This is a short book so, naturally, I thought it would be a quick, easy read.
The word choice and style of speaking make it deceptively difficult. It seems to be a character study which, for me, is always harder to follow. But the intrigue of delving into our main character’s personality made up for the lack of entertainment and escapism you might find in a more traditional plot-based novel.
(CW: The main people in this book are wealthy, white, and from the Old South. Be aware that while they never use the n-word, they use some…less-than-respectful names for racial minorities.)
Title – The Awakening
Author – Kate Chopin
Page count – 116
As far as a description goes, I’ll let the back of the book speak for itself: “First published in 1899, this novel shocked readers with its open sensuality and uninhibited treatment of marital infidelity…It tells the story of a New Orleans wife [named Edna Pontellier] who attempts to find love outside a stifling marriage.” You can definitely see some of Chopin’s own experiences come out in her writing, namely her marriage into a wealthy Louisiana family and her self-sufficiency after her husband’s death.
Mr. Pontellier is frustratingly obtuse when it comes to his view of women, particularly his own wife’s needs and desires. Early in the book, he returns home from a club late at night and proceeds to wake up Edna, complains that she doesn’t seem to be interested in his rambling recounting of the day, lights a cigar to smoke in the room, then instructs her to wake up and take care of their son who he has (incorrectly) diagnosed as having a fever. Later in the book, when Edna has become more independent, socializes more frequently, and indulges her hobby of painting, he wants the family doctor to look at her because he thinks she must have developed a mental illness (Why else would she suddenly not be interested in his every thought and attentive to his every need?). He doesn’t do these things out of a mean spirit, but rather with an air of complete obliviousness, which only serves to make his sense of entitlement all the more frustrating.
I’m not really sure how to feel about this book, to be honest. I enjoyed reading it. And I think I want to read it again. The ending, however, left me confused. My biggest takeaway is that it reminded me why I don’t want to get married to someone who views me as anything less than an equal and independent partner.
I’ll leave you with a beautiful selection from the beginning of the book when Edna, her family, and some people from her neighborhood are on a summer vacation near the ocean:
“A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her, – the light which, showing the way, forbids it. At that early period, it served but to bewilder her. It moved her to dreams, to thoughtfulness, to the shadowy anguish which had overcome her the midnight she had abandoned herself to tears…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.” (p. 13)