Kate Chopin's "The Awakening"
July 28, 2008 3:43 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to get a better understanding of Kate Chopin's "The Awakening" **Spoiler Alert**

I see it as a woman's discovery of her freedom and independence. The main character forsakes her role as wife and mother in late 19th century society and pursues her own happiness. I don’t really understand the juxtaposition of the men in the story. Her husband ,who she escapes, is not violent or demanding and reacts to her leaving rather well by my standards; showing there was little emotional investment in their relationship. Women cant initiate divorce yet I suppose, but Edna does the next best thing by moving out. The object of her affection, Robert, refuses to be with her even though she has left her husband (because he "loves" her).But Alcee Arobin has no problem being private or public with Edna. So what do all these different male characters represent? Please let me know your ideas, Thanks!!
posted by madmamasmith to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I saw the men in her life representing the different stages of her independence. Her husband was very traditional and grounded just as she believed she was supposed to be. Robert helped her realize her need for independence and take her first steps. Alcee represented total freedom. I also, however, saw Edna as incredibly selfish right to the very end, and I think her independence being realized through other people was sort of like a taste of her own medicine. She wanted freedom and was willing to neglect her own family for it. Likewise, fate was selfish with independence itself and wouldn't share it with her. She had no choice but to experience it through others until the end.

But I don't know how many people would agree with me on that.
posted by katillathehun at 3:52 PM on July 28, 2008

I notice you're a student... I hope this isn't asking AskMeFi to do your homework for you.

That being said, and it's been a while since I read the novel (and I read it on my own, not as part of any setup where I had to analyze it, so I could be way off base here) so my recollection is a little hazy, but I think the author set up three archetypal relationships for her character in order to have her react to each one -- a traditional, remote husband, a "grand romantic" love interest in Robert, and a more sexually based relationship as well. I'm not sure what Chopin is trying to say about men in general, I see it more as three common setups so she can explore Edna's reaction to each. After all, isn't the point of the novel less about what the men mean, as what the men mean to Edna, how they contribute to her awakening? It's a pretty feminist thought to think that the men exist in the story only to advance the heroine's self-knowledge, I think. ;)

Then again, I also didn't think much of the Awakening... I tend to agree with the critics of the novel and say it was way too much wallowing for me.
posted by warble at 4:01 PM on July 28, 2008

Robert loves her but is too conventional to pursue an affair with the already-married Edna, even once she leaves her cold and controlling husband; Alcee is passionate but a cad. They are emblematic of the poverty of women's choices at a time when marriage or inheritance were the only reliable means of economic survival available to them.

You may wish to do additional reading about the social and legal standing of American women in the late 19th century to get a better sense of how restricted Edna's options were.
posted by melissa may at 4:10 PM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I always thought that the suicide was a cheap way out in order to end the book. And thank goodness, because I didn't like it anyway.
posted by theichibun at 4:29 PM on July 28, 2008

Stupid laptop, made me hit submit early.

This is one of those books where I think literary critics are putting meaning into something that wasn't really meant to have any meaning. I could go on about that, but I'll let Freud say it for me.

"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."
posted by theichibun at 4:31 PM on July 28, 2008

> I see it as a woman's discovery of her freedom and independence.

Sure, and just like Thelma and Louise, the only way to resolve that "problem" is to have her die at the end.
posted by jessamyn at 4:35 PM on July 28, 2008 [7 favorites]

It's been a while since I read the book, but I think you need to keep in mind that the main character is an outsider. She is not a Creole and did not grow up in Creole society. In Creole society at this time, young men would escort married women around and spend time with them, but the relationship was never meant to be romantic. Remember when Madame Ratignolle warns Richard that Edna was taking his flirting too seriously? Edna doesn't understand that they are never meant to be together, but Richard does, and this is why he goes away so as to not cause any trouble.
posted by rancidchickn at 4:35 PM on July 28, 2008

I don't think it is her "freedom and independence" at all that is highlighted, but her stunted emotional growth and selfishness (which could be blamed on the way women were treated at the time, like children, but that doesn't make her any more likable).

Edna is a child herself at the beginning of the book. She has children but doesn't connect with them at all--they're just there. She has a child's awareness. At this point, her husband is a paternal, father figure.

Edna's very disconnected throughout until she has the rather juvenile fling, and her lover didn't marry her because they were both basically adolescents in love at this point and not ready for commitment. He is simply the idealized love interest of a girl's fling.

By the end of the book, she is really only a teenager in depth, much like a Juliet killing herself for her Romeo (many readers forget that at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is pining away over the loss of an earlier girl he loved, feeling very sorry for himself, accusing the others of jesting at scars "that never felt a wound." So he obviously felt that the woman before Juliet was his real love, too...until he met Juliet). Her lover this time is all about physical attaction.

She kills herself without really achieving any emotional enlightenment, empathy or compassion for others, before actually experiencing what we would consider "true love."
posted by misha at 5:42 PM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

In undergrad, my teacher's interpretation of it was very similar to misha's, although many in the class had that THELMA AND LOUISE interpretation -- the world was not one she could live in, blah blah. We did a compare and contrast of The Awakening, Passing by Nella Larsen and Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. I jokingly called it the "pettiness of women" semester.
posted by Gucky at 8:25 PM on July 28, 2008

> I see it as a woman's discovery of her freedom and independence.

Sure, and just like Thelma and Louise, the only way to resolve that "problem" is to have her die at the end.

Moral of the story: the only way a woman can be free, even in the modern era, is to die. Cheerful!
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:59 PM on July 29, 2008

Response by poster: Well, first and foremost I am a student, but I am reading this because I had to read Desiree’s Baby and wanted to further explore Chopin's work. So no need to lecture me on "asking AskMeFi to do [my] homework". Second, while I do think that interpreting this story as tale of one woman's self-discovery is a bit cliché and easy...I do think that that is the theme on a base level. I think this story is pretty brave for the time period. Not to mention the social etiquette of southern society. Edna is selfish, but she gave her role as wife and mother the old college try and failed. Ultimately when she did achieve her freedom she found that it was not enough to satisfy her soul.

"Moral of the story: the only way a woman can be free, even in the modern era, is to die"

I don't know....What I get from both Thelma and Louise and Edna (The Awakening) is the women’s' unfulfillment in their lives, and for such people (men and women alike) maybe it seems that the greatest freedom is death. Besides Thelma and Louise and Edna would have rather died than face jail , literally and figuratively.
posted by madmamasmith at 4:27 PM on July 29, 2008

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