Paloma's Reviews > The Awakening

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
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Apr 08, 2015

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bookshelves: america, classics-20th-cent

Edna Pontellier, like most upper-class American women of the late nineteenth century, has been pushed into traditional roles of wifely motherhood. Society holds for her no other models of respectable femininity. At the age of 28, she finally admits to herself that her potential greatest fulfillments lie elsewhere, away from these roles - but this self-discovery arrives too late, now that she’s already said “I do” and produced children who depend on her. She seems condemned to a life of constrained leisure, yoked to a materialistic man she doesn’t love.

Readers are granted a small, distant window into the swirl of Edna’s confused thoughts and viscerally unhappy physical reactions. We’re not given any more insight into Edna’s character than she has into herself - which is to say, not much. She has yet to arrange her unhappiness into a coherent narrative - so we’re brought along on this journey of self-discovery along with her.

Generations of readers have heaped Edna with criticism for being a halfhearted mother and an unfaithful wife - but how could she be anything else? The tragedy is that she’s been pushed into accepting these roles, despite her deep personal incompatibility with them. It would be easier to condemn a modern woman for being caught in a similar position - a modern woman, after all, has has ample opportunity to choose among seemingly infinite lifestyle choices. Edna, melodramatic and self-absorbed though she is, didn’t get a choice at all.

This book’s structure reminds me of the ocean waves described in the scenery. The prose itself is slow and thoughtful, stretching one scene into many pages filled with observations of interpersonal minutiae and implications (a style which Woolf later pushed to an extreme). Text is divided into short, roman-numeraled chapters, each expanding upon the ending of the last, seeing previous details in a slightly new light.

(On a shallow historical note, I enjoyed descriptions of turn-of-the-century beachgoers - a time when oceanside vacationers dressed like this. I can’t imagine wanting to bring my sewing projects to the beach!)
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Reading Progress

April 8, 2015 – Shelved
April 8, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read-classics
April 17, 2015 – Started Reading
April 17, 2015 – Shelved as: america
April 17, 2015 – Shelved as: classics-20th-cent
April 19, 2015 –
14.0% "“But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult! The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation...""
April 19, 2015 –
47.0% ""She was seeking herself and finding herself in just such sweet, half-darkness which met her moods. But the voices were not soothing that came to her from the darkness and the sky above and the stars. They jeered and sounded mournful notes without promise, devoid even of hope.""
April 19, 2015 –
52.0% ""There were days when she was very happy without knowing why. She was happy to be alive and breathing, when her whole being seemed to be one with the sunlight... She liked then to wander alone into strange and unfamiliar places... There were days when she was unhappy, she did not know why- when it did not seem worth while to be glad or sorry, to be alive or dead; when life appeared... like a grotesque pandemonium...""
April 19, 2015 – Finished Reading

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