Kate Chopin’s The Awakening
Kate Chopin lived between 1850 and 1904 in Lousiana, St.Louis and New Orleans. According to Elaine Showalter, the well-known American feminist literary critic, female writers, of the 1850-90 periods, tend to fall into one of these categories: sentimental novelists or local colorists. The former offered a subversive critique of patriarchal power, bywriting about a ‘women’s culture’, characterized by friendships between women and the creativity of motherhood. While the latter, were attracted to the male worlds of art and prestige. They wrote mainly about regional customs, sites, events…representing local curiosities of all kinds in loving detail. By the 1890’s, a new generation of American writers appeared: Olive Schreiner, Ellen D’Arcy, SarahGrand… For them, depicting local color was not enough; indeed, they viewed motherhood as an obstacle to women’s creativity and artistic achievement. It was this group of writers that Chopin admired. Many of the books these women wrote were automatically, either ignored or rejected, because of their attitudes toward motherhood and female sexuality. These attitudes were considered unacceptable forwomen to hold. Chopin went beyond the work of her precursors in writing about women’s longing for sexual and personal emancipation and that is why her work became a solitary book, hidden in a corner all these decades. She was very much influenced by Guy de Maupassant, the French writer who in 1895 wrote: “Whatever we do or attempt, despite the embrace and transports of love, the hunger of the lips,we are always alone. I have dragged you out in the night in the vain hope of a moment’s escape from the horrible solitude which overpowers me, and still each of us is alone; side by side, but alone” .
Personal Critical approach of the Awakening and Edna’s character
The women of this period had to live with a code of values that exalted motherhood, childbirth, breast-feeding… They had to beperfectly happy being a mother, a wife, a friend… helping everyone around them and keeping silent about other kind of wishes or aspirations (as they were not supposed to have them), as well as their own sexuality. They were supposed to be pure, like an angel (“the angel in the house”), excluding “male” carnal passion of their inner self. The writers of these generations who decided to put workfirst, were in a huge percentage unmarried women, living alone. Edna is living something similar; she has decided to be herself, to be an artist, and to do so she feels the necessity of going away from her family life. Family life is a cage: you have to choose whether to live inside as a mother and wife or to live outside, as you want to, but alone.
The fact that Edna refuses to go to her ownsister’s wedding seems to me the result of two thoughts: She does not want her sister to live the same frustration and loneliness she feels as married woman; and, she does not want to be present, to take part in a conventional patriarchal ritual, that keeps women’s freedom away.
The novel deals mainly with the Edna’s sexual awakening, Chopin is claiming that apathy is not an innately feminine attributebut rather the result of prudery and repression. Women are not passionless, they had been repressed. Male had created this image of women as angels, and then women cannot rebel against that image, as the great majority of them had accepted it as innate. Edna awakens throughout her sexuality, I explain it: She awakens firstly her sexuality but this awakening brings with it other awakenings:artistic, of the self, of her life, of her vision of the society…
Chopin talks about a woman who had thought that friendship, marriage, romance or even motherhood would provide companionship and identity; and who had come to recognize the existential solitude of every human being. The solitude she feels along the novel does not change, except for one fact: at the end, she gets to know what she is...
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