Elizabeth's Reviews > The Awakening

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
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(**SPOILERS in the comments**)

One of the earliest sleep-with-whoever-you-want feminist rhetoric books. I think much of what feminists fought for and accomplished was vital for protecting women. Women have never lived with such freedom. I stand behind many of the advances. This book, however, as part of the general 60’s feminist philosophy(not the major thinking of the early feminists), I believe has had a destructive effect. Instead of promoting a philosophy that men should be more honest about the power of physical relationships - which would have helped to correct many of the true problems (and thus would have been truly progressive) they encourged women to be just as selfish. This type of thought has pulled us backwards. Their courage faltered when they didn’t set the standard that was really needed. The havoc wreaked on the souls of human beings, both those involved in sexuality that professes one thing physically but another spiritually – selfish sexuality - and the children who live in the chaos of these relationships (or non-relationships) is a step back in the progression of the individual who should be moving towards actual love and away from selfishness.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2001 – Finished Reading
June 11, 2007 – Shelved

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message 1: by Dolly (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:34AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dolly I totally agree that Edna's decisions were selfish. And I totally agree that the agressive feminism of the 60s and 70s has had some rotten effects on society (in addition to the several nice effects -- mostly more equal pay and stuff like that). However, even if modern feminists used this book as a megaphone for their own little war, Chopin didn't write it for them. I think her narrative style is very personal, making this a story about Edna more than a story about all women. The abandonment of Edna's children did not seem, when I read it, a thing that was to be celebrated. It was a tragedy, very in keeping with Edna's choice at the end of the book to kill herself. These were the sacrifices that she made -- selfishly, yes -- to free herself from the morass that she could no longer stand. Happily, we gals in the 21st century can see other options than abandoning our children and killing ourselves. And probably some 19th century women could have as well. Edna didn't, and that's where the book stops. It's a pity that political activists have made Edna's personal failures a rallying cry for folks who are very much not in her situation.

message 2: by Elizabeth (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:39PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Elizabeth Sorry it's taken me so long to get back on this. You make some excellent points. I haven't read enough of Chopin's other works to have an educated opinion on her broader perspective but I don't know that the book was created so far out of context to support your argument - but it could be. If you are correct, I think this book could be put in the same category with Tolstoy's Anna Karenina also. While it was probably written to show both the corrosive effects of judgement and the misery of the selfish lives many of the characters lived - I think often the book is used by those who attribute little culpability to the characters for making selfish choices and all to the society. Liberals so often seem to focus on non-judgment - not only suggesting we love everyone but also suggesting no one judge any act. While conservatives want to conserve the order and end of up sacrificing the human beings to less important man-made traditions. I think there is a new generation of thinkers coming up who believe there is a golden mean there - keeping order as it is truly loving and having compassion for individuals. Thanks for your great thoughts - that was really interesting!

Lindsay Um, was that a comment on a book or an errant diatribe? Sorry, but I don't get where you're doing with this. Did we even read the same book?

Elizabeth What's your argument? And yeah, I don't think we're into the same types of books at all so yes, for all intents and purposes I think we did read different books.

Christine The thing is, when I read this book I don't see that Chopin is condoning Edna's actions. The author makes it quite clear all along that Edna's actions are selfish and cowardly. I feel like she's telling a story - a very personal story - but not one that condones adultery, abandonment, or suicide. Also, considering this book was written in 1897, I don't really think it's fair to attach it to the uglier aspects of the 60's feminist movement.

Yvette Amen! I agree wholeheartedly... However, although I disagree with the premise, I did give it 3 stars because it was well written. I also think it would make a great choice for a literary analysis. It gives lots to talk about and to think about.

Pollopicu Yes Christine, but the novel proabably wasn't labeled a feminist novel until the 60's and or 70's.
I think the point here is that if a book is going to be viewed as a feminist novel and we begin reading it as such, we have to see what are the aspects of the story that make it "feminist". Here we have a woman who other than instantly freeing herself from her husband and children didn't do anything that is worthy of "feminism". There's a difference between being a feminist and being selfish. Had the novel not been labeled a "feminsit" novel, like Tolstoy's Ana Karenina, then we could've judge it at face value. However, selfish and self-centered behavior does not a feminist make.

Let's suppose for one second the husband Leon, behaved this way? as a protagonist he would've been crucified. Feminism is not about women having special privilages, it's about equality.

message 8: by Tammie (new)

Tammie I've never read the book, so I can't comment on how your review relates to it, but I do totally agree with your comments about the early feminist movement and what started in the 60s as the "sexual revolution".

message 9: by Angela (new)

Angela Tosca I was unaware that this book was historically used to promote "sleep with whoever you want rhetoric." I always thought it was a critical study of human behavior under repressive conditions. Can you direct me to any links or outside sources that would support your claims as to the role this book played in the women's movement?

Aruna You're critique seems a bit off base. The story is about a woman who feels trapped, and takes excessive means to free herself from what she views as a cage. I agree whole heartedly that Edna is selfish, but that doesn't make this a bad novel. That makes Edna a character that is difficult to like.

And although you may see feminism as a negative thing, you might want to educate yourself a bit (a right which the women's movement has brought you: education). Your right to your own opinion, your right to be taught to read, your right to vote, your right to have a spouse (or not) and to have children (or not) is all because of feminism. Not all feminists are the monsters you think they are. Just like not all Christians agree with the Westboro Baptist church.

That being said, if you don't like the book, cool. But don't blame it on feminism. K'thanks.

message 11: by Elizabeth (last edited May 04, 2011 07:27PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Elizabeth Angela, though you may not be familiar with the discussion surrounding this book, you don't have to study (or even Google) much to find an abundance of defenses and connections between feminism and The Awakening proudly made by feminists.

Aruna, if you'll notice in my original review I said I'm very grateful for some of the effects of feminism, and loved the first wave of feminism.

The definition and effects of feminism are way too broad to either 100% agree or disagree. Some movements and effects have been good, some have been really bad for society. As a women I feel it's my duty to parse those effects and values out and stand for the values I believe in.

There is a real debate about what the next wave of feminism should be about. I was describing one of the values espoused by the last feminist movement that I am deeply against and I think has been truly harmful for our society.

message 12: by Angela (new)

Angela Tosca That there is an abundance of connections and defenses between feminism and the Awakening does not necessarily validate your premise: that this book has been historically used within the women's movement to promote a philosophy of selfishness, promiscuity and "sleep with whomever you want rhetoric." If this connection in particular is well documented it should not be difficult to direct me to a reliable source that supports it.

message 13: by Elizabeth (last edited May 04, 2011 07:29PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Elizabeth If you're not asking about the connection to the book, and instead asking whether or not feminism promoted these things and THen used the book to prove them, well, the question is getting a bit watered down. Again, I don't know of anyone, feminist or not, debating whether the last wave of the women's movement promoted the doctrine of sleep-with-whoever-you-want (though maybe not in those words).

The question is not whether that was a core tenant but whether it was good for society. I emphatically believe it was and is currently bad for society, and has resulted in broken hearts, regrets, ruined families and has hurt women, men and society tremendously. Regardless, I will honor your request and leave you with a few quotes as examples (but from here I will leave it to you):

During the weeks immediately following its release, critics roundly condemned Chopin's novel. Despite Monroe's pre-publishing promotion and the mounting momentum of the women's movement, both Chopin and The Awakening were bombarded with an onslaught of unfavorable reviews. Most critics regarded the novel as vulgar, unwholesome, unholy, and a misappropriation of Chopin's exceptional literary talent. Many reviewers regarded the novel's aggrandizement of sexual impurity as immoral, and thus they condemned the novel's theme.-- Copyright, Russ Sprinkle, 1998.
English Department
Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio

I believe Kate Chopin wrote this book to be a catalyst for the feminist movement using Edna Pontellier as an example, to show how strong women must be to overcome men's dominant control, to achieve their ultimate desires. . . Emily Toth labeled Kate Chopin as "a pioneer in her own time," even though men condemned "The Awakening," for contradicting the views of a male-dominated society by openly portraying how important women desire independence and control of their own sexuality (A Woman Ahead of Her Time 2)

There is one area, though, in which I'll go ahead and defend Simone de Beauvoir, et al. As Professor Mansfield notes, they fought not just (and in some cases not at all) for equal rights for women as citizens, but for sexual liberation--a freedom from everything from traditional femininity to monogamy to procreation. They fought for choice, in other words, over matters relating to one's own sexuality. Professor Mansfield is not the only writer to suggest that this sexual liberty has made women unhappy. . . Now that sexual liberation is here, though, the more important question is: Has it hurt women?
In Defense Of Promiscuity
Elisabeth Eaves Forbes Magazine

Additionally, I think this is a fascinating article and video: Women of a liberated generation wrestle with their eager-to-grow-up daughters—and their own pasts - http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001...

message 14: by Angela (last edited Apr 12, 2011 01:43PM) (new)

Angela Tosca Well that's a start and was a good read. Thanks. But can you substantiate your claim that there has been a causal relationship between second wave feminism and contemporary promiscuity with evidence from a reputable scientific journal or periodical?

message 15: by Michael (new)

Michael When you decry the "sleep with whoever you want" attitude, it makes me wonder if you are satisfied with the puritanical "sex outside of marriage is akin to murder" sentiment.

Historically, sex has not always been a means to express physical and spiritual harmony and the effort that society exerts to control sexual behavior is not explainable simply in terms of the potential harm that promiscuity might bring.

Sarah I am a little confused. It's been a while since I read this but wouldn't the message be more like- sleep-with-two-people-in-your-whole-life-and-then-kill-yourself-instead-of-living-out-a-ruined/shameful-life?

I hope that's not the new feminist mantra.

Shannon I started reading this novel because it was "one of the earliest feminist novels" and I enjoy a bit of historical fiction. I quickly could not stand the main character, Edna, and have been trying to figure out if she is suppose to be some sort of hero to the author. Because I can obviously not ask the author, I went to look for other's critiques on the charcters. One of the first things I find is this from Sparknotes http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/awakeni...

"Edna Pontellier is a respectable woman of the late 1800s who not only acknowledges her sexual desires, but also has the strength and courage to act on them. Breaking through the role appointed to her by society, she discovers her own identity independent of her husband and children. Many of Kate Chopin’s other stories feature passionate, unconventional female protagonists, but none presents a heroine as openly rebellious as Edna. The details and specifics of Edna’s character are key to understanding the novel and its impact on generations of readers.


message 18: by Chris (new) - added it

Chris Although people are bitching and trolling up a storm, you are in incredibly enlightened women who sees the double standards of "women's rights." We need to give respect and rights to women, but I don't care for women pushing their "it's 'cause I'm a women isn't it" argument in the face of everyone. It is worse then African Americans playing the race card when race isn't even on the table. Things like that give a bad name to wonderful women like you, so thank you for being great, as well as reading my tangent.

Echo's Onomatopoeia Elizabeth: Well done. I totally respect your opinions and ideas, as well as your defense of them here. I was amazed as I read the attacks against your opinions here. I too think that the 2nd wave of the Feminist Movement was harmful to both women and our society. The proof of it rears its ugly head all over the place but primarily on the internet where the Porn Industry is now appreciating its own new heyday. And the reason being that women have no problem at all with selling themselves.

Edna was indeed selfish, however I think--and mind you this is the only book I have read by Chopin--that the author's intent was to reveal how women felt during her time: trapped. As I believe someone else has already stated.

"The novel is best read with an eye toward its social and literary contexts. Whatever feminists beliefs Kate Chopin held, she makes it clear that Edna Pontellier is largely unaware of--and certainly unconcerned with--the reasons of her actions and that her awakening is a realization of her sensual nature, not of her equality, or freedom as an individual. Cynthia Griffin Wolff, in a recent article, attempts to analyze the novel from a psychological standpoint in order to show that Chopin did not intend to write a feminist tract. I propose that the truth is simpler and that much of Chopin's portrait of Edna depends upon the Louisiana Creole setting she chose and the naturalistic literary convention of her day." --Nancy Walker, "Feminist or Naturalist?" (The beginning paragraph.)

Sherry Amen! You said it much better than me!

message 21: by Maya (new) - rated it 1 star

Maya Elizabeth: I would highly, highly recommend checking out feminists like Kate Millett, Andrea Dworkin, Susan Brownmiller, and other radical feminists.

The feminism they promote is VERY different from the "having sex all the time is empowering" crap that some women (unfortunately) mistake for real feminism.

Stephanie VW The thing is, this book can't even be considered in light of the 1960s feminist movement: It was published in 1899.

Erica Mazzola Is it understood that the book was written for any particular purpose? I read it also as required reading for a class, and I really liked it. It has been over a year since I read it, but I do not for a second remember Chopin trying to portray Edna as a heroine; I took the story as a tragedy. It was to me an example of how awful it is for a person to be trapped, and the sort of desperation being caged drives one into. Edna was flawed in many ways, perhaps most notably in her lack of strength to follow trough with truly being independent in the face is society's disapproval.

I wonder if any of these reviews have been written by women who are mothers and/or wives themselves with a bit of experience under their belts. It seems a shame also to only be able to read someone's work under the label of a certain "type" (feminist, etc,). I know very little about Chopin, but I remember reading that she had, I believe, 5 children. Certainly she felt some value in being a mother, and understood the selflessness motherhood requires. Maybe she was unfaithful, maybe she and her husband had an open relationship, maybe she felt trapped, maybe she was married to her soul mate. To assume she is encouraging women to ditch their kids for romance is selling her quite short, and missing a vast amount of the writing. Chopin understood that not all women are fulfilled by motherhood, or want to be married- it doesn't mean she thinks the entire institution of marriage and motherhood are crap. The book is unfortunately over-analyzed. It is a tragedy, and an example of what can happen when people are not free- and strong enough- to live their life the way they need to. Isn't the most important aspect of feminism, or humanism, the ability to have empathy for all people, and give everyone room to be able to live their life how they want? To pigeonhole the book as one genre or another is to loose it's heartbreaking, relatable humanity.

Kendra Haarmann I feel your failing to put this book into the context of the time it was published. Nobody's condoning her behavior, but women in that time had very limited options in life and some may have found those options unfulfilling. Just as some women today choose to forgo having a family in order to peruse there own happiness and passions ( which they fully have the right to), Edna meanwhile did not have that option. Perhaps the way she feels she must handle the situation is tragic, but in my opinion that just goes to show how very limited options women had. To me she felt trapped in a life that she did not want or choose and felt there was no other way out. Regardless of whether her actions were morally right or not, I think this book depicts the inner struggle of a woman searching for meaning And happiness in her life, in a time when women's wants and needs weren't regarded as important.

Elizabeth Kendra, an author gains a tremendous amount of power, and trust, when they identify a challenge others are going through in a way that resonates. This imbues that author (or speaker, or politician) with the extraordinarily rare opportunity of directing that generation (and possibly generations beyond) in how they will solve a critical issue. Kate Chopin put forward an irresponsible answer filled with fear, despair, and hopelessness. I have no problem with her identifying the issue, and actually appreciate that, it was her way of doing so, and the solution she offered that I believe were irresponsible.

As an educator (not in the public system), I think that many of the books educators are choosing to include in their curriculum are inappropriate and almost totally irrelevant to the students reading them. This is one of them. At best this is a book to be read in a more advanced stage of life when nuanced questions about the issues you mentioned above, marriage, family and morality, can be addressed with a mature understanding. Our society tends to minimize this issue, but curriculum choices are made between thousands of worthy texts, and those choices affect millions of youth, and eventually shape our society. Sharing this book with teens or even undergraduates is evidence of a self-centered generation, still beating their old drums, and terribly out of touch with the deep and unanswered needs of American youth today.

Eileen I agree that this book may not be the best one for a school age audience.

I was quite taken with the story. And remember, it was written I believe in the 1800s, and it was about a very young woman.
I don't think that Chopin is trying to make a point or say the choices the characters make are right or wrong. I think she's simply telling a story.
Choices were much more limited for women in those days, and I think this is one possible outcome of that stifling environment.

I found the story to be beautifully written and deeply moving. I was sad that it ended the way it did, but I still really liked it.

message 27: by Quo (new)

Quo Is it possible that you read another book with the same title in error & are attempting to foist it off as a review of Kate Chopin's work? When you read with blinders in place, such things do occur and I am reminded of fellow-Missourian Mark Twain's comment that sometimes when a person possesses a hammer, everything resembles a nail!

Hannah I didn't feel like this book was promoting female inequality but More like giving readers an insight to the treatment and struggles a Victorian aged woman went through, I personally loved the book, and it truly showed how women's lives were lead with all the restrictions placed on them, Edna was trapped and in that age the only real escape was death, she couldn't get a divorce, she was truly stuck.

Allison I totally agree Edna is selfish. Like holy cow, is she selfish. But I am too. If I was married to someone who was like "you're not doing your job and taking care of our children. Go do that. Now" I would personally make living with me hell. I hate some of the ways this book portrays those things, but I do love it. It is a good example of the pressure of society being way too much to handle. This was a woman who struggled and went mentally insane. Not outwardly. Inwardly.

Allison I totally agree Edna is selfish. Like holy cow, is she selfish. But I am too. If I was married to someone who was like "you're not doing your job and taking care of our children. Go do that. Now" I would personally make living with me hell. I hate some of the ways this book portrays those things, but I do love it. It is a good example of the pressure of society being way too much to handle. This was a woman who struggled and went mentally insane. Not outwardly. Inwardly.

Sarah B. Not sure why this book, which was written in 1898, get conflated with second-wave feminism in your mind? Confusing!

message 32: by Barb (new)

Barb Yes,she moved out of her huge house to get away from stifling household responsibilities and verbal abuse from her husband. She said she wanted to do whatever she wanted. But it seems that it was all about escaping an unhappy marriage and falling in love. Then killing yourself because he spurns you. Really? Not very independent after all.

message 33: by Dylan (new)

Dylan Grant I admire you for saying that. Men and women both need to turn away from the vice of selfish sexuality, which we are both responsible for.

Nancy Hollingsworth 1899. Put into context. Even today, we enjoy freedoms that were denied to women. This is not feminism. Equality is not a privilege. The book is about much more than sexual blunders. The character desires the freedom to think, feel, and act upon life decisions without getting consent from society. She wants to weigh the consequences for herself.

Elizabeth Just another Elizabeth here to say that this is my favorite book of all time. The end.

message 36: by LB (new) - rated it 3 stars

LB Elizabeth, actually the writer does create a character of a decent man (Robert) who is leaving the heroine bc she's married. He would want to actually marry her rather than have her commit adultery. The problem here seems to be that his understanding contradicts hers. He feels that Edna's husband would have to release her from the marriage as if she were his possession, while she feels she is her own person and can do whatever. I agree that this is an erroneous view; adultery has never been a good thing, regarless of the gender. I also agree that the heroine is not much of a role model.

Brenda Koscelny It’s fiction. It’s a story.

Sunita Nambiar Was it feminism? May be in 60s or 70s of feminism but I didn't find Edna much of awakened besides looking for sexual relationship. Though book was well written from the perspective of 60s .. Life of Edna a lady who is totally confused about what she wants

Rawfur It was almost impossible to relate to edna. This book is a literary failure. You want to sympathies with her because she is living a robotic lifestyle but she is really rich, pampered, and selfish. Her plight was trivial and unrelatable even for modern readers.

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