Thursday, March 20, 2008

Book Review: The Awakening by Kate Chopin

It has been a while since I said I would post my thoughts about this book, but I am finally getting to it! The Awakening follows the main character Edna Pontellier through her awakening to her inner desires. The book is set in New Orleans in a wealthy neighborhood. This was a time of social expectations. Women had nannies to take care of their children, cooks to take care of the kitchen, and general household staff to take care of all the other household duties. During the summer season, Edna and all her friends go away from the city to the shore and have a long "party-like" season together. During this time, Edna becomes infatuated with a younger, single man, Robert. It is also during this time that she realizes she doesn't have the same natural feelings toward her husband or children that the other women with her have. This causes her to question the established way of things. When the season is over and all the families return to the city, Edna refuses to return to the status quo. Her social etiquette dictates that on Tuesday's she is to remain home to receive social callers. Her husband is shocked when their first Tuesday home, she decides to go out on Tuesday without leaving an adequate excuse! Also shortly after their return to the city, Edna learns that Robert plans to leave the US completely to go to Mexico and pursue wealth there. This puts Edna in despair as she realizes that she love Robert. After he leaves, husband and wife begin to have more conflict as Edna refuses to be the woman she is expected to be. Mr. Pontellier copes by escaping to his club, and Mrs. Pontellier copes by turning to painting and pursuing a friendship with another woman who is on the edge socially. The conflict comes to a head when Edna refuses to go with the family to her sister's wedding. Her parents come to take her children and her husband goes without her to try to save face. For the first time, Edna feels free.

At this point, Edna begins to throw off any restraint. She throws herself into her art and begins to shamelessly pursue a relationship with a man known to be loose with women. Although she occasionally misses her children and sends them chocolates and a note, she continues to be glad she does not have the expected social pressures of her family. After a visit to her children, she decides to move out of her husbands home and rent a small house down the street. She also allows her relationship with her lover to become openly scandalous. Right at that time, Robert comes back because he cannot be apart from Edna any longer. He is determined not to allow his feelings for her lead to an affair, but she pursues him. They are on the brink of consummating their relationship, but she is called away by a friend in crisis. He promises to wait for her, but when she returns, he is gone. He leaves a note telling her that it is his love for her that will not allow him to stay and come between her and her husband. This is the final straw for Edna. She loses her will to live and commits suicide by swimming into the ocean to the point of exhaustion. She does think of her children in her final moments, but feels that they would be better off without her.

This is a depressing story. It goes so far against everything I believe and feel! Not only is there a lot of immorality, but this woman only feels free when she has shaken off everything that God has ordained for women. It also makes me sad that anyone would feel that suicide is the only way out. I think it is somewhat normal to occasionally have doubts about your life, but that God has provided comfort, guidance, and assurance through the Holy Spirit. I find that when I turn to God and devote myself to prayer, any doubts I am feeling are quickly gone as God reaffirms in me His plan for me. Regardless of the way I cannot relate to Edna, and cannot condone any of the morals in the book, I thought the book was well written from a literary standpoint and enjoyed the style of writing. If I wasn't an "English Nerd" though, I wouldn't have made it past a few chapters in this book!

1 comment:

Joanna said...

wow, that's really depressing. thanks for telling me about it so i know to steer clear! lol.

it is sad that she committed suicide, especially when from the outside looking in, i know what the solution to her problem(s) was. i get bogged down more often than i should with thoughts of why are we here, what is the point of all this, etc., but it is the realization that God made all this and said, "It is good", and there is a specific order to life that immediately gets me off the train down the drain. i feel sorry for people that live the way she did, but often those are the very people that refuse to acknowlege any possibility of the existence of God, the reason for living.