The Awakening by Kate Chopin

For this week, I read The Awakening by Kate Chopin.

I had read this book once before, eons ago in a class that was centered on novels from the 20th century. I didn’t remember the plot really, more that I wasn’t overly fond of it.

This time around, I enjoyed it a bit more. I wouldn’t list it automatically in my re-read pile but it has a power to it.

Edna, the main character, is a 28 year old New Orleans “society” wife with two young children. During a summer holiday (one in which the woman and family stays in a place all the time and the husbands travel down on the weekends) she falls in love, though she doesn’t recognize it at first as such. The novel was written in 1899, so one can imagine the consequences of falling in love with a man not your husband are very different than it would be today. The book was shocking at the time and banned and censored. There is nothing terribly shocking in it today, but back then, for a book to portray a woman in a manner in which she becomes aware of herself, her power, and defies societal “norms” because she wants to, well….how…SCANDALOUS!

Sue Monk Kidd listed this in her top ten.

A couple of different things to note:

  1. If you have read this book, you know the ending, but I’m not going to say it for anyone that still remains interested in reading it. But! Towards the beginning there is a lot written by Chopin about the water, and the waves and how Edna feels in the water. And, I’m sure now, in literature classes or book club discussions, this is talked about possibly as foreshadowing, possibly as metaphor. There’s something that bugs me sometimes though about “literary” discussions of books.  Did Chopin -mean- for that to be significant? Or was she just writing about the water, the ocean, because the vacation was at the seaside and the ocean played a part in what Edna did and what she felt at the time? Do authors mean half the things we later take them to mean? Or are they just telling a story? I know there are a lot of authors out there that do mean to put stuff like that in, or write a novel merely to play with a narrative style. But, sometimes, can’t a story just be a story? Does it have to have deeper symbolism purposefully put in there? Most things will have deeper meaning, we’re humans, we’re layered and complex. So, stories by us and about us will by default have these things.
  2. In Persuasion last week, there was a friend of the main character whom was very poor and ill and had her own private rooms. Edna also had a friend (not ill, but very cranky and anti social) with her own private rooms. Both women went to these places to visit their friend and would leave with a deeper understanding about something or someone. Was this a common literary device in the 1800s? I mean, there’s symbolism to this, for sure. But again, is it meant symbolism? Or just a neat literary way to have the characters learn things?

These were my deep literary thoughts for the day.  Sorry that I didn’t write more about the plot, but it’s a rich little book (it’s not long at all) that is easy to read. I actually bought a copy of it at Half Price because it was on the 1.00 rack, and I won’t be getting rid of it but keeping it. Which is the next best thing to being on my re-read list because it means there’s a possibility of a re-read.

Have a great weekend everyone!

(Oh and check out Dietland, a recently published book. It’s pretty amazing.)

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