The Awakening

Kate Chopin
The exotic locale, use of color, and heavy emphasis on
Edna's search for individuality and freedom:
freedom to decide what to be, how to think, and how to live
Rebellion against society
Other prototypical romantic elements of the text:
Frequent inner thoughts,
 memories of childhood,
 the personified sea and its sensuous call,
 the fantastic talking birds,
 the mysterious woman in black,
 the romantic music playing almost constantly in the background,
 the gulf spirit, and
 the desire to express herself through art.
Realism/Naturalism/Local Color
Reaction against Romanticism and stressed the real over the fantastic
Stressed the uncaring aspect of nature and the genetic, biological
destiny of man
Humanity's instinctual, basic drives dominate their actions and cannot
be evaded
The identity of the setting is integral to the unfolding of the theme,
rather than simply incidental to a theme that could be set anywhere
Portrayal of Edna as hostage to her biology:
Edna is female, has children, and is a wife in a society that dictates
behavioral norms based on those conditions,
Relationship between men and women and the economic aspects,
Speaks of women in terms of possession, as property, and as a symbol of
a man’s social status,
a victim of fate, chance, of an uncaring world, pulled into a consuming, but
indifferent sea,
the only escape from her biological destiny as a woman in society,
possessed, sexual, and ruled, is death,
the Creole society and its rules.
Darwin’s theories: basic drives
dominate actions
Women’s Suffrage
Creole Culture
Industrial Revolution
 Turn
of the century: 19th/20th; tension between
old/new; traditional/modern
 World’s Fair Expo Chicago 1904: heralded the rise
of the machine age
 Transformed handicrafts, which women had always
done in their homes, into a machine-powered,
mass- produced industry
 Lower-class women could earn wages as factory
 Darwin’s
the Origin of Species
The Descent of Man
and controlled by:
Women’s Suffrage
First women's rights convention in July of 1848 (two
years before Chopin was born) in Seneca Falls, New
 Lucretia Coffin Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth
Cady Stanton
 Adopted a Declaration of Sentiments patterned after
the Declaration of Independence and focused on
getting the vote
 Suffragists were branded the 'shrieking sisterhood,'
labeled unfeminine, and accused of immorality
Creole Culture
It was Catholic in a Protestant country.
 The Creole women were very conservative
 They
were frank and open in discussing their marriages and
children, but could do so because their moral nature did not
allow any doubt as to their chastity.
LA was the only state in the nation that operated
under a different legal system.
 Under
the Louisiana Code, patterned after the Napoleonic
code of France, a woman belonged to her husband.
 Article 1388 established the absolute control of the male
over the family.
 Article 1124 equated married women with babies and the
mentally ill, all three were deemed incompetent to make a
Middle and upper-class women were still expected to
stay at home as idle, decorative symbols of their
husbands' wealth.
They were, as Virginia Woolf termed it, expected to be
angels in the house.
They were pregnant frequently due to the restrictions on
birth control.
They cared for their homes, husbands, and children,
played music, sang, or drew to enhance the charm of
their homes and to reflect well on their husbands.
Wives were possessions, cared for and displayed, who
often brought a dowry or inherited wealth to a marriage.
They were expected to subordinate their needs to their
husband's wishes.
1890s: The women's movement begins to gain a foothold on American
society. However, women still do not have the right to vote, and women's
issues were not part of the political platform.
Today: Women have had the right to vote since the passage/ratification of
the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1920.
1890s: According to the law, a married woman's property belonged to her
husband, even if she had inherited land before being wed. If she later
divorced her husband, the land would still be legally his.
Today: Women have equal legal rights to property, and divorce cases usually
conclude with at least half — if not more — of a couple's possessions going
to the wife.
1890s: Advice columns for women had their beginning. With the advent of
Dorothy Dix's column in 1895, advice columns appeared in newspapers and
provided a forum for discussion of women's issues.
Today: Not only do publishing companies print women's columns in
newspapers, but they also dedicate entire magazines to women's issues.
Born in Missouri in 1850
Raised in matriarchal
Educated at Sacred Heart
Academy (Catholic boarding
Strong female influence in
younger years
In 1870, married Oscar Chopin, the
son of a wealthy cotton-growing family
in Louisiana.
He adored his wife, admired her
independence and intelligence, and
"allowed" her unheard of freedom.
They had seven children.
They moved to his old home in
Oscar died of swamp fever there in
Kate took over the running of his
general store and plantation for over a
In 1884 she sold her property
and moved back to St. Louis to
live with her mother.
To support herself and her young
family, she began to write.
Her first novel, At Fault, was
published in 1890, Bayou Folk in
1894 and A Night in Acadia in
The Awakening was published in
She died of a cerebral
hemorrhage on August 22, 1904.
 Identity
 Repression
 Women
 Art
 Marriage
 Love
 Society & Class
& Culture
 Family
 Respect &
 Life,
Consciousness, &
 Birds:
 Art:
 Birds are major symbolic
 Art becomes a
images in the narrative.
symbol of both
 They symbolize the ability to
freedom and failure.
communicate and entrapment
 Edna sees art as a
of women
way of self-expression
 Flight is another symbol
and of self-assertion.
associated with birds, and acts
as a stand in for awakening.
 Mlle. Reisz sees
 Edna escapes her home, her
becoming an artist as
husband, her life, by leaving
a test of individuality.
for the pigeon house.
 Edna fails because
 Mlle. Reisz lectures Edna on
her wings are too
the need for strong wings in
artistic endeavors.
Edna is fully dressed when first introduced; slowly
over the course of the novel she removes her
 This symbolizes the shedding of the societal rules in
her life and her growing awakening and stresses her
physical and external self.
 Adele is more "careful" of her face in the seventh
chapter and wears a veil.
 Both she and Madame Lebrun constantly make
clothes to cover the body.
 The woman in black and Mlle. Reisz never change
their clothes, symbolizing their distance from any
physical attachment.
Sleep is an important
symbolic motif running
through the novel.
 Edna's moments of
awakening are often
preceded by sleep.
 Sleep is also a means
of escape and of
repairing her tattered
 In fairy tales, sleep is a
key ingredient.
Ocean, Gulf, or Sea:
The ocean is a symbol of both
freedom and escape.
Edna remembers the Kentucky fields
of her childhood as an ocean.
she learns to swim in the gulf, and she
finally escapes into the sea.
The ocean is also a source of selfawareness, both an outward
knowledge of the expansion of the
universe and an inner direct
obsession with self.
The sound of the surf calls to her,
comforts her throughout the novel,
and acts as a constant beckon in the
As you read, notice how often, even in
New Orleans away from the sea, the
language mimics the sound of the surf
or the actions of the water.
There are many houses in the novel: the one on Grand Isle, the one in
New Orleans, the pigeon house, the house in which Edna falls asleep on
Cheniere Caminada.
The first two of these houses serve as cages for Edna. She is expected to
be a "mother-woman" on Grand Isle and to be the perfect social hostess in
New Orleans.
The other two are places of supposed freedom. On the island she can
sleep and dream, and in the pigeon house she can create a world of her
Grand Isle itself is a place of women. Most men only visit on weekends,
and while there go to places of their own like the Kleins hotel.
Cheniere Caminada is then a place of escape off this island of women,
into a new, romantic, and foreign world.
New Orleans is the bastion of societal rules, of realistic life and duties.
Kentucky, for Edna is simply New Orleans in a different place; ridged with
rules and full of unhappy memories.
New York and Mexico are men's Grand Isles, and both Leonce and Robert
leave Edna for these places, where they do business with other men.
Selected passages
Call of the sea (III)
Passions are aroused
“you are the only one worth playing for”(Mademoiselle Reisz
to Edna)
Bathing (swimming) at midnight (IX)
Robert: “he did not lead the way, however, he directed the
way” (X)
Edna learning to swim, determined to inhabit her
physical self, to value it, luxuriate in its sinews and
strengths (X)
Turning her face seaward. . .a quick vision of death
smote her soul (X)
Expected to answer her husband’s request,
“unthinkingly,” as befits the “daily treadmill of
 “I can’t permit you to stay out here all night”
 Awakening gradually, as if from a dream (XI)
 NOT a mother-woman (IV)
 Idolizing
her children
 Worshipping her husband
 Esteeming it a holy privilege to efface herself as an
individual and grow wings as ministering angels
Edna (re)birthing herself (XIII)
 Revisionary
mythmaking again: this time of
Sleeping Beauty
 Oppression of church service
 Madame Antoine’s cot
 Edna bathing herself, sleeping lightly at first (XIII)
 AWAKENING, “with the conviction that she had
slept long and soundly”
 Hunger (XIII), eating bread & wine