Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Awakening ~ Kate Chopin

So I've got a few books backlogged that I've read/listened to, been underwhelmed by, and failed to review.  I shall begin to remedy that here and now with the briefest of reviews.  Today's catch-up post is about The Awakening by Kate Chopin, which I actually finished back in September.  Oops.  Make sure to link up to your review at the end and remember that there is no need to link back.

The Awakening is one of those books that I meant to read for years, but never thought to actually acquire until I stumbled across it at a library sale and bought it for $1 with triumph in my heart.  I assumed that I would love it, it being all feminist-y and what not.  Alas, it failed me.  Here's the quickest plot summary I can muster to get you onto the same page: Edna Pontellier becomes discontented with her role as respectable wife and mother, buys her own house, has an affair, and drowns.  Along the way, she essentially abandons her children and is very racist.

I think the above may be enough to explain my issues with this novel, but I shall delve slightly deeper.  I am a self-identified feminist.  While this comes along with a lot of beliefs, one of those beliefs is that a woman does not need to procreate to be a "real" woman or any such nonsense.  However, slightly separate from this is the belief that no matter who you are, abandoning your children is not okay.  Also, "racist" and "feminist" do not go together in my book.  Okay, technically Edna's not a feminist, but it seems like she's supposed to demonstrate some feminist ideals, which I take great issue with.  Perhaps Edna is depressed, which would excuse her behavior to some extent, but it didn't feel like depression.  It felt like she was simply bored, and decides to fuck up a bunch of people's lives as a result without even the decency of an explanation.  Also, it's really difficult to identify with a character who never calls her children's nanny anything but a "quadroon" (excuse me while I vomit in my mouth).  Edna seems to me to be little more than a child - selfish, impulsive, and all-around unconcerned with the fact that there are people who depend on her and whose lives will be damaged by her behavior.  She is not a feminist figure or a forward-thinking woman, but a spoiled woman with a penchant for making drama.

Bring on the arguments.


  1. I really did not like this book at all...I read it in high school and I read almost everything we had to read. About all I liked about this book were the random french bits and the fact that it was short.

  2. See - I loved this book. When I read it in college, I was, in fact, pretty bowled over by it. Though at the time I never would have called myself a feminist, I certainly felt that Edna was boxed in and well, trapped.

    Also, I would say that no, she isn't intended to be a feminist figure. At all. I think that instead, she acts as a sort of cautionary tale as to what can happen when someone feels that deeply unsettled. I would also disagree about the depression. Mental illnesses present themselves in many different ways.

    All that said, yes, she royally ticked me off with her behavior, and I don't like that she abandons her children. However, to play devil's advocate, in literature, we (meaning readers) seem to be much more forgiving when the father leaves. Like the mother is so much WORSE than the father for leaving. And I just don't think that's true. [Full disclosure: my MA thesis was all about mothers and particularly "bad" mothers who are used as examples and curatives for society, so I'm a bit partial here.]

    As to the rampant racism, yeah. It's sickening. And there's no excuse for it, but I think it's a pretty good representation of the time period.

    If you don't like this, definitely don't read Madame Bovary. ;)