t read it.   In fact, I lay claim to my not knowing who Edna Pontellier is in my review of Still Alice.

Uh oh.   Guess it didn’t make that much of an impression on me the first time.   And I don’t think it was decades ago – it must have been during the foggy nineties when I don’t remember seeing movies, reading books, watching TV.   I am not sure WHAT exactly I was doing then…

So.    I pick this book up (unaware:  again);   I bookmooched it.     And from the very first word, I was transported back to Edna’s beachside vacation cottage wondering about how this Robert guy was getting away with showering his attention onto married women…

I’ve already READ this! (hangs head in shame)     I do not remember my reactions to it.    I don’t remember any consideration of the theme, the scandal that erupted when this was published, and what this book means to feminists now.

Personally, I am not sure WHAT I think of Edna and her choices.     The book I have also includes seven of Chopin’s short stories* and I liked a few of these much better than The Awakening.   Not that I didn’t like it, I just didn’t love it.

I do feel bad for Ms. Chopin that the outcry against her last novel caused her so much pain.    I bet she was a fascinating woman.      And I’m glad that she isn’t searching her book as an author trying to cultivate a book blogger following and finding out that I didn’t even remember it.

*** Spoilers in Question Form ***

Did Edna really love Robert or did she love the idea of him?    Was she really that out of touch with analyzing her feelings and just able to roll with what she wanted to do?       or did she purposefully NOT analyze her ideas and dreams and desires against any society mandated role she was supposed to fit into?     Could she really not consider the gossip by hanging out with ol’ what’s his name – the playboy?   (I loved that he was an attorney in name only just so he could say he ‘did something’ when asked at parties! too funny.   Reminds me of me and my being a substitute teacher.)    Was she a victim of mental illness as her husband suspected?    Wouldn’t we assume such even now knowing the ending?       Wouldn’t we, if we were hearing a brief sketch of what she was like and what happened wonder if she was not depressed or…  something?    Was the doctor wise in advising Pontellier to indulge her?    Having read any Sacks books about brain disorders, could we hypothesize a neurological issue?   She didn’t really have any friends pre-awakening, did she?     Hmmmm.

I do think she loved her children.    I do think she had it easy as a mother since she had so much help;   motherhood for her place in high society  barely took much time – no feeding, changing, scolding.   Let the nannies do that.    OR….  perhaps, in not being a hands on mother (comparing to mothers I see in my neighborhood today),  she was not ALLOWED to find her motherly ways** and thus when confronted with the comparison of her friend who was all about being the ideal feminine doting mother of all mothers, she decided she just wasn’t cut from that cloth and gave herself permission to dream a different dream?

I do think the title*** was perfect.       She really was like a person who awoke from a life she didn’t plan nor even think about and once awake, how could she not consider what exactly was perfect for her?    But still.   She seemed to descend into a different fog altogether.

It was fascinating for me to read this right after Thunderstruck which was set in close to the same time period (late Victorian Era) but in a very different cultural setting.     FYI – Thunderstruck by Erik Larson is a nonfiction tale weaving together Marconi’s invention of wireless telegraphy and a murder in London culminating in 1910;  how technology changes the world.    A very microscopic look at a collision of one technology on one amazing event.

The women in Thunderstruck were much more ambitious. and brave?   and unconventional.   sort of.     No, I really can’t say that, too absolute.      But many of the women were portrayed strong despite the times and I liked this very much.

Ok, the point is maybe that all women are different.  We have different dreams, desires, talent and ambitions and the crime is that sometimes, we tend to allow ourselves to get pigeon-holed into roles and many don’t dare to confront nor challenge these roles.     Is that the point?   or is it to not judge?      or is it to seek help for better mental health?

Edna challenged herself to be all she could be.    She wasn’t trying to make a statement or challenge society.   She just wanted to BE on her own terms.     She was ‘living in the now’ with not much thought of any consequences.    And it ended tragically.

* I liked the subtleties of Ma’ame Pélage, the story of the older sister who finally spent her money to restore the old family mansion.    And the shock of Desiree’s Baby.   And the humor of A Respectable Woman – the story of the lady who didn’t want to like her husband’s friend and then liked him a bit more than was comfortable.

** right.  I know, I know.  WTH are ‘motherly ways’?!

*** Originally entitled “A Solitary Soul”.

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11 thoughts on “Thoughts on The Awakening by Kate Chopin

  1. I read this 10 years ago with a book club and I remember the book only in the most general way. I think you got the point right and your *non-review* (ha!) is helping jog my memory some, but I should definitely re-read the book. It’s been too long and it’s all very fuzzy. My kids were babies and my brain was sleep-deprived when I read this.

    It’s short! Read it again? I do think that this one might be helped by knowing the story of how scandalous it was at the time and how it was revived in popularity not so long ago. I wish I had better recollection of my reading it the first time. AND, even though I didn’t read this with an IRL discussion planned, it is a book that begs to be talked about and thus I want to share with others who’ve read it.

  2. verbivore

    I’ve never read this (that I can remember!) but it is sitting on my shelf somewhere and I really should take it out and see what I think. I liked all your questions, good food for thought, so I’ll definitely come back here once I’ve read it.

    You rebel! You didn’t read the book and showed up for meeting anyway! Good for you. It’s a short book. It has more than a few French words in it, too. (which, of course, I just jumped over.)

  3. Um, haven’t read the book but I, uh, brought pie….? And ice cream?

    Seriously, I love this idea and think you should do it regularly, but warn us what the book is going to be ahead of time. And pick one that’s on my TBR list already.

    Well Ali, how about if I do a thoughts-post on The Housekeeper and the Professor? I’m just about to start it for my ‘real’ book club.

  4. ha…although I’ve never read an already read book, I’ve come close 🙂

    I’ve never heard of this book, what does this say of me? I skipped the spoilers, I might read it one day 🙂

    Really, you’ve never heard of it? I don’t think that says anything bad about you – it was written a long time ago and I probably noticed it because I had read it once (and -oops- didn’t remember.) Which doesn’t make sense, does it… I am so glad I’m now blogging and in goodreads so I can track this stuff.

  5. i was actually trying desperately to remember the title of this one yesterday, so you’re like my new psychic friend in the matter 🙂 read this in college and it made a HUGE impression on me, even if the grey matter blanked on the title until today 🙂

    New psychic friend?! Well, I can tell you that you are going to have an awesome day and an even better month – but only if you visit and comment here often. ha!

    But your thoughts on this book? What huge impression did it make? do share.

  6. I will enjoy being the rebellious student for once 😀

    I haven´t read this one. I haven´t read much by Kate Chopin really, but some of her short stories are excellent for exam purposes, especially one called “The Story of an Hour”. It is VERY short, and if you come across it, you must read it. Even students who are forced to read it, enjoy it.

    Hee hee – it’s fun to be rebellious sometimes. I will search for that story – thanks!

  7. I haven’t read this so I have no idea about anything here, nor do I have any opinions to offer on the book – pretty useless today aren’t I 🙂

    But I will say that when a person is involved in a book club and hasn’t read the required (and yeah I consider it required) reading, it should be completely against book club rules, policies and guidelines that they should expect to not hear spoilers. Did I word that right? Anyway what I mean to say is that for a meeting to be successful shouldn’t the members feel free to discuss every single point of the novel – including plot twists, surprise endings and conclusions? Yup that would be numero uno in my rulebook if I had a book club – Everyone Welcome but be prepared for Spoilers 🙂

    1. Yes, I agree. It would be really extremely annoyingly annoying if someone showed up, admitted not reading the book and then getting mad about spoilers. thankfully, we’ve a great group but it’s so hard to talk spoilers knowing how much I hate spoilers. Which is why I read the book before discussion!

  8. {Late to the meeting!} I read this years ago, and now you’ve got me wanting to read it again. I remember it’s being billed as one of the “first feminist novels”. I suppose, in some ways, it is. I think I was pretty young when I first read “Awakening” and I already new I was probably not going to have children. I think they change everything about a woman’s life. A man’s too, of course, but in a different way. People who are horrified at Edna’s apparent indifference to her children are those who are naturally maternal or paternal. But, some of us just aren’t cut from that cloth, and having “wife and mother” as the only career choice (when “husband and father” is never mentioned as one) is untenable.
    I think Edna’s erstwhile lover was having a bit of a summer amusement, and although really was very fond of her, did not ever intend to be “tied down” in a domestic way. I think if Edna were honest with herself, she’d admit to knowing that. It wasn’t so much the loss of Robert that caused her to walk into the sea, but the fact that she really could not see any future in “just being” as you put it. Robert wouldn’t have “rescued” her. But nothing could have.

    1. oh I’m so glad you stopped by to add your thoughts! Awesome. HOWEVER, and this is minor, but I think Robert was just more practical, but not necessarily as nonchalant (ie just a summer amusement) about his feelings for Edna. He just knew it was impossible. This is proving to be a book that just might end up ‘sticky’. Though I can’t say I loved it. THANKS for commenting!

  9. “Ok, the point is maybe that all women are different. We have different dreams, desires, talent and ambitions and the crime is that sometimes, we tend to allow ourselves to get pigeon-holed into roles and many don’t dare to confront nor challenge these roles.”

    I haven’t read The Awakening yet, but this seems like a very good point to me.

    Oh, thank you, Nymeth!

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