The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin, née Katherine O’Flaherty (Feb. 8, 1851-Aug. 22, 1904) was an American writer who published two novels and short stories.  She came from a wealthy St. Louis family. In 1870, Kate married Oscar Chopin, whose family was prominent in Louisiana.  By the age of 29, Chopin had six children.  In 1882, Oscar passed away and Kate tried for two years to keep his plantation and business afloat.  She finally sold the general store and she moved back to St. Louis.  A year after returning home, her mother died.  Both of these deaths hit Chopin hard.  Dr. Frederick Kolbenheyer, a friend and her doctor suggested that she write to help with her depression resulting from her losses.  Not only that, she had a large family to support.  In 1889, some of her stories were published and in 1890, her first novel, At Fault, appeared.  Chopin’s stories are mostly influenced by the Creole society that she experienced during her marriage.  During her time, focus was on these types of stories that depicted unique regional populations in the United States.  She achieved national recognition as one of the writers who embodied this up-and-coming movement.

In 1899, Chopin published The Awakening.  And this was when the reading public turned against her after of a decade of acceptance.  In 1904, she went to the St. Louis World’s Fair and during this visit she suffered a brain hemorrhage.  Two days later, she died.  Kate was only 53.  It wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century when readers and critics started to appreciate Chopin’s novel.

What shocked readers and made them turn their backs on a writer who they once respected?  To be blunt, people did not like her honesty and unromantic view of marriage in her novel.  The Awakening tells Edna Pontellier’s story.  Edna, is the wife of Leonce Pontellier, a successful  and respected businessman in New Orleans. They have two children, Etienne and Raoul.  The story begins during the summer, while Edna and the two boys are staying at a resort on the Gulf of Mexico.  Her husband visits on the weekends, but during the week he is in New Orleans taking care of business.  During her stay, Edna befriends Robert Lebrun, a young man.  Both of them fall in love.  Robert spontaneously decides to move to Mexico to pursue business.  His true motive for leaving is that he realizes that their love is hopeless since Edna is married to a powerful man and a relationship or even an affair is impossible.

As the summer draws to a close, Edna moves back to New Orleans with the boys and rejoins her husband.  At this point, she starts to take a hard look at her life and she realizes that she does not want to conform to what her husband, children, and society expect her to be.  Edna starts to feel like she is drowning.   She rebels by leaving the home during the time she is expected to receive visitors.   As she starts to assert her independence, she also suffers solitude since many of her friends and acquaintances do not understand her behavior.   Her examination of her own desires and self-worth ultimately leads her to make a dramatic decision.

This novel explores female independence during an age when women were controlled by their husbands.  Chopin shocked her readers by implying that some women were not happy in their marriages and flirted with the idea of having an affair.  There is a climatic ending, which I won’t reveal for those who haven’t read it, but the novel doesn’t have a resolution.  I wonder if this was Chopin’s way of saying she didn’t know the answer either, but she thought it worthwhile to open up the discussion.  At the time, no one wanted to talk about it.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American living in England. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs, or reading. Not necessarily in that order.
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15 Responses to The Awakening by Kate Chopin

  1. Caroline says:

    This is another one of my all-time favourites. I have a feeling you didn’t like it as much.
    there is a wonderful movie of it btw and Chopin’s Nocturne (i’m not sure about the no 5 or 9), mentioned in the book as well, I believe, underlines it so well.
    I enjoyed the short stories too.

    • TBM says:

      I enjoyed this novel, but it is one of those books that I really have to think about just how much I liked it. Even though it is a small novel, it is full of insights and commentary about love, life, and women at the turn of the century. I have a feeling it will be one of those books that I realize I like more and more over time. It will slowly sink in.

  2. niasunset says:

    I haven’t known her… It seems that interesting, especially when we think of the time… But these problems of relationships, not changed so much… There was always reason for this, and there is still… Seems that would be a nice reading… By the way I remember as if this “Chopin’s Nocturne”, I will search now. Thank you for Caroline and Thank you for you too, dear TBM, with my love, nia

    • TBM says:

      I don’t think relationships have changed much and unfortunately I think there are still a lot of people who don’t want to talk about the issues that Chopin raises. The book is still relevant to today’s readers. People talk more about things today but it is still hard to be completely open and honest about feelings. I’m glad you liked Caroline’s suggestion. Thanks for the comment Nia.

  3. buddhafulkat says:

    Great review! Another book I want to re-read. I read it years ago and loved it.

  4. Bridget says:

    I don’t remember liking this book too much. I honestly found it kind of whiny, and I didn’t like Edna’s decision at the end (which I won’t spoil, but found it to be kind of a cop-out on her part). Then again, I read it during the same summer that we were assigned to read Pride and Prejudice, so I guess I’m more into the lighthearded, humourous Austen style, personally.

    You did write a great summary, though, and I’m glad you enjoyed it! Just not my cup of tea, I guess 🙂

    • TBM says:

      Thanks Bridget. This would be an interesting read along with Pride and Prejudice. Those are two very different novels. The ending was dramatic. I wonder if Chopin wrote it that way to intentionally shock the readers to get them talking. If that was the case, unfortunately it didn’t work. They turned on her and she is another example of a writer or artist who didn’t live to see their impact.

  5. sagarika says:

    would be interested in reading this book……. i generally run away from the so called classics… will start reading them now

    • TBM says:

      I have been reading classics lately and I’ve been enjoying them. This one is still pretty relevant to today’s society. I hope you enjoy!

  6. Jackie Cangro says:

    It’s been years since I read this, but I remember thinking that it was ahead of its time in terms of honesty about marriage and family life. Certainly not the most uplifting story, but I thought she captured the plight of a lot of women of that era who had very little in the way of options.

    • TBM says:

      It was way ahead of her time. The story was not uplifting, but her writing was beautiful. I could feel Edna’s torment. And you are right, she shows how women during that time were trapped with few options.

  7. Pingback: My Door Has Been Knocked by…. « photographyofnia

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