Kate Chopin*s The Awakening - Greer Middle College || Building the

Kate Chopin’s The
Kate Chopin (1851-1904)
Born 1851 in St Louis, Missouri
Spoke French and English
Slavery part of daily life
Married Oscar Chopin from Louisiana in
1870– lived in new Orleans 6 kids
• Husband died 1882– Chopin never
remarried but had other relationships
• Wrote mostly about the South and
French-American culture
• Radical idea– a woman’s needs were
important (women weren’t considered
to be independent)
Chopin Family Pictures
Background: Women’s Rights
• Napoleonic Code said that all of the wife’s "accumulations"
after marriage belonged to the husband and that the
husband automatically got custody of children in a divorce
• Louisiana law claimed that
a woman could not sign a legal contract other than her will
could not initiate a lawsuit
could not hold public office
could not serve as a legal witness to any document
• Others who could not do this included the blind, the deaf, the
mute, children under 16, the legally insane, or those with criminal
Background: Creole Society
• Creole culture (French and Spanish ppl in New Orleans)
• very family-oriented
• considered themselves an elite social class in New Orleans
• Creole women, even if very poor, were not permitted to
speak of poverty
• expected Creole women to be
• very religious, usually Catholic
• modest and pure of thought but still able to talk frankly about
sexuality and childbirth
• enthusiastic mothers
• good dancers
• artistic by nature
• good housekeepers
• good conversationalists
The Awakening: Key Facts
• Published 1889
• Controversial!
• Main premise: Woman’s journey to selfdiscovery away from traditional upbringing
towards personal desires/needs.
• Edna Pontellier (protagonist) realizes that her
life is not what she wants, so she seeks to find
self-fulfillment outside of her social duties/
• Setting: Grand Isle (vacation resort), New
Orleans– late 1800s
The Awakening: Key Characters
• Edna Pontellier- wife and mother of 2, seeks her own
life outside of society’s accepted roles
• Adele Ratignolle- socially ideal woman- Edna’s friend
• Robert Lebrun- single man, Edna falls in love with him,
but he doesn’t know how to respond
• Alcee Arobin- charming man– known as a “player” in
New Orleans; seduces Edna
• Leonce Pontellier- Edna’s husband- often away on
business; wealthy; cares about social expectations
• Mademoiselle Reisz- unmarried/no kids, devotes life
to art (piano); teaches Edna about independence
Birds (caged, free, Pigeon house, broken wing)
Lady in black
Two lovers
Farival twins
The Awakening: Reviews
• Then
• “Trite and sordid”
• “Essentially vulgar”
• “Unhealthily introspective and morbid in feeling”
• “. . .its disagreeable glimpses of sensuality are repellent" (from The
• Contemporary (now)
• “She’s one of those writers whose sense of craft puts her right on the edge
of poetry. . . . The rediscovery of The Awakening came as a Godsend, the
most incredible gift to the women’s movement” Prof. Elizabeth FoxGenovese, Emory
• Accurate imitation of life
• Characters drawn to present
the reader with illusion of actual
• Topics include love, marriage, parenthood,
infidelity, and death
• Characters find life dull and are often unhappy,
but find touches of joy and beauty in life
Local Color/ Regionalism
• A form of Realism
• Devoted to descriptions of characters, dialect, customs, and
geography of a specific setting.
• Emphasizes setting and the character of the region instead of
character of the individual.
• Characters are usually there to add to the "feel" of the place
(think Arobin, servants and residents at Grande Isle, Madame
Ratignolle, etc).
• Main character usually an outsider makes it easier for the
reader to identify with them, because reader is outsider
• Common plot involves tension between traditional and new ways
of life, often symbolized by the intrusion of an outsider who is
demanding something from the community.
Regionalism in Art
• Chopin denied that she was a feminist or a suffragette.
• Her fiction repeatedly deals with female characters’
efforts to find place, love, and autonomy (independence)
in a society that denies these needs.
• Feminist theory
• examines women’s social roles and lived experience
• provides a critique of social relations– focuses on analyzing
gender inequality and the promotion of women’s rights,
interest and issues
• depicts elements of oppression and patriarchy (male as
primary authority figure, central to social organization)