Book Review: The Awakening

the awakening

Kate Chopin’s The Awakening may initially resemble an early 20th century Lifetime movie, with our heroine Edna going on an emotional quest to discover who she really is. Things are a little deeper than that, though, as we uncover Edna’s struggle with depression, her rights as a free woman and her libido.

What it’s about

Readers, meet Edna Pontellier. She has an awesome husband and two beautiful children, but she wants none of it. Her eyes are lurking, and they are directed towards Robert Lebrun. After a summer of flirtations and innocent love, Rob flees to Mexico.

Meanwhile Edna goes to her gal pal Adéle to try to get decent advice. After confessing that she married Léonce solely because she thought he would tame her, Adéle reminds Edna that she has to think about her children when making any decision. She doesn’t really follow that advice too well. Edna freaks out and declares that she can’t be domesticated.

As Edna drifts off into her own life, Léonce confides in the family physician, Doctor Mandelet. The Doctor suspects that Edna’s heart belongs to another, but assures Mr. Pontellier that she simply needs to be left alone for a while to clear her head. As her husband and children are away, Edna comes out to play. She spends her time on her art, reading and friends, and meets a man, Alcée. As she cavorts with him, she feels like she has betrayed the man she truly loves, Robert. Edna makes her independence clear to Léonce (through a letter, what a burn) and declares her move….to a smaller house around the block! Upgrade!

Meanwhile, a very-pregnant Adéle confesses to Edna that she is concerned that Edna is acting reckless with her actions and is losing her grips with reality. She loses a bit of sanity when Robert comes back and their relationship has soured. Edna slips into sexual encounters with Alcée to fill the void of Robert missing in her life. Eventually Rob and Edna profess their love for one another, and Edna thinks that her life will become peachy keen. Not so, because he departs, leaving an “I love you, now goodbye!” note.

Edna loses the one person she desires the most while still technically attached to a man she feels indifferent towards. To escape her problems, she strips naked on the beach and takes a final swim, contemplating her children, Léonce, and Robert as the water swallows her whole.

Your favorite part will be…

It’s interesting to see Edna’s twisted transformation from a typical housewife to an independent woman. Her journey isn’t perfect, and she does harm people along the way (Léonce deserved a better wife, and, again, think about the children!), but those qualities make her relatable to the reader.

The causey angles

Mental Health

  • Spending time with her seemingly bland husband and children has always made Edna somewhat depressed, but the feeling overwhelms her one night to the point where she wants to throw out her old life and start a new one.
  • Edna’s moods swing from enigmatic joy to murky depressions.
  • Léonce assumes that Edna has a “mental disturbance” because she gets easily distracted by her painting and forgets about her household duties.
  • Conflicted between the disappointment she felt about losing Rob and happiness from being free from her banal life, Edna swims out to the Grand Isle where she is engulfed by the rough waters.

Sexuality

  • Rob remains a gentleman and refuses to consummate his relationship with Edna, who remains married. Good move on his part, but this decision makes Edna more sexually frustrated.
  • Alcée’s flirtations with Edna bring out her sexual urges that don’t come out when she’s with Léonce.
  • When Alcée finally kisses Edna, she declares that it is “the first . . . of her life to which her nature had really responded. It was a flaming torch that kindled desire.” However, she later realizes that this kiss was not motivated by love.

Women’s Rights

  • Adéle repeatedly reminds her of her duties as a wife and mother comes before any other desires she wants to fulfill. What a buzzkill.
  • Noticing Edna’s appreciation for her art and independence, Léonce says, “She’s got some sort of notion in her head concerning the eternal rights of women.”
  • Edna’s father criticizes Léonce for not controlling his wife, saying that a man must use authority on her in order to maintain order in their marriage.