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The Awakening, a novel by Kate Chopin (book review and recommendation)

Quite possibly Kate Chopin's best known work, The Awakening is certainly an important novel. Published in 1899, this novel was a forerunner in many ways. It is a well known fact that Chopin crafted one of the early works of feminism, when she wrote the story of Edna, a young woman experiencing ‘awakening’ while searching for her personal identity.  By creating a literary heroine who is undergoing spiritual, psychological, emotional and sexual awakening, Chopin challenged not only the social views of her time, but social identity as such. Moreover, I do believe that The Awakening is neither reserved for one (female) gender, nor a strictly feminist book, for it can be read as an individual search for personal identity and freedom. It is a novel that has aged well and still holds many valuable lessons. I’m not disputing its rightful place in the early feminist cannon, I’m just saying that I think there is something quite timeless about it. By that I mean that I would encourage even those who are not interested in feminism to give it a try. I can understand why people may be wary of 'feminist' literature, as I'm not a fan of modern feminism myself, but this novel stands well on its own as a classic. Basically, The Awakening is set in a certain time period and place and hence comes with a cultural background. Nevertheless, it is a classical work of literature and that means it can be read on its own. 

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 The writing as such is quite beautiful. From the very start, Chopin does a great job of creating the tone and the atmosphere. The novel opens up with Edna who is vacationing on Grand Isle with her kids. The feeling of summer is very much present in the writing. At Grand Isle, Edna falls in love with Robert. Their ‘falling in love’ is well written and credible. Once Edna returns to her home, she is a changed woman. Chopin depicts different settings with precision. Her portrayal of characters is attentive and well rounded. It is not as intimate and in-depth as I would have perhaps liked, but Chopin does do a great job with the characterization. She portrays the inner struggles of Edna Pontellier with care. Edna, a young woman trapped in a loveless marriage, is showed to us, not just as a woman but even more importantly as a human being. What I liked most about this novel is how human Edna felt. Edna is not idolized, she never feels like a victim. I loved Edna even when she seemed selfish, perhaps at those times most of all. There is little doubt that Edna’s awakening happens as a result of searching for her own identity within herself and not within her family role. His refusal to take part in social activities is surprisingly modernist.  Edna prefers not to entertains, she refuses to receive guests, and once she is ‘awaken’ she actually prefers to spend time by herself.

The Awakening, a novel by Kate Chopin (book review and recommendation)

  I would say that in the course of this novel the life story of Edna Pontellier, a young woman searching for her identity (as it is often case with great stories) grows into something universal. When I first learned about this novel, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about it, but I was proved wrong. Edna got under my skin.  It is not only Edna, though. This novel has a unique taste and flavour. Take that passage about Edna’s experience to listening to classical music for example. After her awakening, Edna can experience music fully. Still, her awakening comes with a price. I felt like Edna was becoming almost an artist, had a potential to become one at least, just by the virtue of daring to search for her identity within herself. Nevertheless, can a woman live her life only for herself? This book raises many interesting questions. Edna’s eventual separation of sexuality and love for instance, could be interpreted as something quite modernist.

The plot may resemble Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, but only on the surface. Both women are married unhappily, both of them fall in love and decide to pursue a love affair outside of their marriage.  Both of them defy the society. However, I didn’t see The Awakening as a copy of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. The plot of these two novels may be strikingly similar, but the writing style is quite different.  I feel like Chopin’s writing style owes more to French writer Maupassant, then it does to Tolstoy. In other words, Chopin is more a naturalistic than a realistic writer. Her portrayal of characters does have an occasional note of animalism. Moreover, despite many similarities between Anna’s and Edna’s upper class life, one can’t dispute that Chopin has created a unique character.  Edna is a great character in her own right.

The Awakening, a novel by Kate Chopin (book review and recommendation)


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