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Finding Freedom in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening

Finding Freedom in The Awakening

The Awakening was shocking to readers in 1899, and would be today if it were published in “Ladies Home Journal”. Even today, women are expected to sacrifice themselves, if not to their husbands, then definitely to their children. I find it interesting that Grand Isle is the setting for the beginning and end of the novel. The story is built around a circle and represents the whirling force that is the energy of Edna’s life. The circle reminds me of Yeats’ “The Second Coming” : “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/things fall apart/the center cannot hold.”

So often I wanted Edna to act and she didn’t, I suppose that it is Chopin’s purpose to not let us into Edna’s thoughts, or make us omniscient of her actions. This was hard for me while reading. I wanted Edna’s point of view, so I could EASILY figure out what she was going to do, and that’s what was most difficult about this novel, and the reason it is not an easy read. I guess this is Chopin’s purpose. An example is when Edna cannot pinpoint why she is crying – the reader is left just as confused as Edna about the emotions.

The sleep motif is very enlightening, in that key moments of Edna’s awakening are preceded by sleep. Sleep, especially for those who are depressed, is used as a way of escape, but in this novel sleep is used mystically as a way for Chopin to show that many things happen while Edna is sleeping that leads to awakening. In this way, the reader can only guess what occurs during sleep.

I found I related to Harding Davis’ work more in that I can relate to Hugh and Deb’s oppression (politically, economically, class structurally). One thing the two works have in common is that both main characters (Hugh and Edna) actually hold the key to their own oppression, yet Edna’s social condition doesn’t require much sympathy from the reader. Also, if a reader cannot step into that world with Chopin, it is difficult to comprehend that kind of oppression. Perhaps it’s not correct to use the term oppression when writing about Edna, as it seems she only lives a life of obligations. She breaks free of these, however, and realizes: “Every step which she took toward relieving herself from obligations added to her strength and expansion as an individual.

Free Awakening Essays: A Reader Response

A Reader Response to The Awakening

I had not read The Awakening before, and these notes are on a real “first reading” , and as a result deal mostly with my emotional response and thoughts on the style and general content of the story,

I enjoyed the language and the “texture” of the writing. The subtle characterizations were done well, although the introduction of the characters seemed a bit unclear at times. The languid pace of the novel seem to fit the story and location of the action on one level, but seemed at odds with the violent, brash , turbulent nature of the emotional heart of the novel, Edna’s trying to connect to her true self. I often found myself wanting things to move on.

At times the writing reminded me of Hemingway(of all people) in its description of eating and drinking , small actions that tell a lot about a character, and frequent use of French or Spanish phrases within the text:
“Robert rolled a cigarette. He smoked cigarettes because he could not afford cigars,…” (44)
“She was hungry again, for the Highcamp dinner, though of excellent quality, had lacked abundance. She rummaged in the larder and brought forth a slice of “Gruyere” and some crackers. She opened a bottle of beer…” (116)
“Well, good-by, a jeudi,”…(108)
“The sun was low in the west and the breeze was soft and warm.”(53)

But unlike Hemingway, I often got the feeling that Chopin did not trust either her writing and the images and metaphors she used, or the reader to understand her more subtle sections. She seemed to feel often that she had to go back and tell the reader what a certain image or action “really” meant , as if we wouldn’t understand.

It was difficult, especially at first, to identify with Edna. I thought at first that this woman just had too much time to think and little else to do with her life,(Which ultimately might be Chopin’s point). A woman with so little to really “worry about”, in the context that most of us have daily problems, mostly of a material kind, to take up our thoughts. Also. her reaction to her children,(as well as her husbands), made me feel for them.(This was the first thought that came into my mind when Edna walked into the ocean. Is finding freedom for our soul synonymous with freedom from our responsibilities?

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