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Old School Classics, Pre-1900 > The Awakening - SPOILERS

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message 1: by Pink (new)

Pink | 6556 comments This is the discussion thread for The Awakening by Kate Chopin, our Old School Classic Group Read for December 2015.

Spoilers allowed here.

Please feel free to discuss anything you wish, relating to the book and let us know what you thought :)


Lesserknowngems | 103 comments I, just, wow. I have no idea what to do with this story. I started it very ambivilant. It's both praised and hated, and the idea of an older woman falling in love with a younger man can go both ways regarding the cheese level. I don't know what I feel about it. I don't hate it, yet I don't love it and the ending was amasing and yet out of no where. I can't help comparing it to A Doll's House by Ibsen which also talks about a woman leavign her husband and to me does it better than this story, but does that make The awakening a bad story? No. I don't think so. I liked the language, it's very southern US feel to it. I would have liked some more insight into the main character, yet I like that we don't. I mean, look at teenagers. When I was a teenager I had no idea what was going on with my emotions, I just new that something was going on. Edith to me read very much like a teenagers. As a woman she wasn't allowed to explore her feelings when young, due to social rules and expectations, but just because you deny them then (when you are young), doesn't mean that they aren't there and will bubble up at some point.

Sorry about the ramble, I just feel all over the place with this one. -.-


message 3: by Philina (new)

Philina | 1562 comments Don't worry, I really appreciated your longer post!

I also felt that the characters are flat and two-dimensional.
Regarding language I didn't consciously notice anything special or extremely positive. It seemed to me rather average.
After Mme. Bovary and Return of the Native I'm quite fed up with women committing suicide at the moment. My storage capacity for that is simply overflowing at the moment. Maybe because of that I'm so annoyed with the story.
Especially contrasting with those two other works I thought the Awakening very superficial.
I'm not sure if I like Emma Bovary as a person, but at least I had the feeling that I understood her. Besides, the secondary characters were much more fleshed out.


Lesserknowngems | 103 comments Phil wrote: "Don't worry, I really appreciated your longer post!

I also felt that the characters are flat and two-dimensional.
Regarding language I didn't consciously notice anything special or extremely posi..."


I think this is the bane of the classic. They are never allowed to be read on their own. I thought of Nora (from A doll's house) who is somewhat similare to Edith, yet is also very different. Then again A doll's house is a play and written to be performed on a stage. That you don't get her innermost thoughts and feelings are a part of the medium. I don't think Edith is a flat, two-dimensional character I just think she is portraid like that.

And for the suicide, I actually read a few "yellow books" about what the ending means and it doesn't nesseserily have to be read as a suicide. It could mean that she just swam too far, pushing herself because she wants to be free, and drown because she can't get back. Or it can be suicide. We as a reader read what we want into it.

I think the narrator is confusing me. On one hand it gives a very distant view of things, like in a play, on the other hand you get a distant view of thoughts (she thought, she knew) but not anything about what that does to her emotions. We are let into her head, but only at an arms length and what does that do to us as a reader when we try to understand her and her emotions?

And I haven't read Mme. Bovary, but you're right. The seconady characters in this is totaly uninteresting.


message 5: by Philina (new)

Philina | 1562 comments Thank you for sharing the yellow book info!
It is very possible that after two books with suicides I read that into the text.

You perfectly highlighted the point by saying that she is not a flat character, but simply portrayed like one through this strange writing style.
In my opinion no character is ever two-dimensional. To me they're all people like you and me with flaws, problems, talents and strong points. I believe it's the author's fault to flatten these 3D and usually grey characters by a dimension or two. I don't like that. Even no archvillain is 100% evil.
For this reason I was disappointed, especially as this is no action narrative, but a story about emotions and finding oneself. How can I follow the process of change if I feel I never got to know the character properly?


Lesserknowngems | 103 comments Phil wrote: "Thank you for sharing the yellow book info!
It is very possible that after two books with suicides I read that into the text.

You perfectly highlighted the point by saying that she is not a flat ..."


And we do get glimps into her personality through her past and her view on her children. Loving them, but not doting on them as a mother "should" at that time. I wonder if the story would have been better if it was only 3rd person descriptive. If we had no insite into her head at all. Like in movies. If it was all down to her actions and talking. Do you think it would have made a better read simply because we as a reader wouldn't expect anything more? That we from the get-go would understand that this was the style and go with it rather that strange describe what happens in her head, but not really writing style?


message 7: by Pink (last edited Dec 02, 2015 01:10PM) (new)

Pink | 6556 comments Just a reminder not to include spoilers here about other books. Some people might have read this one and want to discuss it more in depth, but not be aware of what happens in Madame Bovary, The Return of the Native, A Doll's house, etc.

For those details (view spoiler), please use spoiler tags, then you can keep discussing how this compares with other books and characters, without people seeing this information unless they choose to.


message 8: by Melanti (new)

Melanti | 2386 comments Lesserknowngems wrote: "And for the suicide, I actually read a few "yellow books" about what the ending means and it doesn't nesseserily have to be read as a suicide. ..."

Interesting! It was so clearly suicide to me that I had to go back and re-read the last chapter a couple of times to look at the ambiguity.

I guess you could see it as something other than suicide... But IMO that takes an unreasonable amount of mental gymnastics. There's just so many indications that suicide was planned - even if it's never directly stated.

The one thorny issue is the sentence about her not thinking of eluding her children as she walks down to the beach - which brings up the question of when she does think of it. I guess the non-suicide theory would have her thinking of this later as she's too far out in the water to get back to shore? It seems more likely to me that she'd thought it all out the night before and had decided to spend her last hour thinking of more pleasant things.


Lesserknowngems | 103 comments Melanti wrote: "Lesserknowngems wrote: "And for the suicide, I actually read a few "yellow books" about what the ending means and it doesn't nesseserily have to be read as a suicide. ..."

Interesting! It was so c..."


Yeah, I did read it as suicide first as well, but then again I was really unsure. Mostly because if it was suicide, then why? A suicide didn't make sense. Her swimming out too far to get back, that did make sense to me. I mean, if she commited suicide because she was alone, wouldn't this actually be an anti-liberation text? Don't let the women think, they will be alone and kill themselves? Reading the theory that it was ment to be ambigous just made more sense to me. Or am I interpreting the suicide wrong?


message 10: by Melanti (new)

Melanti | 2386 comments Here's how I read it.

She didn't want to be the "ideal" mother and housewife and didn't see a way out of the situation. She thought that Robert would be a way out, but it turned out that he wasn't.

Now that Robert was gone, she had no one to build a new life with or run away with.

She couldn't go back to her husband and kids - to her, that would mean compromising herself and her ideals.

So she could live alone - and she didn't really seem to approve or like of Mlle Reisz's lifestyle - which is what she'd be faced with if she continued on as she had been.


Also, divorce would have been nearly impossible back then. Her adultery would be good grounds, but that would mean her husband would have to be willing to go through that scandal - and he wouldn't have been willing to do that, nor would he have been willing to let her go her way without getting divorce - cause that would cause a huge scandal too.

She was told several times to think of the children - but running off with someone, divorce, or separation would all harm her children due to the scandal. Yet going back to her husband and taking care of them would be enslaving her soul, in her eyes.


So she gave up what she thought of as the "unessential" (i.e. her life) in order to not give up the "essential" - herself. Remember the conversation she had partway through the novel where she said she would be willing to die for her kids but wouldn't sacrifice her inner self for them.

And in this view - if she wanted the kids to be harmed as least as possible, she's going to want to make the drowning look accidental - and thus asking for dinner and towels and such, so it wasn't apparent she meant to kill herself deliberately.


So, in my interpretation at least, it wasn't "I'm going to go drown myself because a man turned me down and I'm lonely" and more of a "I refuse to NOT be me but I don't see how that's possible to accomplish."


message 11: by Nathan (new)

Nathan | 421 comments Melanti wrote: "So, in my interpretation at least, it wasn't "I'm going to go drown myself because a man turned me down and I'm lonely" and more of a "I refuse to NOT be me but I don't see how that's possible to accomplish." "

I agree, but I have a hard time calling it a suicide. It's very much in a gray area between suicide and accident. I don't feel like she clearly thought, I'm going into the water to end my life. Seeking an escape from the constraints of society, seeking freedom, seeking a peaceful place for her self. Not necessarily seeking death.

I liked the ending very much. It was nuanced and skillfully crafted. I love the space it gives to readers for interpretation. It's a big part of why we're chatting about this book in 2015.


message 12: by Pink (new)

Pink | 6556 comments Hhm, I've read all of the comments above and I'm not sure what I now think about whether or not this was a deliberate suicide or not. When I read the book last year I know that I had no doubts this was the case and I found it such a shock ending. I wasn't sure how to feel about it. I can see how the ending can be open to interpretation, I guess the theory of her swimming out of her depth is plausible, but for me I think she made her choice that she couldn't live life on her terms and so she chose this option instead. I didn't find her weak because she decided to end her life, but it did seem kind of abrupt to me. On reflection I quite liked that she made that decision for herself.


message 13: by Melanti (new)

Melanti | 2386 comments Nathan wrote: "I don't feel like she clearly thought, I'm going into the water to end my life. ..."


Unless she had it all planned out in advance and then chose to spend her last few minutes thinking of her coming freedom rather than what she was going to do to obtain that freedom?

But, yes, I think her thoughts were more along the lines of "I want freedom" and not "I want to die."

I admit that the ending isn't spelled out entirely, but for me, there's too many lines that only make sense when you think its suicide. All the thinking of the children, for instance, or the imagined comment from Mlle Reisz that she wasn't daring or defiant enough. Or even the fact that she never even considers turning around and trying to make it back to shore.


message 14: by Lesserknowngems (new)

Lesserknowngems | 103 comments ""The artist must possess the courageous soul that dares and defies." Echaustion was pressing upon and overpowerig her."

This is from the ending. The quote is what Edith would have emagined Md. Reisz tell her. And it could be her thinking her friend being angry with her for being such a coward and wanting to kill her self. That yes she doesn't have what it takes and therefore she want to end it. Then I am still at a loss as to what is the point of the story. What is it trying to teach/tell us? Edith choose her husband and it wasn't the "safe" choice, if I remember correctly. I mean in this sense the "awakening" sounds like something that should be shunned by all means since women aren't strong enough to handle it. Why is this then considered a feministic text? ( I am not saying I don't buy the suicide, as I stated before I read it as a suicide the first time around, I just don't understand why it ends in a suicide)


message 15: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 3707 comments Jumping in here even though I haven’t finished the book yet. I read it years ago, and am reading it again now with the ending in mind, looking for clues.

I love Lesserknowngem’s comment above about Edith being like a teenager, not knowing her mind. I see this as a feminist text, but one from a time of confusion, sort of the teenage years of feminism. I don’t think the end emphasizes her weakness. I think it just emphasizes the extreme difficulty women faced if they went against societal norms. Men weren’t stronger at all—they just didn’t face that difficulty.

I’m not sure she understood herself well enough to set up a suicide that looked like an accident. I wanted to share this from the beginning of Chapter 12: “She was blindly following whatever impulse moved her, as if she had placed herself in alien hands for direction, and freed her soul of responsibility.” That’s my take on it for now, that she just “let” this happen, but I’m staying open minded until I finish reading!


message 16: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 3707 comments I finished and thoroughly enjoyed the read, even more so than the first time I read it. I loved the language and the layers of possible meaning and the nuanced ending. I loved the broken-winged bird spiraling down into the sea at the end.

My read is that she went too long conforming, and when the time came to create her own life she couldn’t reconcile the different parts. At the end she calls Adele’s admonition to “think of the children” a “death wound.” This is what is ultimately impossible for her to reconcile. In a different culture and a different time, I think we could reconcile it.

It made me think of the movie Kramer vs. Kramer. We kind of understand how she could leave her son to get her self back. But I don’t think Edna had that option.

There was a sense of irony in the writing that I thought was the character of Edna, but my edition included some Chopin essays that had that similar style. I would love to read more of her work. Does anyone have suggestions?


message 17: by Lesserknowngems (new)

Lesserknowngems | 103 comments Kathleen wrote: "I finished and thoroughly enjoyed the read, even more so than the first time I read it. I loved the language and the layers of possible meaning and the nuanced ending. I loved the broken-winged bir..."

I think this is very different from this kind of feministic texts I'm used to reading (In the married woman wanting to change things genre). (view spoiler) But women are different, and women handle struggles differently. That might be the stories strength. We all think that if only we had been there we would have stood tall, we would have held hands against the bullets and tanks, but reality is that most of us would have run away. That doesn't make us weak, it makes us human.

As for her other works, I really liked Desiree's Baby.


message 18: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 3707 comments Lesserknowngems wrote: "Kathleen wrote: "I finished and thoroughly enjoyed the read, even more so than the first time I read it. I loved the language and the layers of possible meaning and the nuanced ending. I loved the ..."

Thank you for the recommendation! I'll check out Desiree's Baby.


message 19: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Adams | 40 comments Kathleen wrote: "I would love to read more of her work. Does anyone have suggestions? "

Try the short story The Story of an Hour and Other Stories

I'm enjoying everyone's insightful comments!


message 20: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 3707 comments I think I read the The Story of an Hour in a class long ago, but not the others in the volume, so now I must! Thank you for the suggestion, Ashley!


message 21: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 3707 comments Stephanie wrote: "I finished the book late last week and have continued to mentally process my thoughts on it. I really enjoyed reading everyone's comments.

Does anyone have a sense why Edna had the affair with Ar..."


My opinion about Edna is that she was trying (and failing) to find her way with this new, sensual self she had discovered. She had no hope for a future with Robert and she fell into the affair. She says something at the end about if it wasn't Arobin it would be someone else, and she didn't want that life either, but she couldn't find a way to fit her sensual self into her existing, socially-accepted life. (Sigh.) I see the story as a tragedy.


message 22: by Jan (new)

Jan Magyar (ianmagyar) I can't really say that I particularly enjoyed reading the novel. To me, it seemed too flat even though I liked the topic and the plot itself, but I would have liked to read about it in a different way with a different writing style. I couldn't get close to Edna and the other characters which is essential in the case of a novel like this one. Instead, I felt distant to what was happening and I felt a bit like Edna: only watching what was going on around me. I would have liked to be more immersed and connected to the story.

That being said, I can't say that I completely disliked the writing style. There were some very strong images and great sentences with deep thoughts that made me think and in that regard, the book gave me what I was expecting.

Seeing the comments above made me realize the true strength of this book. The sad thing is that I couldn't appreciate it while reading. The book lay set aside for long days and I felt no inclination to pick it up. After finishing it, the story seemed pretty straightforward to me and I was surprised to see that the ending especially was open to discussion and interpretations and thinking about it, I can see, why.

All in all, I haven't regretted reading the novel I just feel that there are much better works dealing with the same topic that can give me more than this one.


message 23: by Christine (new)

Christine | 1218 comments I just finished the book today. I struggled a bit to get into it in the beginning, but ended it feeling glad that I read it. It has really got me thinking now, in general, about how much of herself a mother should be expected to sacrifice for her children (young children, older children, adult children).


message 24: by Lesley (new)

Lesley | 46 comments I have just finished this today as well. I really enjoyed it and was surprised by the ending really. I believe it was suicide. Like you Christine, I will be thinking about it for a while. Enjoyed the comments and discussion above too.


message 25: by Deirdre (new)

Deirdre (deirdrereid) | 10 comments I keep thinking about when it was written, 1899, I believe, and how it was received. Many found it vulgar and hated it. It went pretty much unknown until it was rediscovered in the 1960s.

Edna is a fascinating character. She always had a romanticized vision of love -- the tragedian, calvary officer, and the engaged guy from her youth. But then she married a man she didn't love -- a marriage their families didn't approve, a hint of early rebellion. As a wife she was a pretty possession expected to do her duty -- be a mother-woman, like her Creole friends. Finally learning to swim she's awakened. Many women during that time probably had similar awakening experiences and I'd love to read their stories too--hopefully they chose better paths and had happier endings.

Edna wasn't equipped to cope with her newly awakened state. She kept seeking that ideal love but couldn't find it, and maybe knew she never would. Another awakening. I kept thinking she should grow up and figure out how to create a new life that could provide freedom and family, I'm sure others did, but she was too selfish (and maybe not smart enough) for that. It's easy to be hard on Edna, she seemed to be sleep-walking through life.

I enjoyed this book, loved the writing, and want to know more about Kate Chopin and her life. Now that I think of it, Chopin had a seemingly traditional life (wife with lots of kids) yet was a writer too -- perhaps a better model for poor Edna.


message 26: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 3707 comments Deirdre wrote: "I keep thinking about when it was written, 1899, I believe, and how it was received. Many found it vulgar and hated it. It went pretty much unknown until it was rediscovered in the 1960s.

Edna is..."


I’m glad to see more conversation here, and Deirdre, you make such an interesting point that her marriage was an early sign of rebellion. I never thought of that.

I remember reading that Chopin took up writing in part to help with depression, and I wonder if she wrote this, even subconsciously, as a kind of warning to women of some pitfalls to watch out for. I too would love to learn more about her and plan to read The Story of an Hour sometime soon.


message 27: by Deirdre (new)

Deirdre (deirdrereid) | 10 comments I put a Chopin bio in my cart: Unveiling Kate Chopin. But first, I need to read some unread books before I order this one. The little I've read about her since posting here has really intrigued me!


message 28: by Bob, Short Story Classics (new)

Bob | 4850 comments Mod
I read this over the weekend. I know I’m a day late and a dollar short to chime in, but the above discussion about suicide or accident is interesting. When Edna shows up on the summer island I thought she was seeking Robert to change his mind. When she decided to go for a swim I thought she was going to revisit some of her summer happiness. However when she removed her bathing costume and stood naked on the shore, I knew she was not coming back. I never thought it was anything but suicide. The removing of her suit was her last act of non-conformity.


message 29: by Nargus (last edited Feb 29, 2016 06:12AM) (new)

Nargus | 567 comments There's nothing like now to join the discussion Bob :) I read The Awakening earlier this year.

I thought it was suicide too ... in fact, I thought this was the only moment of a clarity for an otherwise confused character, who was neither here or there. She loved Robert, but then she didn't love him. She was happy, but then she was depressed. She loved life, then she hated life. Her desires and goals were never really spelt out. She just didn't figure it out. And I didn't really feel like I understood "The Awakening" aspect. It was too messy and confused.

Also, I strongly believe this isn't a feminist text. There are moments where you think, hmm, this might be heading somewhere ... but this is only a fleeting thought - however, this isn't mean to put down the novel, because I don't think it was intended to be. Edna didn't know what she wanted ... and anything she did want, was for herself (Self-centred, and not meant to represent or stand up for women).

Further, I just wanted to say, Kate Chopin writes beautifully. Like, really beautiful. She treats words like art. There were times when she manages to sum up a character in one sentence that I found really clever.

Lastly, this book got me reading it, to the end. Somehow I was looking for clarity, a desire to understand the character more.

In the end, though, I found I was disappointed. Part of the disappointment was because I didn't really connect or empathise with the central character. Part of it was because it was such a beautifully written work of literature, that fell short for me.

But then ... I had a bit of an afterthought, and this aspect did make me sympathise with Edna a bit even when reading it (toward the end), by considering her from a different perspective - that of the doctor. The doctor is sympathetic toward Edna, and she herself recognises it too, that maybe she should have spoken to him, maybe he would understand and help her. Perhaps we should see Edna as a woman who is experiencing psychological difficulties ... and the times when she seems happy are misleading. The awakening and confusion ... indicating that she someone going through something, and just needed some help. And it's interesting that the author herself, as mentioned in the comments above, went through depression.


message 30: by Pink (new)

Pink | 6556 comments I'm glad you liked it Bob and I agree.

Great thoughts Nargus, I like it when a book makes you think, even if you didn't enjoy it.


message 31: by Desertorum (new)

Desertorum I seems to be late in every group read but I´m reading them eventually!

I kind of picked this up because it was part of my Century women challenge and in that decade it was hard to find books to read. So I had not that big expectations about this. But I was pleasantly surprised.

I think the writing flowed on and it was very vivid. I think it was excellent description of the difficulties young women could have in that time. I thought Edna was selfish but I still understood her. Those feelings, wanting this heroic love, and to be loved so greatly, is probably pretty common in certain age? I had those moments and it made me think about persons differently that they really were. Like I created this character for them and when time passed I saw how they really were and was disappointed. I´m not sure if you get my idea? I think she partly lived in kind of fairytale and she was married too young. In this time it´s so much easier to live like that, without the pressure from outside. You can get divorce and say you want your own time. I can image that living with those feelings she had, it must have been very difficult so I saw the ending as suicide as well. But I do think that it was also because her emotions were so passionate at the moment. And if she could have made it through longer, she might have not done it. But I´m not sure if she would have been happy ever.


message 32: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 3707 comments Desertorum wrote: "I seems to be late in every group read but I´m reading them eventually!

I kind of picked this up because it was part of my Century women challenge and in that decade it was hard to find books to r..."


I like your thoughts on this, Desertorum. I had a similar sympathy for her, and agree that in our time, we have the freedom to move from that fairytale way of looking at people to getting to know how they really are before we are stuck living with them (and even be expected to obey them!) for the rest of our lives.


message 33: by Desertorum (new)

Desertorum Kathleen wrote: "Desertorum wrote: "I seems to be late in every group read but I´m reading them eventually!

I kind of picked this up because it was part of my Century women challenge and in that decade it was hard..."


I´m glad if somebody get the hang of my little messy idea. Sometimes I have this crystal clear idea in my head, what I think of something...and when I try to write it down, it comes out as this messy rambling :)

And yes exactly what you said about getting to know people first.


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