17 April 2010

Book Review: The Awakening

Title:  The Awakening
Author: Kate Chopin

Buy  |  Borrow  |  Accept  |  Avoid

Plot Synopsis
Edna Pontellier is a wife and mother engaged in a harmless summer flirtation with Robert Lebrun, as was common among the married women who summered on Grand Isle.  But Edna's flirtation is coupled with a newfound sense of freedom, freedom that has been denied her or at least a freedom she has not taken advantage of.  And her view of the world and her place in it is about to change drastically.

My Thoughts
Much has already been said about the merits of this book, and if you are interested in a well-written and well-thought-out review of the book in its entirety, I recommend reading the links I've provided below.  I am more concerned with one thought that has settled insistently in my mind after reading - and to discuss this point requires plot spoilers.  So if you haven't yet read the book, I would skip this review.

The penultimate event of Edna's transformation is her suicide.  She has grown as a person over the course of the novel, recognizing her discontent with her marriage and her life and actively pursuing her own desires and dreams.  She stops doing what is expected of her and begins doing what she wants including further work with her painting, fostering new friendships, and moving into her own house.  She even engages in a mini-fling with Alcee as her sexuality is awakened.  At this point, I am cheering for her.  I understand the general malaise she is feeling, and I am proud of her attempts to escape into her own being.

When Robert returns from Mexico and is once again available to Edna, she does not hold back from her desires and is only thwarted in her love affair when her friend Adele goes in to labor and Edna must leave Robert.  In an action that is both frustrating and highly romantic, Robert does not wait as intended for Edna to return, but instead leaves a note saying "I love you. Goodbye because I love you." 

This brings us to the last short chapter of the book where Edna returns to Grand Isle and swims far out into the water until her strength fails her.  At this point, I recognize that part of me is supposed to feel a sorrowful pride.  Edna knew she could not go on in the role cast for her, and yet her attempt to escape did not pan out.  I get that there is a fearful nobility in her suicide.  But I am struck by sadness that this woman, who has grown so much, did not fight for the new world she had created. Her options did not seem lost, her plight did not seem hopeless; it seems to me a failure on her part.  Then again, that could be my feeling at this moment time...my opinions about issues such as this are so fluid.

Memorable Quote: I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself. I fully believe that the best mothers - the best parents - are those who retain their own selves while parenting.  To lose one's self in one's child is detrimental for both parties.

Memorable Quote 2Woman, my dear friend, is a very peculiar and delicate organism - a sensitive and highly organized woman...is especially peculiar.  It would require an inspired psychologist to deal successfully with them.  And when ordinary fellows like you and me attempt to cope with their idiosyncrasies the result is bungling.  Upon first reading, I thought 'damn that's sexist'.  I shared it with my husband and he said, "Sounds about right." :)

Other Reviews
If I've missed yours, let me know!

Trish's Reading Nook; Book Addiction; things mean a lot; The Zen Leaf;

FTC Disclosure:  Sucker's been on my shelves for years. Yay for my TBR mountain.
Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Reading Resolutions, Women UnBound, 18th and 19th Century Women Authors, TBR Challenge, Hogwarts Reading Challenge,


  1. *spoilers alert*

    You're not alone in your feelings, Trisha. I've seen many people say that they dislike the ending because she killed herself because of a man (I realise that's not what you're saying, though), or even simply because she gave up. To me, her decision had a lot more to do with what she was or wasn't allowed to be than with Robert. And while I don't like the idea of suicide, I guess I felt that I could see where she was coming from. I'm not sure if she could realistically maintain the world she had created for herself. Probably she could see herself returning to her family once the house had been refurbished, and slipping back into the quiet despair of her existence. And the thought was probably unbearable.

  2. I haven't read this book, but I chose to read it anyway. Whenever I see "spoiler alert" it is like a double dog dare! Seriously, if I ever read this, it will be ages from now and I won't even remember I read this. Anyway, that turn of events at the end is disturbing to me. I can understand the reasons, but right now, at this moment, it is troublesome. I'm glad I know now, because I don't think I'm up to reading it. But you never know - I can be fickle! Love the review, as well as Ana's input!

  3. This is my one of my favorite books. I've read it at different times in my life and I get something out of it every time.

  4. I had to read this in high school and I just don't think I was old enough or experienced in life enough to appreciate it. I might like it if I read it now, but I'd probably feel the same as you about the ending.

  5. *spoiler alert*

    I loved this book and I don't think Edna killed herself because of a man. I know this isn't what you're saying, but I saw that Ana brought up the fact that others have said so. I think that's wrong. She specifically knows she would have gotten tired of Robert eventually as well, that he would also have tried to drain her soul out of her. As a young mother, I struggled with a lot of the same feelings as Edna and I cried the first time I read it. It was so powerful. The second time, my kids were older and I'd found some ways to find myself again, so it wasn't as difficult to read. I think this is so much more an experienced/age-based book, you know? My review is here: http://zenleaf.blogspot.com/2008/07/awakening-by-kate-chopin.html

  6. Page - I can definitely see how re-reading this would be worth it.

    *spoiler alert*

    Nymeth, Sandy, Jenny, and Amanda:

    I can definitely see how people would claim that Edna killed herself for a man. I don't think that's the case; I think she killed herself out of despair. And yet, I don't feel that the despair was quite warranted. At that point in the novel, it still felt like Edna had options to me. I suppose I am partially biased by my rather violent opposition to suicide in general. I've always had strong feelings about it.

    I agree with you guys that truly appreciating this novel requires age and inexperience. I don't think a young reader can truly understand how much of yourself you give up for others as an adult.

  7. I'm with Page on this one. My journey with this book has been interesting.

    The first time I read it, I HATED it! I was so upset I threw the book when I finished it.

    The second time I read it, I loved it and promoted it with a ton of my friends.

    Looking back, my reaction was based on where I was as a person. The first time I read it, I had just moved, felt very trapped in my role, and dreaded every day. I hated Edna because I was dangerously close to becoming Edna.

    The second time, I was taking charge of my life, expanding my role, and overall enjoying myself.

    I think that's one of the beauties of The Awakening, it's so up to personal interpretation!

  8. I read this ages ago back in college and I don't think I was in a place where I could fully appreciate the story. Perhaps I'll read it again some day.

  9. Witless - I can definitely see how a young person could struggle with this!

    Jenners - I hope you do re-read it. I'd love to see how your reading changes.

  10. I took her suicide as something that went with the times to a certain extent. However, given everything she worked towards, and the fact that apparently women can be a little loose in New Orleans, I thought her suicide was a cop out, for lack of a better word.

    It felt like such a weak action to take, from someone who was strong enough to leave her husband. Grow up woman! I understand that your love Robert left you, but you are obviously stronger than him and deserve better. He is not the be all, end all, of your existence. There is so much more to life.

    Suck it up Buttercup! I guess that ending brought more out of me than I thought. Still enjoyed the book and glad I finally read it.

  11. Jenny Girl - Yes! That is a big part of what I feel after reading.

  12. This book is one of my favorites. I reread it at the end of last year for the first time since college and was struck by how similar my feelings were each time.
    I did find her suicide very sad and wanted to see her fight, but it did seem to be a verdict on the times and I was able to see some nobility in it through that prism.


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