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The Awakening

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Topics: Fiction, Character
The Awakening

The novel, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, was written in the late nineteenth century in St. Louis after her husband Oscar died of a severe illness. Her book appeared in 1899, after she was idolized by many novels written by Darwin and Sarah Orne Jewett. Her first attempts at writing were just brief sketches for a local newspaper that was only short descriptions of her life in Louisiana. However, Chopin's interests had always run along more risky lines, as reflected in her diaries, letters, and fictions. Her most common subject was female subjugation and freedom. When The Awakening appeared, Chopin was severely criticized for depicting a sexualized and independent-thinking woman who questioned her role within the southern patriarchy. The disapproval surprised Chopin, and she never quite recovered her faith in her own work. There were many themes discussed throughout The Awakening, many of which are very important to the concept of the novel. The main theme is the awakening from the slumber of patriarchal social convention. Edna who is the main character pronounced in the novel, must rouse herself from the life of dullness that she had always lived. What she awakens to, however, is so much larger than herself that she ultimately cannot manage the complexity of it. Edna awakens to the concept of self-discovery and must live to embrace it. This theme is deeper than the obvious themes of independence and women's rights, however, The Awakening presents suicide as a valid solution to problems. People commit suicide because of isolation and loneliness or a serious disruption of one's life. It is easy to connect these with Edna's life. The isolation of her small house, the disruption caused by Adele's death, and the common good of her children. However, her suicide had nothing to do with any lack of personal freedom. Edna, for the most part did anything she wished to do, and there were no signs that she was intending on stopping. The suicide was more of a lack of good, healthy alternatives that lead her to do so. Robert had left her in attempt to protect her, himself, or possibly both. This lead Edna to pursue a romance with Alcee Arobin, in which she secretly kept quiet in order not to hurt her children. None of these options satisfied her though, longing for the one who "awakened" her. She chose suicide instead. Another major theme in the novel, was the artist's ability to create herself in another's theme. In other words, naturalism; which is a literary movement during the turn of the century. In Chopin's writing, Edna is the main focus of the novel, and her motivations are strongly influenced by her environment, frequently in negative ways. She behaves in a certain way because of her environment and the way it has an affect directly on how she viewed the world, herself, and other people. She tries to convey the grim reality of life, often with crime, poverty, and moral vice. Naturalism can easily be the effect on Edna because of the art and the way the ocean has an effect on Edna's life. The main question on her life is, can Edna do it? Life's paradoxes are so huge, and Edna's experiences are so limited, that the question fuels the book tremendously. The last major theme of this novel was the awakening of sexuality. Edna, during the course of the story, comes to a physical awakening as well. Tragically it is not through someone she loves, and it devastates her. When sexual awakening comes with the object of her desire, Robert, is "short lived". The intensity of the feeling is there, and Edna lives to strive it. Edna desires passion, attraction, and excitement in her relationships with men, and a level of mutual understanding in her relationships with women. Neither of these desires for connection is met and is completely obvious throughout the novel. Edna's desires, once she "awakens" to them, soon overpowers her. Robert, who is the object of her sexual tension, returns but refuses to stay and face the fallout of their union, and eventually leaves her in fear of being caught in affair. It is obvious that Alcee Arobin, who might be considered a passionate suit, is only a poor imitation. Even Edna can see through his horrible game playing. The Awakening is loaded with symbolism. The Kentucky field of Edna's age is symbolic of many possibilities. These are transferred to the sea, and to death, by the end. When Edna learns to swim in the beginning of the novel, it lets the reader know that she is successful in the ability to not strike out in the water, nor into life. Although she is terribly inexperienced, the water seems to represent a feeling in which she falls asleep to awaken in the real world. Another form of symbolism in the novel was beauty and brutality. For instance, Mademoiselle's piano playing that of which is accompanied by brutality of the sick interest she had in Edna's personal life and drama. It is the same with marriage, the idea of loving, childbirth, and money. Edna's dinner party is beautiful, but it ends on a brutal note, during which Edna becomes violent. The idea of life, to Edna, is both beautiful and brutal, and in the end she cannot live with the paradox.
Chopin uses tone, style, and content as well to help the reader understand the challenging beliefs of a native society at the beginning of the twentieth century. Her tone and style helps the reader understand the character of Edna and what her surrounding influences are. The tone and style also helps the audience understand the rest of the characters throughout the novel. The entire novel is related to the time frame it was written, expressing ideas of the feminist movement and creating awareness of what was happening to women in the early nineteenth century. Thus, taking place off the southern coast of Louisiana full of wealth and integrity. Tone, like style, helps the reader understand the characters and what they represent. It helps Chopin express her concerns of the world through character setting. As in an example given in the beginning of the book when Edna is arriving back from the beach, the reader gets a first impression of Mr. Pontlierre in his tone, representing that he is a very possive man of his wife, and that it was excepted in their society. Mademe's first impression to Edna, despite what Edna hears about her, is that of a intelligent, friendly woman. Mademe's tone supports these qualities, and helps Edna in some way to decide what she wants to do with her life. Through this journey, it makes the reader feel that you must have strong wings to survive, endure, and express your beliefs about what each character represents. This novel was definitely worth while. The theme and purpose stood out tremendously as well as the plot/setting. I feel that reading this short novel helped me to understand the literary and historical information during the late nineteenth century. It put me into the story and made me feel as if I was a character in setting, and gave me a feel to what it might have been like to live back then. It almost seemed as if Chopin wanted it to be real life for her readers. Not only did she put things into perspective, but she made the life of one character stand out so much in times of hurt, that it gave a sense of relation to life today and how much society, life, and sexuality has changed. Chopin's means for her goal was definitely appropriate throughout the reading. In no sense should any of it not be. She helps people understand her views and opinions on the life of people during those ages, and how she might have saw things. Everyone has an outlook on life and living in terms of turmoil can be expressed easily in her writing. Chopin's writing is kind of wry and sympathetic about expressing the turmoil, telling a story of Edna and her tragedy. Although she told it in third person, the content follows Edna and her thought processes clearly and easily. The dialogue often reveals the sharp disjuncture between thought and speech. Kate Chopin's true artistry is at work here. Generally, the voice is observant and non judgmental The Awakening tells a story of independence, freedom, and will power unheard of during the times of it's publication. It is a stirring book that forces you to confront tough issues throughout the novel. It paints a picture of what goes though the mind of a person who loses hope. The Awakening tells us a story from the perspective of the oppressed. It is far more than a romance novel with a tragic ending. It is a book about the choices one will make to protect one's freedom.

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