As I continue to explore literature’s classics, I am constantly surprised by how relevant the stories are, even centuries later. This is certainly the case with Kate Chopin’s masterpiece, “The Awakening.” Written in 1899, Chopin creates a poignant tale of a woman embarking on a journey of self-discovery years before feminism became a prominent movement. Although the times have certainly changed, the novel never feels outdated. The struggles that face the protagonists are inner conflicts that still plague many to this day.
Edna Pontellier is a 28-year-old woman who is married to a wealthy Creole businessman, Leonce. During their summer vacation on the Louisiana coast, Edna meets Robert, a young entrepreneur with a tendency to pine over unavailable women. She is used to being generally ignored by her husband, so when Robert actually shows an eagerness to spend his days with her, she is swept away with feelings of infatuation. Leonce is not a jealous man, and he has too much pride to ever suspect her of falling in love with another man, so Edna is able to easily sneak away from her daily life to enjoy afternoons at the beach with her newfound friend. As Edna strays from her marriage, she discovers an emerging sense of freedom and independence she has never felt before. She realizes just how many emotions she has never felt, including true love. Although she cares for her husband, their love lacks desire. With Robert, she finds passion, longing, and inspiration.
Her happiness is interrupted when Robert leaves unexpectedly for Mexico in order to avoid ruining Edna’s marriage. She is left all alone with brand new feelings and ideas stirring within her soul. She returns to her home in New Orleans and finds herself bored with her life. Her high society friends provide her with no real stimulation, and her children just feel like responsibilities holding her back. When Leonce goes north for a business trip, she sends her children to stay with their grandparents. Finally alone, Edna really begins to reprioritize her life. She buys herself a small apartment and leaves her husband’s towering mansion. She spends time with Mademoiselle Reisz, an extraordinary pianist who lives alone like a recluse. Edna is inspired by Reisz’s art and self-sufficiency. Meanwhile, she also quenches her desire for romance by having an affair with another man. She feels no guilt towards her husband, but her heart is still with Robert.
Society is shocked by Edna’s utter disregard for what is acceptable, but she no longer cares what anyone thinks. Her only goal is to be free, to understand herself, to live as she wishes. Some readers may find her inspiring; others may see her as selfish. Edna can’t be summed up by just these simple adjectives, though. Here, Chopin has created a character that is more than just an oppressed woman, more than just an unhappy wife. Edna is the embodiment of the human soul, one that is always wandering, searching, yearning for more. We all crave love, affection, and freedom, but few have the courage or strength to break all the rules to find it. Edna’s awakened soul knows no boundaries or limitations, and “The Awakening” explores the consequences, both good and bad, of leaving behind your life to finally live for yourself.
Have you read “The Awakening” Discuss your thoughts on the book below.