Essay, Research Paper: Awakening

Literature: Kate Chopin

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The Awakening by Kate Chopin was considered very shocking when it was first
published because of the "sexual awakening" of the main character,
Edna Pontellier, and her unconventional behavior. Chopin moved to New Orleans
after her marriage and lived there for twelve years until the death of her
husband. She returned to St. Louis where she began writing. She used her
knowledge of Louisiana and Creole culture to create wonderful descriptions of
local color, and she incorporated French phrases used by the Creoles. The
Awakening begins at Grade Isle, a vacation spot of wealthy Creoles from New
Orleans. Edna is there with her two sons and her husband Leonce who comes and
goes because of business. Edna is not Creole, but her husband is. She has never
felt like she fits in with their lifestyle. Edna has always done what is
expected of a woman, including marrying a man she did not love. He regards her
as a possession rather than an individual. While on vacation, Edna falls in love
with Robert Lebrun. She often goes to the beach with him. She begins to realize
for the first time, at age 28, that she is an individual. Edna feels like one
who awakens gradually from a dream to the reality of life. After this discovery,
Edna changes. She disregards her husband's wishes and often ignores her
children. She learns to swim which also makes her begin to feel more
independent. Edna befriends two women, Mademoiselle Reisz, a pianist, and Madame
Ratignolle, a motherly lady. Distressed when Robert leaves for Mexico, Edna
often visits Mademoiseel Reisz to whom Robert often writes. Edna continues to
disregard the customs of society. Her husband becomes very upset and insists
that they must observe les convenances if they want to keep up with society. He
tries to get her to attend her sister's wedding, but she refuses. Leonce goes to
New York on business, but Edna refuses to go with him. The children are with
their grandparents so Edna enjoys her time alone. She starts an affair with
Alcee Arobin. He introduces her to the importance of sex which she did not enjoy
with her husband. She closes up her house and moves to a smaller one. Upset, her
husband puts a notice in the newspaper which says that their house is being
remodeled. He tries to hide Edna's strange behavior from his friends. Edna,
however, loves her new pigeon-house. "Every step she took toward relieving
herself of obligations added to her strength and expansion as an
individual." One day Robert returns. Edna runs into him at Mademoiselle
Reisz's home. Edna is upset to find he had been in the city for two days and had
not contacted her. Even though she was having an affair, she is still in love
with Robert. The two meet again a few days later, and Robert walks her home. She
kisses him, and he returns her passion. He confesses that he went to Mexico
because he was in love with her. He knew there was no hope for them because she
was married. They are interrupted by a message for Edna to go to the bedside of
Madame Ratignolle who is ill. She asks Robert to wait for her. When she returns,
he is gone. His note reads, "I love you. Good-bye, because I love
you." Edna is so distressed that she returns to Grand Isle where she goes
swimming in the cold sea. Purposely she swims out too far and drowns herself.
This is an appropriate book for high school students to read. Girls will enjoy
it more than boys. It is a beautifully written book which can be used in English
as well as social studies classes. The novel will support discussion of the
changing role of women and the importance of the Women's Movement in the early
1900's. Students can also discuss Edna's feelings and her suicide.
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