The Awakening Kate Chopin

The Awakening
Kate Chopin
A woman’s sexual and spiritual rebirth
Born again or born?
15 March 2005
Sexual & Spiritual (Re?)Birth
• The Awakening (1899, more than a century
ago, described as “sordid” and “immoral” by
reviews). See Kate Chopin: A Re-Awakening
– Awakened from what?
– Wedlock = Deadlock, at least for Edna
– Edna: young, beautiful, wife (and well married,
too), mother
– Yet she is unhappy & unfulfilled, and desires
liberation from a cage of bourgeois matrimony
Edna’s Awakening
• Chopin’s commentary: “Having a group of
people at my disposal, I thought it might be
entertaining (to myself) to throw them
together a see what would happen. I never
dreamed of Mrs. Pontellier making such a
mess of things and working out her own
damnation as she did. If I had had the
slightest intimation of such a thing I would
have excluded her from the company. But
when I found out what she was up to, the play
was half over and it was then too late.”
Edna’s Awakening
• Consider Chopin’s remark in light of
Emile Zola’s le roman experimental or
the ideal of the naturalist stated as the
selection of truthful instances subjected
to laboratory conditions in a novel,
where the hypotheses of the author
about the nature and operation of the
fores that work upon man can be put to
the test.
Edna’s Awakening,
its symbols & its metaphors
• Call of the sea (chap. III, p. 699-700)
• Passions are aroused
– “you are the only one worth playing for”(Mademoiselle Reisz
to Edna)
– Bathing (swimming) at midnight (IX, 714)
– Robert: “he did not lead the way, however, he directed the
way” (X, 714)
• Edna learning to swim, determined to inhabit her
physical self, to value it, luxuriate in its sinews and
strengths (X, 714-715)
• Turning her face seaward. . .a quick vision of death
smote her soul (715)
Edna’s Awakening,
its symbols & its metaphors
• Expected to answer her husband’s request,
“unthinkingly,” as befits the “daily treadmill of life”
• “I can’t permit you to stay out here all night”
• Awakening gradually, as if from a dream (XI, 717718)
• NOT a mother-woman (IV, 701)
– Idolizing her children
– Worshipping her husband
– Esteeming it a holy privilege to efface herself as an
individual and grow wings as ministering angels
Edna’s Awakening,
its symbols & its metaphors
• Edna (re)birthing herself (chap. XIII, 720-723)
– Revisionary mythmaking again: this time of
Sleeping Beauty
– Oppression of church service
– Madame Antoine’s cot
– Edna bathing herself, sleeping lightly at first (721)
– AWAKENING, “with the conviction that she had
slept long and soundly”
– Hunger (722), eating bread & wine
Edna’s Awakening -- checklist for review
• Women & Art
– “I am becoming an artist” (XXI, 740)
• Women & Thinking
– “pull myself together for a while and think--try to
determine what character of woman I am”
– Imagery of “bird that would soar above the level
plain of tradition and prejudice” (XXVII, 754)
– Edna seeming like a child, acting without thinking
(XXXIII, 763)
• Law of Society
– “hair must be parted and brushed” (IV, 701)
– Codes of society (XXVII, 754)