Sherwood’s review of The Awakening > Likes and Comments

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message 1: by Francesca (new)

Francesca Forrest What a wonderful read; thank you. You spark so many thoughts that I'm not sure where to begin. Do you think some historical periods can be young ones? The 1960s-1970s seems like such a period, at least as recalled in our popular imagination, and as such, plagued by/blessed by the characteristics of a certain adolescent youngness: the green, unconsidered, uncompromising idealism, the self-absorption. Those traits seem understandable in adolescents (though not all adolescents demonstrate them)--less so when people supposedly have some maturity.

What you say about Edna's lack of capacity for love and her restlessness and dissatisfaction--it does fit so perfectly with the notions of being filled up with one's self, so filled up that there's no room for anything else. Total self-abnegation is no good (I don't think, anyway), but a person is just as destroyed by total self-absorption. So often when I see unhappy people (even myself), it seems to me that part of the solution is to look away from themselves and their misery for a while. (That sounds facile. I don't mean to suggest that people suffering crushing losses and privations can feel better by looking away ...but for many of the lesser slings and arrows)

I love what you say about the father in the novel, and I think it's interesting that even though the authorial voice was telling you to admire the heroine and dismiss the father, Kate Chopin was apparently a good enough portrayer of character, event, small details, etc., that you-the-reader were able to perceive and appreciate the father's good qualities.

And of course I love what you say about the children creating games in the dust.

One other observation: those flashes Edna has as she's dying; I wonder if Kate Chopin got the idea for them from the thoughts and images that can come to us as we sink into sleep...?

I might try dipping into this novel. I don't know if I can stand to give up the hours required to read it cover to cover, but I'd love the regional evocations, and what you write here intrigues me (though it rather repels me, too).


message 2: by Sherwood (new)

Sherwood Smith Since I was young in the sixties, I feel it was a young age . . . but recently I was watching a documentary, and it came to me that part of its apparent youth is that the baby boom generation was young. And we were everywhere. (How I remember being told on all sides that there weren't enough jobs for us all!) And youth is restless.

I had the same thought about the flashes.


message 3: by Francesca (new)

Francesca Forrest I'm thinking that a time period gets characterized by who's most active? And the 1960s, you young people ("you young people, you!") were demanding a voice/commanding attention. Sort of like in certain developing countries, where the median age is very young. But then in some times and places, the very old control the voice of the era; in others, those in the so-called prime of life.

... I dunno; I think there are problems with this theory. Just batting ideas around...


message 4: by Sherwood (new)

Sherwood Smith I think there are a couple if things going on here: first, whose (collective) voice is heard depends so much on who controls, or at least inspires, the media. Second, who is catching the attention might be different at the time than in historical perspective.

Like, even Jane Austen, in the voice of her seventeen year old heroine Catherine Morland commented that history seemed to be filled with men "who are all good-for-nothing and hardly any women anywhere." Yet there were women! History, until recently, deemed it of insufficient interest to record what they were doing, even if at the time they were artists as popular as men. (See Eliza Haywood, and Mrs. Robinson, late 1700s, both of whom even now few have heard of, while everyone at least recognizes names like Sheridan, Richardson, Johnson, etc)


message 5: by Francesca (new)

Francesca Forrest Right: and our perception of the various eras can really change when we hear those other voices (women's, minorities' etc.)


message 6: by Sherwood (new)

Sherwood Smith And how!


message 7: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Brown I read this as an undergrad. Of the book itself, I mostly recall the very ending, which is quite beautiful. It seems intuitively true that her dying thought is a random but vivid sense-memory rather than something with more obvious relevance.

I also recall that the professor thought it was an early feminist novel in that it was explicitly stated that Edna did not automatically find fulfillment in being a wife and mother or see that as her rightful place. She is trapped in a society which tells her that a woman's only options are respectable motherhood or empty affairs, and when neither satisfies her, she has nowhere to go but into a solipsistic spiral of despair.

I think we had a paired reading of "The Yellow Wallpaper," which has similar themes but a completely different style and mood. If I recall correctly, virtually the entire class liked "The Yellow Wallpaper" a lot more. The narrator (a frustrated writer) is a lot more sympathetic.


message 8: by Sherwood (new)

Sherwood Smith The house "The Yellow Wallpaper" is based on is in Connecticut--not far from Benedict Arnold's house (which was bought and decorated by hippies). It had a decidedly forbidden atmosphere.

That story seemed unrepentantly whiny to me when I read it ages ago, so I've never reread it, but now, thinking back, it seems to me that the protagonist (if not the author) was clinically, profoundly, depressed.


message 9: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Brown I only think of a story as whiny if the protagonist doesn't seem to have justification for their emo. The protagonist of that seemed completely justified in her misery.

If ever there's reason for being unhappy and angry, it's being a depressed writer who's locked up and forbidden to read and write, while being told it's for your own good. There was also an element of protest against the actual (terrible) treatment of the mentally ill, especially depressed women.


message 10: by Sherwood (new)

Sherwood Smith Oh, yes. I think the problem with my reading of "The Yellow Wallpaper" was partly my youth and callowness, but also I read it after a semester of Sylvia Plath, who did seem whiny to me. (Though again, signs of very deep depression) and a professor who seemed to think that that attitude was the pinnacle of artistic achievement. As a fellow student observed, the prof never met a story or poem about pointless death and the misery of existence that she didn't love.


message 11: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Brown Poor Sylvia Plath. I sometimes wonder if she would have survived if mental health treatment had just been that little bit more advanced at the time. Yes, she was severely depressed, and seeing a psychiatrist.


message 12: by Sherwood (new)

Sherwood Smith Yes--when you read her letters (which we had to), it was really clear that the help she was getting made things worse. She probably would have done a whole lot better now.


message 13: by Hallie (new)

Hallie I can't manage copying your comment ATM, but Sherwood, you should definitely read "The Yellow Wallpaper" again, after checking out Gilman's life. (Just a bit!) the author was clinically depressed and was told by her doctor that she must stop writing and the story is not only a response to her experience, but iirc, actually had some influence in discrediting this very respected doctor and his horrific treatment for creative women. I'd imagine your reading of it would be a little different from that after the semester you've just described!


message 14: by Sherwood (new)

Sherwood Smith I had an interesting experience re Gilman, being taken to see her house and hearing about her. It actually sounded so harrowing I mentally slotted a reread into horror territory--to reread the story when I am up for that. Indeed, I think it would be profoundly more effective to reread than when I was young . . . but not in any good way!


message 15: by Hallie (new)

Hallie Sherwood wrote: "I had an interesting experience re Gilman, being taken to see her house and hearing about her. It actually sounded so harrowing I mentally slotted a reread into horror territory--to reread the story when I am up for that.."

Oh, my! Yeah, when you said that it *seemed* to you as if the protag was depressed, I didn't realise you knew she totally was!


message 16: by Sherwood (new)

Sherwood Smith Well, that was my reaction as a youngster. Took many decades before I understood what I was reading. (The age-old danger of students being presented with art for which they are not ready. Sometimes it can spark growth and insight, but it can also bounce hard.)


message 17: by Hallie (new)

Hallie Sherwood wrote: "Well, that was my reaction as a youngster. Took many decades before I understood what I was reading. (The age-old danger of students being presented with art for which they are not ready...."

Yes, maybe. I think that course/teacher must have been pretty bad though - to make that story come across as whiny when you were already a writer seems rather impressive to me!


message 18: by Barbarapronsato (new)

Barbarapronsato great review


message 19: by Sherwood (new)

Sherwood Smith Barbarapronsato wrote: "great review"

Thank you!


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