Monday, January 24, 2011

Thoughts: The Awakening by Kate Chopin (Part 2)

"I would give up the unessential [for my children]; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself. I can't make it more clear, it's only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me.”
The last classic I read, This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald, didn’t make me think, mainly because I didn’t understand it. The opposite is true with The Awakening, and I was surprised by its utter readability. I’ve always had this impression that lyrical prose is hard to understand, but The Awakening managed to be lyrical while remaining easy to comprehend.

Edna Pontellier—the protagonist—leaves her family, rebels at the thought of being her husband’s possession, and even has an adulterous affair. Her thoughts and ideas seem so modern, so out of place in 1899.

She’s not a “motherly” kind of woman, unlike her friend Madame Ratignolle who, I think, serves as Edna’s foil. Madame Ratignolle is the epitome of a “motherly” woman. She devotes her life to her children, and has a baby every two years. Maybe I’ll understand Madame Ratignolle better someday when I get married and have kids. Right now, though, I understand Edna’s chafing at the thought of giving herself up to her children more. At nineteen, I can’t imagine giving up myself so wholly to another person, even to my own child.

The ending raised a lot of questions in my mind, and I ended up thinking about my role as a woman in today’s society. I live in the Philippines, a very conservative Catholic country, where, whether I like it or not, certain expectations are thrust upon me because of my gender. For example, around here, most women are expected to marry before the age of thirty. The idea sounds very archaic, but my mother and my aunts still point out twenty-nine-year-old spinsters on certain occasions.

And our protagonist’s fate? It’s up to the reader to decide, in the end, if Edna is truly brave or simply a selfish coward. I, for one, think she was brave.

Rating: 4/5


Amanda said...

I think she was brave too, though at the same time very tragic. The paragraph that says the children rose up before her like antagonists is to me the most striking in the whole book.

Jenny O. said...

As a mother, it is a difficult balance to strike. We don't always make the right decision, and every day is a new one, to try to correct the f*** up of the day before. You will understand that one day. Children don't expect from their father what they do from their mother, so sometimes it feels like our actions or inactions can set off a chain of events a mile long. Look at any sitcom or read almost any memoir, and somewhere, someone is going to blame something on their mother.

Edna Pontellier is trying to not lose herself in the all-consuming, individuality-eating state of motherhood.

And she chafes at the mold to which she feels everyone expects her to conform. And she carves out her own way, but in the end, it's still a tragedy. A lovely one, but still a tragedy.

Great book. Love your reviews.

Avid Reader said...

I didn't know what to expect with this one and was really blown away. It wouldn't have been so impressive if it hadn't been written so long ago. I'm firmly in the "brave" camp for my view of Edna.

Sam said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this book even though I haven't read it yet. I think expectations like that of women survive even in less conservative countries, but maybe buried a bit deeper under the surface? I am getting married in the summer (I'm in the UK) but before getting engaged I had been with my partner for 7 years. There were quite a few eyebrows raised as to why we weren't engaged already, like there's some timeline everyone needs to follow in exactly the same way.

mel u said...

The actions of the lead female character are also way off from proper standards of behavior here in the Philippines-I laughed when I read of your relatives pointing out 29 year old spinsters-one of my wive's nieces just turned 24 and people are worried now as to how she will find a husband if she gets much older and are working on "fix ups" for her!

Amy said...

I appreciate your comments on this book, and I certainly loved The Awakening when I read it. I can see why people might dislike it, although there is a lot of positive feedback. I just think that she sought out her identity in a fresh and ground-breaking way, and once she had it, she refused to lose it. Yeah, I'd say that's brave. I blogged about this book as well, and if you're interested in continuing the discussion, you can follow my blogger profile to find it. Thanks!

Jessica said...

I agree, I think this book made me think more about womens roles today and how they have changed and stayed the same. I thought about these things more than the actual story but it did make me think.


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