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Understanding Chopin’s The Awakening

Understanding Chopin’s The Awakening

By reading The Awakening, the reader gets a sense of what the life of a Creole woman is like. In actuality, though, it is not until reading the etiquette books, Chopin’s biographical information, and essays about the treatment of women at the time that there can be a deeper understanding of the rules Edna is breaking.

Passages from Chopin’s Biographical Information

Fawned over as a society belle, admired for her cleverness and musical talent, Kate wrote what she really thought in her diary: “I dance with people I despise; amuse myself with men whose only talent is in their feet.” She wrote advice about how to flirt (just keep asking, “What do you think?” and you will be praised everywhere for your intelligence). (116)

The sarcasm and wit of Kate Chopin can be seen and heard through the character of Edna Pontellier. Just from this small excerpt in Chopin’s diary, we can hear the similarities. In The Awakening, Edna seems to move through the Creole social scene in a daze, possibly because she despised all of it. But when she was alone with her thoughts, she appears quite aware of what she wanted and needed to be happy.

I feel that although many critics say that The Awakening is not based on Chopin’s own life, the author has taken many aspects of her own personal life to develop characters. For example, the biographical information says that Chopin’s husband is an attentive, loving man. I think that Robert is, in part, modeled after him.

Here is a passage dealing with the rules of etiquette that Edna is breaking:

Let nothing, but the most imperative duty, call you out upon your reception day. Your callers are, in a measure, invited guests, and it will be an insulting mark of rudeness to be out when they call. Neither can you be excused, except in case of sickness. (123)

The amount of etiquette that must be learned by these women is astounding. The articles give the reader a real appreciation for the social faux pas that Edna is committing. Before reading this, I did not quite understand how far from the norm Edna is straying. After reading this excerpt, I fully realize why it is such a dire situation to Leonce when Edna went out on her reception day. The rules made it sound like women needed to be home on their day to have guests; and on the other days, they needed to be out visiting.

growaw Epiphany of Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening

The Epiphany in The Awakening

Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening, presents the struggle of an American woman at the turn of the century to find her own identity. At the beginning of the novel, the protagonist, Edna Pontellier, seems to define her identity in terms of being a wife, a mother and a member of her community. As the story progresses, Edna seeks to define herself as an individual. The turning point in her struggle can be seen clearly in a scene in which Edna realizes for the first time that she can swim. Having struggled to learn to swim for months, she realizes in this scene that it is easy and natural. This discovery is symbolic of Edna’s break from viewing herself in terms of what society expects her to be, and her new awareness of herself as an autonomous human being.

Prior to this scene, Edna does have some awareness of the duality of her existence. The narrator tells us that “[e]ven as a child she had lived her own small life all within herself. At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life–that outward existence which conforms, the inward life that questions” (14). As Edna grew older, that awareness was pushed aside. Chopin makes a comparison between Edna’s religious faith and how she conducts her secular life. She describes how, as a child, Edna once ran away from church and wandered aimlessly through a field of tall grass. She was simply following her impulses and her desires unthinkingly. As Edna grew older, her feelings towards religion changed: “During one period of my life religion took a firm hold upon me,” she states, “after I was twelve and until–until–why, I suppose until now, though I have never much thought much about it–just driven along by habi…

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…as a sexual being for the first time following her experience in the water. She begins to glory in the beauty of her own body and begins a romantic liaison with a man who is not her husband. For the first time in her adult life, Edna begins to live according to her own desires, not those of her husband or society.

The discoveries that Edna Pontellier made in the water that night represent her true “awakening.” The scene demonstrates her awareness of herself as an individual, as well as her realization that she is connected to a larger, greater universe. Whether this epiphany brings her happiness and a greater understanding of the world around her, or only abject misery, isolation and a sense that her life is without worth, is still being debated.

Works Cited

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. 1899. Ed. Margo Cully. New York: Norton, 1994. 3-109.

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