Summaries of Articles from the Norton edition of The Awakening
Ammons, Elizabeth. "Women of Color in The Awakening." Conflicting Stories: American Women Writers at the Turn Into the Twentieth Century
Arms, George. “Kate Chopin’s The Awakening in the Perspective of Her Literary Career
George Arms, “Contrasting Forces in the Novel”, (Durham: Duke UP, 1967)
Arnavon, Cyrille. (1994). An American Madame Bovary. In Margo Culley (Ed.), The Awakening (184-188). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Author Unknown, An Etiquette/Advice
Book Sampler, Date and Source Unknown
(Includes also) Shaffter, Mary L, Creole Women, June 1892, The Chautauquan.
Critical Responses (Contemporary reviews) in 1899
Culley, Margo.“Edna Pontellier: A Solitary Soul”
Eble, Kenneth. “A Forgotten Novel: Kate Chopin’s The Awakening”, Western Humanities Review 10 (Summer 1956)
Edwards, Lee R. Sexuality, Maternity, and Selfhood.
Lee R. Edwards, “Sexuality, Maternity, and Selfhood”, Psyche as Hero: Female Heroism and Fictional Form (Middletown UP, 1984) 123-26, 130-32. Reprinted by permission of University Press of New England.
Anna Shannon Elfenbein American Racial and Sexual Mythology
Fletcher, Marie. “The Southern woman in Fiction” from “The Southern Woman in the Fiction of Kate Chopin, Louisiana History 7,1966.
Fletcher, Marie (second response)
Gilbert, Sandra M. “The Second Coming of Aphrodite: Kate Chopin’s Fantasy of Desire.” Kenyon Review 5 (Summer 1983): 42-66.
Rankin, Daniel S., Influences Upon the Novel, 1932, Kate Chopin and Her Creole Stories.
I. Daniel S. Rankin. Influences upon the Novel. 1932. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P.
Donald Ringe, Romantic Imagery
Spangler, George M., “Kate Chopin’s The Awakening: A Partial Dissent,” Novel 3 (Spring 1970)
Treichler, Paula A., Language and Ambiguity, Feb 27, 2009, The Awakening
Wolff, Cynthia Griffin. “Thantos and Eros: Kate Chopin’s The Awakening,” American Quarterly 25 (October 1973).
Wolkenfeld, Suzanne. “Edna’s Suicide: The Problem of the One and the Many.”
Taylor, Helen. Gender, Race, and Region Lousiana State University Press, 1989
Patricia S. Yaeger, “Language and Female Emancipation”
In Donald Ringe’s essay, Romantic Imagery, the image of the sea is seen as part of Edna’s awakening. Ringe points to the romantic tie the ocean has. He references a work called The Enchafed Flood, in which the sea was a place where good and evil did not exist, nor did community, where a person could be one with everything. It is this break from the world around her that Edna feels as she swims. But the essay also notes the dread that comes from the break with others, so the oceans is a way to meld with the universe but also a place of loneliness. Ringe looks at these two different aspects of the ocean in the people of Edna’s life. Madame Reisz was stated as being a “polarities of self absorption” by Ringe while the Ratignolle’s are those who “willing surrender of self to another”. Another pair from the book who show these extremes are the lovers and the woman in black. Both are lost in their zeal so that nothing else matters. In the end of the essay, Ringe points out that the extremes that he showed in the two couple also was shown in how Edna took the ocean at the beginning and the end of the story. In the beginning, she finds it exciting but her fear pushes her back to the others. At the end, she pushes everyone away and goes into the embrace of the water for freedom.
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I. Wolff, Cynthia Griffin. “Thantos and Eros: Kate Chopin’s The Awakening,” American Quarterly 25 (October 1973).
II. Wolff raises the idea that perhaps the novel is paced as it is because of Edna’s “basic needs, especially the most primitive ones, of eating and sleeping.” The flow of the novel is sort of interrupted when Edna needs to do either one of these things. Granted, they need to be done, but it sometimes seems as though Edna is ignoring other important things in order to eat or sleep. Also, the very title of the book, The Awakening, suggests rousing after a long sleep. Indeed, this is basically what Edna says that she has done, several times throughout the novel.
Edna tends to refer to people and things as “delicious,” which suggests her fixation on food. After all, the people “who care about her typically feed her.” At the same time, though, she doesn’t do much in the way of keeping her own house; she’d much rather have other people take care of her. And yet, while that might be true, she moves out of her husband’s house into what she calls her “pigeon house.” Wolff suggests that Edna is trying to regress, moving into her “playhouse,” having other people take care of her, focusing mostly on eating and sleeping, etc.
Wolff also writes that through Edna’s preoccupation with oral senses shows that, according to Freud, she has not really reached the maturity of her ego. Either that or, as Wolff earlier suggests, Edna is trying to regress. Edna sees the people around her, mostly the Creoles, expressing whatever they want to, and she wishes to be like they are. Consistent with Wolff’s earlier statements, her suggestion that Edna cannot completely fulfill her oral longings is supported by Freud’s theories.
Edna discovers, as Wolff points out, that there can be no ultimate satisfaction of her desires; in order to fulfill herself completely, she must be rid of herself. “Life offers only partial pleasures, and individuated experience.” Wolff proposes that Edna’s suicide is the ultimate regression; she cannot be born as a child again, but she can enfold herself in the ocean, which is the closest one will ever come to being in the womb again.
III. I think that what Wolff is presenting makes sense; Edna’s life almost revolves around eating and sleeping. The novel shows that there is some deeper meaning to this, which Wolff catches on to. She makes reference to the story of Sleeping Beauty, and how Edna also references this fairytale, but Wolff shows how Edna is different: “In the fairy tale, of course, the princess awakens with a kiss, conscious of love; but Edna’s libidinal energies have been arrested at a pre-genital level—so she awakens “very hungry”—and her lover prepares her a meal!” This shows that Edna likes to be taken care of, even though she is supposed to be taking care of her children, her own household, etc. There are times she is able to do that, but more often than not, she tries to regress through other people’s care.
Wolff’s references to Freud, while initially rather confusing to me, make sense, as well. Edna clearly exhibits the yearning for “the oceanic feeling” which is the closest one can get to being back inside one’s mother’s womb. It is only in that stage of our lives that we are completely connected to another being, and birth is the first of many separations throughout life.
The Ending of the Novel
I. Bibliographic Information
Spangler, George M., “Kate Chopin’s The Awakening: A Partial Dissent,” Novel 3 (Spring 1970)
Spangler mentions different thoughts about the ending of The Awakening from five commentators, including Edmund Wilson, Berthoff, Kauffmann, Ziff and Eble. For them, the conclusion of the novel is crucial to the whole of the novel. Spangler also says that the ending may content some people but may not content others.
In the following paragraph, Spangler starts to comment on the ending of the novel. The writer describes the scene about the beach after Edna finds Robert’s farewell note. He indicates that there is no hint that Edna wants to commit suicide. Edna’s love toward different men, her husband and her children seems no different to her. All of them cannot possess her body and soul.
Moreover, Spangler thinks that Mrs. Chopin makes the ending look so thoughtless. He points out what is wrong with this conclusion. Through the previous chapters, Edna has a strong impression of her aspiration and breaks the traditional rules. She knows what to do and how to do it. However, in the final pages, Edna loses her strong desire only because of the loss of Robert. Spangler is curious about how an independent lady who conquers so much difficulty can be defeated by Robert’s tender note of rejection?
Spangler judges that the ending of The Awakening converts a complex psychological novel into a commonplace sentimental one. Chopin characterizes Edna as a great strong-willed woman but she fails and chooses to die in the end. Although the shift toward the sentimental and pathetic is implicit, the moralistic explanation for the conclusion is obvious. Her sin makes her suffer and die. Spangler also relates that because of the suicide of Edna in the ending, this novel has not become the extraordinary masterpiece some commentators have claimed it is.
I enjoy reading Spangler’s essay in criticism. After reading the essay, I got some ideas that I never thought about before. I strongly agree that the ending always plays a significant role in a novel. It seems important to the whole of a novel. It can make people consider if it is good or bad.
Although Spangler’s criticism is quite interesting, I still disagree with some of his thoughts. His attitude toward the ending of The Awakening is pretty clear. Spangler strongly expresses that “what is wrong with this conclusion?”(209) He thinks that Chopin gives Edna a clear and distinct character in the previous chapters. However, in the ending, readers cannot see what we expect about Edna. Edna changes her moods. She becomes fragile and defeated easily only by a tender note of rejection. I do not agree with Spangler’s analysis here. Maybe he has not experienced or met someone he loves so much.
I admire what Edna does during the late-nineteenth century. In her time, female sexuality seems an utterly taboo subject. In this novel, Chopin not only shows her determination and courage but also her desire to love. As a flower cannot live without air, women cannot live without love. Love always blinds people even today. I still can hear news that someone commits suicide because of breaking up with a lover. Because of loving Robert too deeply and too much, Edna cannot stand his leaving. I feel pity that she can get together with him in the end. I do not agree that Spangler thinks something is wrong with this conclusion.
Summary of the Essay in Criticism
I. Daniel S. Rankin. Influences upon the Novel. 1932. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P.
II. In the beginning of the essay, Rankin mentions about the relationship between Chopin’s life and her study of the feminine mind in The Awakening. He believes that The Awakening had its origin in these story-telling days of impressionable youth, and Chopin had sympathies in The Awakening with Edna. Chopin wanted to live through her character Edna. She lets Edna do the things that she wants to do but what she will not do in real life. Rankin also points out that a more important thing than the consideration of the influence of curiosity around in youth is the endeavor to discriminate and discover the literary influences that engendered The Awakening. Also, Rankin illustrates that although the novel may be similar to any number of novels such as D’Annunzio’s Triumph of Death, all suggestion of direct literary descent in method or manner of treatment is false. Rankin says that literary influences are deceptive at best. What is more, Rankin mentions that Chopin absorbed the atmosphere and the mood of the ending of the nineteenth century which was reflected in Continental European art and literature. However, Rankin thinks that Chopin was not imitative in the narrow sense of being completely under the sway of any one writer, but the range of her debts is wide; lots of novelists from different countries like Flaubert, Tolstoi, or D’Annunzio, etc., who all contributed to her broad and diverse culture. On the other hand, even though Rankin feels that by being a woman Chopin saw life instinctively in terms of the individual, he also points out some questions like is it at all important? Did Chopin by her art reveal a fresh beauty or vision or aspiration?
III. When I read Rankin’s critical essay, I could not understand why he described The Awakening as exotic in setting, morbid in theme, erotic in motivation. He said the very atmosphere of the book was voluptuous, the atmosphere of the Gulf Coast, a place of strange and passionate moods; however, I am not sure that I also think like that. This story seems gloomy to me because Edna always reacted negatively to her life. Therefore, I do not understand what does Rankin mean by saying The Awakening follows the current of erotic morbidity that flowed strongly through the literature of the last two decades of the nineteenth century. However, I do agree with Rankin’s opinion where he says The Awakening in Chopin’s case is the result of all the books she knew that she was familiar with. The Awakening was an impression of life as a delicious agony of longing. I believe that Chopin also pointed out some unreasonable notion in Edna’s society. For instance, women were only men’s property rather than being treated as an individual person.
Gender, Race, and Region
Lousiana State University Press, 1989
Helen Taylor speaks in her essay about a variety of themes that are presented in Kate Chopin’s writing with The Awakening being the culmination of those ideals. Although race, gender and region are seemingly separate issues, Taylor examines how they are connected, brining in other responses to examine the influences behind Chopin’s writing.
She first focuses how race is presented in Chopin’s works. Taylor explores the author’s life and relationship with slaves. By citing expressions used by Chopin herself, she uncovers how Chopin appeared to feel toward this group, describing that she was favorable toward them to an extent. Taylor argues that Chopin believed blacks at the time (especially in terms of literature) to be a means of providing amusement outside the general story. She believes Chopin held the belief that was paramount in many writers of the time, where black characters were presented in roles outside the general plot. She goes on to explain Chopin’s use of the theme of emancipation to connect with her own writings involving feminism: “Chopin used blacks ‘as an objective correlative for her feelings about oppression,” and in terms of female oppression this seems to be the case, especially in the later works.” (Taylor, 300) This is certainly shown in The Awakening, where blacks are seen in the background and used to reinforce themes of freedom.
Taylor then shifts to region, and it is in this that she connects to others. Again looking at Chopin’s life, she describes how, at the time, her writing was much closer to European feminism writing than American: “Chopin’s novel is the first to use mainly English and French feminist themes in an American and especially a southern context. (Taylor, 302) At this time period, she explains, the writing in Europe held much less the puritan values that appeared in early American writing. It is believed her writing was greatly influenced on these works that was very critical of the “woman’s role” in society. She also connects the effect of region and religion with feelings of emotion. She focuses on the difference between regions, showing the contrast of “cold-climate Protestant England” and “warm, southern Catholic Italy”, and pulls this idea together with instances in The Awakening, where Kentucky-borne Edna Pontellier (a Presbyterian), migrates to the warm, catholic community where her awakening begins. She finishes by connecting region and racial stereotyping.
The rest of the Taylor’s essay is concerned with the last of these themes, gender, and for the most part is consistent with other essays examining this ever-present sentiment in The Awakening. She makes consistent examples of attitudes toward Edna’s behavior in the novel, focusing on her role as a “new woman.” Taylor also brings to light the apparent connection between this behavior in women and madness. She shows how many characters instantly believe her to be coming down with a mental illness when she begins acting on her own, which is very consistent with the period where this happened frequently with men observing this behavior in women. As with the other themes, she continues to connect these ideals with region, showing the European influences that present themselves in Chopin’s writing.
As a sociology student, I found Taylor’s emphasis these three themes familiar and relevant to the which she relates them to. She is especially critical on Chopin’s stereotyping of slaves at this period (she states, “its unconsciously racist elements cannot be excused” [page 309]), which I found myself agreeing with. However, much of her interpretation revolves around looking at the life of the author herself, which may have led to a good deal of misinformation, but her argument that the racist elements are unconscious make sense.
Taylor’s emphasis on region influencing Chopin’s writing was also interesting. It presented ideas of region that (even as a sociology major) I was unaware of, such as how region and religion are presented in different climate representations. It may have been a good idea for her to include direct-text quotes of European writing that she claims Chopin was influenced from. Although she presents the titles of these works, I was unfamiliar with them, and so was unable to sample this influence for myself. Her connection with The Awakening and the themes of region was a different take on the novel than I had experienced before. “My analysis of the novel is an attempt to argue through the highly political subtext, demonstrating…an original contribution to women’s writing about the Protestant/Catholic divide, about nationality and regionalism…” (Taylor, 302)
A negative point about this essay is its attempt to analyze too many themes at once. Gender, race and region are complex themes, and combining them into one essay made it hard to focus on a consistent point. However, Taylor’s analysis on how region connects these themes is original and provided great insight on the influence Chopin had in her writing, and how The Awakening could be viewed in these societal terms.
Patricia S. Yaeger, Is the author of “Language and Female Emancipation”, published in Spring of 1987. The article is about how the changes through Edna’s life and each event change the way she feels and acts through daily life. Yaeger Describes the book as Edna’s world and as the world awakens her, the more it takes away from her and emancipates her. As Edna reveals her true feelings the world around her takes away the things she likes, and the things she had to herself. Yaeger uses the beach scene at the beginning of the book as an example of this. As do I in my own paper. Another example Yaeger uses is when Edna and Robert flirt, she says that it gives Edna a sense of freedom and sexual fulfillment, I agree partially. The way she forms her paragraph, she describes all the major mood changes and most of the times Edna openly states that she feels awake or feels like she is the first of doing something or feels like is should be the first.
I Agree for the most part with the author. Edna is a complex character and has many mood changes. It almost seems like Edna is bi-polar, and she has many experiences for the first time during one summer. As the summer goes on and her life the things that used to entertain her do not anymore, it seemed to depress her even more. Because of this, there was nothing her husband or friends could have done to save her.
I. Bibliographic Information
[American Racial and Sexual Mythology]
Anna Shannon Elfenbein explains that Kate Choplin writes about an American woman, Edna who during the late 1800s commits adultery in a Creole society. The first paragraph talks about the fact that women authors were put to blame because of raunchy topics such as the one Choplin decided to write about. Elfenbein explains that The Awakening went unread for nearly sixty years. Many of the readers of Choplin’s work concluded that passion was lead by “dark” women wile purity was lead by “white” women. Many people did not want to think of a “lady” in such a fashion as an adulteress so they credited such behavior with a racist point of view.
Elfenbein emphasizes how Choplin’s story of “sexual realism assaulted American sexual-caste mythology” (292). She goes on to say that Choplin’s novel also collapsed the traditional categories that had long segregated “dark” women and “white” women in American literature and advanced a new conception of female desire that was color-blind and demonic” (292).
Elfenbein also compares Flaubert’s Madame Bovary to Choplin’s Awakening. “Instead of the bourgeois aspirations to social status of an Emma Bovary, Choplin’s Edna experiences ambivalence toward the sensuality of the New Orleans Creoles” (293). Edna’s awakening endangers the social order she fails to completely follow and understand.
As Edna goes on her journey to find herself she is often contrasted with other women of her time that follow the “rules” that society has constructed for women. Elfenbein goes on to explain how Victor “embodies the racist and sexist prejudices of his society, asserting his importance by badgering the black women of the Lebrun household or by bragging of his sexual prowess” (294). Black women are talked about throughout the story but they are never given a name. Madame Lebrun employs a little black girl to work the treadle of her machine.
III. Personal Response
I personally enjoyed reading what Anna Shannon Elfenbein had to say about her opinion on what Choplin meant in The Awakening. I especially liked the first paragraph when she explained some background history about what happened when the story was first written and how the public found it offensive to the masses. I think in a way Elfenbein though that the issue Choplin was writing about was the real emotion of how some women may have felt. The feeling of being trapped in a socially constructed society could have been hard to handle for some.
When Elfenbein said that “recent critics have tended to blame the double standard, which prohibited female authors at the turn of the century from broaching topics available to male authors” (292) I think that people did not want to hear such stories from the woman’s point of view because they did not want to believe that women of that time period had these types of feelings and did not want women to think that it was alright to engage in such lewd behavior.
I found it interesting that Elfenbein looked so deeply in what the usage of “dark” and “white” woman stood for in the work. The idea that “passion was projected onto dark women, while purity was reserved exclusively for white women” (292) was also interesting.
. Cyrille Arnavon: An American Bovary: 1994 The
I. Bibliographic Information
Treichler, Paula A., Language and Ambiguity, Feb 27, 2009, The Awakening
Treichler illustrates Edna’s confusion on her journey to discover her true self.
The writer focuses on how Edna’s “dual life” is beginning to confuse her because she is unable to understand her feelings and actions. Edna can relate to the caged bird in the beginning of the story because she feels that her husband does not understand her true self.
Treichler points out that Edna experiences her “first breath of freedom” and Chopin compares it to the feeling of intoxication. As Edna learns how to swim, Chopin creates an atmosphere of different emotions. Up until this point, Treichler takes notice to the grammatical shift from “could have” to “did.” This helps indicate Edna’s better understanding of the woman she is becoming.
Treichler explains that Chopin’s characterization of Edna dramatically shifts each time she is exposed to something new. The central metaphor of waking and sleeping is portrayed throughout both Chopin’s novel and Treichler’s response. Edna is awakened by each step in her life and her feelings are intensified by each of the changes she makes in her life.
III. My Response
In Treichler’s response, there is a constant theme of Edna’s awakening. She discusses how Edna felt like a caged bird in the beginning of the novel. Treichler states, “The caged birds that open the novel establish immediately the sense of constrained potential that marks these first chapters” (264). I agree with Treichler because Chopin creates a sense of loss from Edna. She doesn’t fit in with the society that her husband has placed her and she feels that no one can understand her true feelings. As Edna continues to grow through each new accomplishment, she begins to create a new sense of sense that astonishes everyone, including herself.
Since the beginning of summer, Edna has wanted to learn how to swim. It isn’t until one night, she travels into the ocean and discovers her ability to swim and tread water. Treichler takes notice by saying, “Edna’s experience of the water is immediately, passionately sensuous” (266). Her intensity takes a dramatic change from inferior to confident in the water and with herself. She now has a sense of “control…of her body and her soul (266).” Treichler describes the swimming scene as the “turning point” in Chopin’s novel. I also feel that the swimming scene helps the reader identify with the wonderful sense of accomplishment Edna feels once she conquered swimming.
Treichler notes of the “central metaphor of waking and sleeping” which is portrayed throughout the entire novel about Edna’s journey (267). Edna experiences many awakenings which help her discover her true self. Treichler states, “The ambiguous structure of the word ‘awakening’ encompasses these definitions, permitting Edna to be awakened, to awaken someone else, or simply to awaken spontaneously” (268). Although Treichler welcomes the idea of awakening each character in the novel, I believe that the only awakening that most people see if Edna’s.
Edna is awakening to sensuality and sexuality through Arobin and Robert. She begins to feel feminine and realizes the allure she has within her self. Treichler states, “Edna leans down and kisses Robert, she takes control of her life” (268). This is the point where Edna finally realizes that she is in control of her own destiny; she no longer feels the need to conform to people’s notions of how she should act.
“A Forgotten Novel: Kate Chopin’s The Awakening” by Kenneth Eble, Western Humanities Review 10 (Summer 1956)
Kenneth Eble focuses on Chopin’s structure in the novel and how this contributes to the overall work. He challenges Daniel Rankin’s view that The Awakening is “exotic in setting, morbid in theme, and erotic in motivation.” Eble argues that the story serves as Edna Pontellier’s struggle with eros, or passionate love, when she discovers that “marital love and passion may not be one.” Edna’s character, according to Eble, must not be viewed as a “Madame Bovary”, but rather a young woman who must abide by her nature and seeks to awaken from a societal role that does not become her. Her struggle adds to her character’s dignity rather than detracting from it and demeaning her: “It is her self-awareness, and her awakening into a greater degree of self-awareness than those around her can comprehend, which gives her story dignity and significance.” Eble severely critiques Rankin’s view that Edna is a “selfish, capricious” woman. His admiration of Edna serves as a major reason for the novel’s worth.
Eble also points out that Chopin’s use of a unifying symbol significantly aids in binding the novel. Chopin’s previous works suffered greatly from her lack of revision and reworking of the story’s structure in order to support the overall theme. However, Eble shows that Chopin’s use of elements of sea imagery – water, sky and sand – become “a presence themselves in the novel.” Her work becomes as interpretive as a painting when she adds the lady in black and the anonymous loves as grace notes to the plot. Eble argues that these symbolic images enhance the idea of balancing duty with passion, which is a central concept in The Awakening.
Overall I agree with much of Eble’s criticisms and theories; however I disagree upon one minor point. Eble argues that The Awakening ranks among the roman pur, or the “pure novel” as opposed to a “novel with a purpose.” I believe that Chopin draws from societal issues of feminism and addresses them, however minutely, within the story. Her novel does not act as a mere work of fiction, but rather a reflection of the hidden passion within every woman and its oppression.
Eble’s compliment on Chopin’s use of imagery throughout the story can hardly be rejected: “She [Chopin] seems to have grasped instinctively the use of the unifying symbol – there the sea, sky and sand – and with it the power of individual images to bind the story together.” (Eble 189) The symbolic significance of water gives poetic justice to Edna’s untimely end. Her rebirth or “awakening” paradoxically occurs in the same element that causes her death. These images seem to naturally flow into the plot, and Chopin’s use of the symbols at key points in the novel creates, in a sense, the “perfect novel.”
Rankin’s interpretation of The Awakening as purely sexual and crude seems to offend the ideas behind Edna’s character. I agree with Eble’s argument that “her awakening into a greater degree of self-awareness than those around her can comprehend” gives “her story dignity and significance.” This story revolves around Edna’s personal journey of discovery, and her sexual nature serves as a part of the rather beautiful whole of her nature. Yes, she possesses a multitude of deficiencies, yet these merely add to the beauty of her rebirth. This “dignity” that Eble mentions rises from a woman taking hold of her life and recognizing her passion over her duty. The sexual nature of the novel comes from this discrepancy between Edna’s duty as an aristocratic wife and her passionate love for life and Robert Lebrun.
Influences Upon the Novel
Rankin’s piece on The Awaneking takes a close look at Chopin’s feminist sympathies by discussing why it might be that they are present in her work. Throughout the essay, some theories on who or what inspired these ideas of hers are tossed around.
It is mentioned that, when Chopin was a young girl, her great-grandmother would often tell her emotional stories geared toward sympathizing with female characters. Rankin believes that this most likely took a large part in the shaping of Chopin’s opinions on the oppressed female.
Next, Rankin mentions some works of literature and art that may have had considerable influences over The Awakening. The first work suggested is D’Annunzio’s Triumph of Death, a novel about an extramarital couple that has a “fling” and eventually dies at sea. It is also said that she may have taken influences from the author Marcel Proust, English artist Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (who was known for creating very gloomy works of art), and various others.
Continuing, Rankin tells us how brilliant he thinks Chopin’s work is. He says, “Her story may be similar to any number of novels, but all suggestion of direct literary descent in method or manner of treatment is false” (182). He seems to want to make it clear that, despite being inspired by other works, what she brought to the table was a completely new spin on things.
Following this, the motivation behind the story’s atmosphere is examined. Rankin claims that a lot of the inspiration for this can be traced back to the bible. “Salome’s dance, Cleopatra’s luxury, the splendor and cruelty of Salammbo’s Carthage” are responsible for the novel’s setting (183).
Finally, Rankin says that, since Chopin was a woman, she believed strongly in the individual. In writing the book, she took very important interest in the affairs of Edna’s daily life and moods. However, he asks if all of those details were really important. He writes, “Did Kate Chopin by her art reveal a fresh beauty or vision aspiration?” (183). He says that, though somewhat important, that he is unsure whether or not the book’s theme is worth the frequent attention it is given.
I found Rankin’s review to be a fascinating take on The Awakening. I certainly enjoyed learning about some of Chopin’s inspirations, though I disagree with some of Rankin’s opinions expressed at the end of his piece.
All of what Rankin’s review has to say about Chopin’s inspiration seems to logically make sense. I found the story about her great-grandmother particularly interesting. Rankin writes, “…as a very young girl, through the zeal and the story-telling propensity of her greatgrandmother, had been saturated with a keen interest in woman’s nature” (182). This has led me to assume that, had her great-grandmother been around long enough to see Chopin’s work (I’m assuming through logic that she was not), she would have been very proud of her. In fact, making her great-grandmother proud may have been one of Chopin’s goals.
I enjoyed reading about what Rankin thought were most of Chopin’s biggest influences. Comparing Edna’s story to one about two lovers having an affair in Triumph of Death made a lot of sense to me. I also took the time to look at some of Aubrey Vincent Beardsley’s art, as Rankin listed that as inspiring for Chopin. Beardsley’s use of gloomy picture and black and white coloring definitely matches some elements of The Awakening. I feel as though it is a definite possibility that Chopin was a fan of his work.
Despite my enjoyment of reading this review, I did not agree with Rankin’s closing statements. Toward the end, he states, “But was the theme deserving of the exquisite care given to it?” (184). Personally, I think that statement is not only ridiculous, but also a contradiction to something he mentioned earlier in his review. When discussing Chopin’s inspirations, he stated, “Her story may be similar to any number of novels, but all suggestion of direct literary descent in method or manner of treatment is false.” (182). I believe he said this to say that, though the plot may similar have similar elements to other stories, it was the themes hidden within the tale that made this work standout. His closing statement seems to cancel this out.
I personally feel as though the theme is very much worth all the attention it has been given. The book was very much ahead of its time on feminine issues and would probably not be remembered today had these themes been absent. Besides, Chopin put a lot of time and thought into making the themes stick out, so she must have wanted them to be noticed.
Rankin’s review was fun to read, even though I did not agree with his final opinions. It was fascinating to learn a little about Chopin’s history and what inspired her to write the way she did.
Rankin, Daniel S., Influences Upon the Novel, 1932, Kate Chopin and Her Creole Stories.
George Arms’s Criticism
George Arms, “Contrasting Forces in the Novel”, (Durham: Duke UP, 1967)
In this summary, George Arms mainly focuses on contrasts of the Novel, and the ways Kate Chopin implies a contradictory view of the main character Edna Pontellier. Arms explains that Chopin is not fully representing Edna to be distinctly aware of her purpose in life, and her relationships with those she is surrounded by: ‘Yet Mrs. Chopin is unwilling to present Edna as simply struggling between two opposites, later remarking that her emotions “had never taken the form of struggles’(Arms, p.198). Arms emphasizes that Mrs. Chopin is portraying Edna as someone who is trying to break free from the “ideal Creole” stereotype, by neglecting her family forming sexual relationships with Arobin, as well as fantasizing about Robert, both of which do no appear shameful in the story. The author’s tone almost accentuates that it is a shame, that Edna’s fantasies about Robert did not turn into reality, despite eroticism between Edna and Arobin: “Edna is sensitive to many states of mind as the author describes her after the consummation of her affair with Arobin: irresponsibility, shock, her husband’s and Robert’s reproach, but not shame and not remorse, though regret that she has yielded from erotic longing rather than from love” (Arms, p.199).
George Arms explains that Chopin was more likely to expose the purpose of Edna’s behavior “suggestively” rather than “systematically”, emphasizing that Kate Chopin did not take a clear stand in representation of her main character.
If the author took any stand at all, it was “in favor of individualism and against social obligation” (Arms, p.199):”Every step which she took toward relieving herself from obligations added to her strength and expansion as an individual” (Chopin). It is clear that throughout the book Chopin attempts to articulate that Edna, in fact, is individualistic, and even at some point declared to Madame Ratignolle that she would give everything she has got to her children, except for her own self.
Another point Arms makes is that Edna is constantly returning to the thoughts of her children, especially every time she is associated with Robert: “…but in the meantime we observe her constantly returning to her children as a kind of penance whenever she displays most markedly her love outside of marriage (Arms, p.201). Arms critiques the way Chopin describes Edna’s actions toward her children, emphasizing that every time she Edna is dealing with extramarital affairs, or is thinking about Robert, immediately after, she gives her full attention to children, as well as at the time of her death.
I found this particular criticism of Edna very interesting and full of unique perspectives about true meanings behind the idea of “Awakening”. George Arms brings up many questions about how Chopin develops her main character and portrays her to the reader. At first, he criticizes several contrasts in the novel : “Basically she[Chopin] writes as a non-intrusive author but principally presents her material with a sense of constant contrast, partly author’s way of looking at life”(Arms, p.198). I agree with this statement, because Chopin seems to constantly compare Edna to a contrasting image of what a Creole woman should be and what she [Edna] really is, or what she becomes as the story unfolds.
Arms then, writes about Kate Chopin not having a distinct view of Edna, or merely stating her opinion about the main character, which could mean that she was in favor of women breaking free and becoming individualistic, because as Arms says: “So one can summarize that instead of identifying herself with Edna’s actions, Mrs. Chopin tends to regard them as romantically motivated rather than as realistically considered” (Arms, p.199). I believe that this statement is close to the right idea or purpose of the story, and to me, as if Chopin is saying “Edna is an individual, and there is no harm in drifting off into her own world, rather than constantly following social expectations; it is time for a woman to break free of marital and status chains, so to speak”.
Another contrasting view Arms brings up is the way Chopin reveals Edna’s awakening. It is all about the “Awakening”, but Edna is constantly asleep: “It is almost as if the author is saying: here is my heroine who at the critical points of her progress toward an awakening constantly falls asleep” (Arms, p.200). This is a very interesting view of Chopin’s contradictive style, and it makes me wonder “Does “Awakening” means Edna is waking up and trying to get out of the “cage” and toward individualism, or can we ask, as she is asleep quite often, when will she wake up from the “nonsense” she is creating in her head and be a good mother and wife?”
The last point Arms makes is the way children are displayed and what they mean to Edna; they seem to be the only people she truly keeps in her mind until the moment she dies : “Perhaps one might go so far as to say that the children, used in this way, somewhat flaw the novel” (Arms, p.202). Here, I believe he is explaining that if it were not for the children, Edna would never feel guilty about her ambitions and drifts throughout the novel. In fact, they seem to be the only ones that are able to keep her sane before she drowns herself.
Perhaps children appear to be an important part of the story because in social context of it, children are the future, and if they come from a broken home, they will not fully develop into what society expects of them. Arms points this out when he says: “Yet this difficulty might be answered by recognizing that the children stand for a stable society and the permanency of an unbroken home” (Arms, p.202).
This criticism opened new ways of thinking about the story of the “Awakening” to me. I really appreciated the thoroughness of explanations and contrasting factors George Arms wrote about in his summery. As I was reading it, I found myself agreeing with him, and I think that one of the last things he said concisely ties his views on the “Awakening” but does not harshly criticizes it: “Like those contrasts of purpose and aimlessness, of romance and realism, and of sleep and awakening, this one is not of absolute opposition but is complex and even blurred” (Arms, p.202).
Margo Culley’s essay.
The essay written by Margo Culley talks about the reoccurrence of the idea of being alone. The piece is entitled “Edna Pontellier: A Solitary Soul”, which describes up front, what Culley is investigating in her essay. Culley starts out by quickly summarizing the plot of “The Awakening,” before diving in to this idea of Edna being a solitary soul.
Kate Chopin had originally entitled her piece “A solitary Soul.” She later named the piece “The Awakening,” but did not get rid of her original title as she may have wanted to use it as a subtitle. This idea of being alone is obvious in Chopin’s piece. She is withdrawn from her family and friends. Also, several times in the story, Edna is left alone by the other characters. This idea of being alone is how Edna seems to find herself throughout the story.
Edna shows a great deal of passion in being alone. It is empowering to her. When alone, she is not being controlled by anyone. She gains independence from this and decides to act on this newfound freedom. She decides she will no longer be governed by her husband. Edna feels strongly for Robert and decides that she will use her freedom to be with him, only to find out that Robert is not what she needs.
Solitude takes over Edna, and is the only thing that can give her comfort. When Alcee Arobin tells Edna she can get away from her solitude through physical means. Edna realizes that this is not the case and by trying to escape her solitude with sexuality will only breed a need for more sex.
Edna turns to the sea for deliverance. She feels calm and careless in the cool waters. The only other thing that made Edna feel this way was a large field she would walk through when she was young. The story ends with Edna obtaining the ultimate power. She swims out into the ocean deciding to take her own life; something that no one can, through her solitude, can deny her.
The Awakening Summaries
The critical essay “The Southern woman in Fiction” of Marie Fletcher was from “The Southern Woman in the Fiction of Kate Chopin, Louisiana History 7 and it was published in 1966.
In the first paragraph, Fletcher review some plots of the novel “The Awakening,” and Fletcher tries to make readers believe that Edna’s marriage with Léonce Pontellier is an accident and Edna has rebellious character.
In next several paragraphs, Fletcher emphasizes how different Edna is from those Creole women. Edna, a Kentucky Presbyterian, is not a “mother-woman.” Edna sometimes forgets her sons’ existence and she can’t devote herself for her husband and her sons entirely. Then Fletcher uses Madame Ratignolle as a model to contrast with Edna. Madame Ratignolle is a model of good mother and good wife. Madame Ratignolle is so perfect that seems every Creole woman should behave just like her. Through Madame Ratignolle, Fletcher informs many behaviors of Creole women. They are willing to devote themselves to their families. They are “faithful and loyal wife” (194). By the information of Creole women’s behaviors and lives, Fletcher proves Edna’s differences and she also suggests that Edna is a little bit surprised by Creole women’s behavior.
In the end, Fletcher discusses the suicide of Edna. Fletcher believes that Edna commits suicide because Edna doesn’t want to give up her effort. Fletcher also focuses on the quality of southern women, chastity, in the novel “The Awakening.”
In her critical essay, Fletcher analyzes the Creole women and Edna very clearly. I think her analysis is convincing and I agree with her analysis mostly. In, first paragraph, I do think Edna has rebellious character and Edna’s “entire life is a flight from one kind of confinement after another” (193). There are many restraints surround Edna. Edna tries to escape but her escape leads her into another confinement. She chooses to leave Léonce and she thinks she will be happy; but she is not really happy. Although she leaves Léonce, she falls in love with Robert. Robert’s leaving makes she feels depressed and she is limited by the love. She keeps thinking about Robert and waiting for his letters. She still cannot get the freedom she wants.
I like she uses Madame Ratignolle as a model to show Creole women’s personalities and show Edna’s differences with those Creole. This contrast makes the differences be presented clearly. In Fletcher’s words “unlike French ladies, she cannot devote herself exclusively to her husband and children” (194) can shows Edna’s dissimilarity with those French women surround her. There is a sentence describes Edna” is not like the Creole women in being able to continue as a long-suffering, self-sacrificing, faithful and loyal wife and mother when loves is gone” (194); this sentence makes me know more about Creole’s life and it also explains why Edna feel unhappy and she wants to leave Léonce.
However, I feel a little bit confused when Fletcher discuss about Edna’s suicide. Fletcher infers that Edna needs to commit suicide because she wants to keep from giving up her effort— her awakening. For me, her explanation is not clear enough for me to understand her interpretation.
This critical essay provides much information and it is useful to see more detail about the Creole women’s life and personalities to understand the background and the society in the novel “The awakening.”
Wolkenfeld, Suzanne. “Edna’s Suicide: The Problem of the One and the Many.” The Awakening Norton Second Critical Edition, 1976
Wolkenfeld’s criticism of Edna’s suicide in The Awakening deals with her beliefs of Chopin’s attitudes toward protagonist Edna and the artistic elements of the novel. The idea of the complication of this dramatization of Edna’s suicide plays a large part in this analysis.
Wolkenfeld mentions critics Per Syersted and Kenneth Eble and their analyses of Edna’s suicide. They believe that the act of suicide for Edna is one of nobility and the romanticism of her final act. Seyersted mentions the motive is one of feminist and existentialism that relies on the need for spiritual freedom. Seyersted writes that Edna’s suicide was the result of the realization and understanding of her life and is the single motive for ending it. A defeated woman striving for the only freedom she can attain is that of death. Eble states Edna’s conflict is a classical character who finds “struggle with elemental passion.” Edna’s suicide empowers her through “Eros”, and she becomes this “tragic heroine”. Both critics note the artistic notions of Chopin in characterizing Edna and find sympathy for the character.
Donald A Ringe and George Arms, also mentioned by Wolkenfeld, both place their focus on the aspect of romantics with Edna and question Chopin’s sympathy for Edna. Ringe believes that Edna’s suicide is a consequence of coming to the realization of self-discovery. He states that Edna’s suicide is “a defeat that involves no surrender.” His critical views focus on the conflict between internal and external realities. Ringe believes that Edna’s suicide is practical. Despite the practicalities of Edna’s suicide, Arms believes Edna is motivated by romantic ideals.
Wolkenfeld also touches on the criticisms of Daniel S. Rankin, George M. Spangler, and Cynthia Griffin Wolff. Rankin represents the negativity of Edna’s suicide. Rankin finds fault with Chopin as he relates Chopin with Edna and feels that Chopin is just another ordinary romantic author. Spangler feels that Edna’s suicide as a “pathetic defeat.” He feels that the move from strength and psychology to suicide and defeat in Edna is one of absurdness. Wolff plays on the idea of psychological issues within Edna. She mentions Edna’s “schizoid” personality which just adds to reason for suicide.
These critical reviews are based on upon the conflict of Chopin’s realism and Edna’s romanticism. There is a fulfillment at the end of the novel, but also a sense of defeat. The reasons are practical, yet sympathetic for Edna’s suicide. There are pros and cons to Edna’s awakenings—both benefits and consequences. The benefits of Edna’s awakenings are of course the road to self-discovery and realization. The consequences are being trapped in human nature and one’s own psyche. Edna moves both forward and backward in her search for self and inevitably, the end of herself. It is noted that Edna’s choice of suicide was not a conscious one due to her self-realization, but rather the result of a battle between the internal and the external which cannot be compromised.
I feel that this criticism is an interesting one. It opens the idea that questions Chopin and Edna’s motivation for suicide. While some critics such as Syersted and Eble believe the act of suicide for Edna is romanticized, which I strongly agree with. I feel that this approach to the anti-sentimental novel was well-accomplished. The reader has a choice to either sympathize/pity Edna and her suicide, but is not required to. I find myself sympathizing Edna’s suicide, but also find myself thinking something emotionally disturbing about her character, something kind-of off in her psyche. This psychological blame is a theory supported by Wolff, who states that Edna is “a penetrating account of psychological disintegration…whose erotic development has been arrested…” Wolff also states that Edna’s suicide is “a regressive act coming from ‘a sense of inner emptiness’ and a failure to fulfill in real life her infantile yearnings for fusion.” I find myself agreeing with Wolff’s criticism as I feel that any human being who commits or attempts suicide is one with emotional and psychological issues.
Ringe, Rankin, and Spangler touch on the negativities of Edna’s suicide. Ringe states that Edna’s suicide is “a defeat that involves no surrender.” Rankin feels Edna’s “ordinary” suicide is at the fault of Chopin or who just another sentimental romantic. Spangler stated that Edna’s suicide was a “pathetic defeat” which requires no sympathy and was a direct consequence of being awakened. I feel that these critics were harsh not only of Edna as a character and Chopin as an author, but of human nature as a whole. I feel that suicide is a loaded word that requires so much understanding. Suicide, in some way, I agree, is a defeat. However, I disagree that there is no sympathy from the act. I find that no matter what, the act of suicide entails some sort of sympathy. Taking your own life is a true and powerful act that to these critics is defeat, but perhaps for Edna it was her only freedom.
There is a theme in this criticism of the conflict between internal and external and the pros and cons of self-discovery. It seems as when Edna made an important self-discovery, thought it was beneficial to her as a human being, the external conflict with her realization was enough to counteract the positive. It seems as if whatever Edna did there was no such “good” or “bad” result, but a mixture of both. If Edna’s external was pleased, the internal was displeased. Her life was in a constant state of binary opposition, and with this criticism, I agree.
The piece from The Norton Critical Edition I chose was Sexuality, Maternity, and Selfhood, by Lee R. Edwards. This article takes apart Edna’s sexual awareness in the book, The Awakening. Edna is an unusual character, straying apart from the typical female in the story and stumbling into her sexual awareness which drives her to come in to her own in the book. Edna is married to Leonce Ponteiller, and I believe that she is unhappy with her marriage. She neglects her children and her husband, and she realizes this, yet she does not know why.
It’s interesting, to pick this apart, because this was/ is the normal role for a female in a marital relationship. To care for the family with nurture, yet she could not do so. She was not driven to complete this task and she wanted to know why. Her friend, Madame Ratignolle, was a loving wife and mother. She was supportive of her family and fulfilled her role as caretaker with ample readiness. On the other hand, Edna could not. Her family did not interest her.
What did interest her though, was her other friend, Robert. Robert would talk to her, touch her, and not really rely on her for anything, but yet he was special to her. Robert falls in love with Edna, and because he cannot have her as his wife, he leaves, to go to Mexico. When he is in Mexico, he does not write to her like he promised, but writes letters to Madame Riez, describing how he missed Edna, with all his heart. Madame Riez showed these letters to the broken hearted Edna, who was then filled with confusion. Why couldn’t he tell her that? But instead of becoming depressed, she fulfilled herself by reading the letters that Madame Riez allowed her peruse.
While waiting for Robert’s return from Mexico, she is flattered by a young man named Alcee, who she ends up having an affair with. So now she has a husband she neglects, a man she loves, and a paramour. Yet you still cannot help but feel sympathy for her. She cannot find what she wants, but she is trying (something that many women never have the courage to do.) to find happiness somewhere other than her given life. And as she searches, she separates from husband, and her children, to move to her own house, that she is able to rent by selling her paintings. She lets go of Alcee, her paramour, when Robert arrives.
Everything she has done was for her love for Robert. And when she finally gets a chance to tell him about her love, and he in turn tells her, he disappears yet again. For Robert wants to marry Edna. Edna on the other hand, does not want marriage, is almost suffocated by it. And because Robert cannot have her as his wife, he disappears, yet again, leaving Edna with nothing but a tender last note.
The essay, (as well as my own opinion) believes that her sadness for the emptiness she felt inside drove her to her suicide. Her husband isn’t listening to her; he does not see her pain. Her paramour just wants her body, and her lover, refuses to love her out of wedlock. As she drifts into the sea, she thinks of her children, of how she loves them. Yet she feels as if she cannot turn back. That it is already too late. She had been in a comatose state of unfeeling love for so long, it just refused to register in her mind what death really was.
I believe that it was almost comforting for the reader to know that her last fleeting thoughts were not about her love triangle, but were about her children, and how she loved them. Her last maternal instinct before her life ended, if you will.
The Awakening Article Summary: “The Second Coming of Aprhodite”
I. Gilbert, Sandra M. “The Second Coming of Aphrodite: Kate Chopin’s Fantasy of Desire.” Kenyon Review 5 (Summer 1983): 42-66.
II. In her article “The Second Coming of Aphrodite,” feminist literary critic Sandra M. Gilbert argues that in The Awakening Kate Chopin attempts to construct protagonist Edna Pontellier in the image of Aphrodite, goddess of love, “as an alternative to the masculinist and patriarchal myth of Jesus” (271). According to Gilbert, Chopin’s Edna is a response to the somewhat negative or fearful images of female sexuality and independence presented by other fin de siècle authors such as Swinburne, Flaubert, and George Eliot. Gilbert draws the conclusion that authors like Flaubert felt threatened by the increasing popularity of women writers at the end of the nineteenth century, therefore depicting women’s creativity as harmful or frightening, whereas Chopin “consistently revises [Flaubert’s] negative images of female ‘fluency’ to present not a spitefully realistic but a metaphysically lyric version of the seductive mazes of the sea from which her Venus is born, substituting the valorizations of myth for the devaluations of realism” (278).
Gilbert specifically focuses on parts of the novel that correspond to the myth of Aphrodite. One example is chapter ten, in which Edna learns to swim. Gilbert likens Edna’s spiritual birth and the new independence she gains from learning to swim with Aphrodite’s literal emergence from the water. She also points out the religious or ritualistic elements of the novel, namely Edna’s “communion” (276) on Chenière Caminada and her dinner party, which functions as a Last Supper. Gilbert uses these scenes as evidence that Chopin constructs a more matriarchal or woman-centered mythology to counter harmful images of women that are produced in literature because of patriarchal religions such as Christianity.
III. I agree with Gilbert that it is easy to misconstrue some elements of The Awakening; Edna’s suicide, for example, could be viewed as a defeat, and her rejection of Christianity could associate her with all the negative connotations carried by the word “pagan.” Gilbert is arguing, however, that Edna’s suicide is a return to mysterious, erotic, feminine world, and that her need to identify with paganism is empowering to her. According to Gilbert, The Awakening is not merely “a ‘Creole Bovary,’ a feminist ‘critique of the identity of ‘mother-women,’’ a New Orleans version of ‘the familiar transcendentalist fable of the soul’s emergence’” but that “what unifies and dramatizes these often divergent matters…is the way in which, for all its surface realism, The Awakening is allusively organized by Kate Chopin’s…distinctly feminist fantasy of the second coming of Aphrodite” (272). I agree with Gilbert that Chopin’s use of imagery associated with the myth of Aphrodite gives Edna’s moods and actions new depth and meaning.
I am also interested in Gilbert’s comparison of Edna and Robert’s experiences to a fairy tale. Gilbert points out that their fantasizing and conspiratorial conversation about exploring Grande Terre prevent Edna from sitting through the church service and eventually lead to her day’s long sleep. It is significant that Edna’s awakening begins on an island: “the colony where she comes to consciousness is situated, like so many places that are significant for women, outside patriarchal culture, beyond the limits of a city where men make history, on one of those magical shores that mark the margin where nature intersects with culture” (272). Edna’s ability to realize her desires is limited when she returns to New Orleans, which further emphasizes the fact that her fantasy-like experience is unrealistic and impossible.
The Awakening Summaries from Norton Edition
I. Bibliographic Information for Contemporary Reviews (p. 161-173):
Monroe, Lucy, “Chicago’s New Books,” March 1899, Book News.
Porcher, Frances, “Kate Chopin’s Novel,” The Mirror 9, 4 May 1899.
“Notes from Bookland,” St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, 13 May 1899.
Deyo, C.L., “The Newest Books,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 20 May 1899.
“Books of the Day,” Chicago Times-Herald, 1 June 1899.
“Novels and Tales,” The Outlook, 3 June 1899.
“Books of the Week,” Providence Sunday Journal, 4 June 1899.
“New Publications,” New Orleans Times-Democrat, 18 June 1899.
“Book Reviews,” Public Opinion, 22 June 1899.
“Fiction,” Literature 4, 23 June 1899.
“100 Books for Summer,” New York Times, 24 June 1899.
“Fresh Literature,” Los Angeles Sunday Times, 25 June 1899.
Cather, Willa, “Books and Magazines,” Pittsburgh Leader, 8 July 1899.
Payne, William Morton, “Recent Fiction,” The Dial 37, 1 August 1899.
“Recent Novels,” The Nation 69, 3 August 1899.
“Literature,” The Congregationalist, 24 August 1899.
One remark appears in all of the criticisms of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening—Chopin is an excellent, beautifully skilled writer. However, most of the criticisms are negative, and some that are more kind to Chopin are, nevertheless, anxious to convey that they do not support or approve of the subject content contained within the novel. Lucy Monroe, in her review of Chopin’s work, writes that Chopin proves her artistic ability by creating an intricate character in Edna, who, while she is often in the wrong, nevertheless appeals to readers. C.L. Deyo has a similar reaction in his criticism, declaring that the novel’s subject is hard to handle, but Chopin has successfully managed to do so. Deyo also continues to explain that the novel is not only skillfully written, but it is also unlike any other novel. As a book, it is solid and contains no unnecessary details that hinder the overall understanding of the story.
The majority of the reviews, however, are highly negative. Many of the critics express their feelings that they believe it was pointless for Chopin to write the novel. Frances Porcher writes that while the novel itself was well written, the content—the focus on the sinfulness of a woman—makes the reader disgusted and tired of “human nature” (163). Another critic judges that Chopin should not have written the novel because, as many of the critics express, the subject is common and did not need to be described in writing. Many of the negative reviewers also express disappointment in Chopin based upon their expectations for her as a writer. The Awakening is unlike anything that she has previously written and they feel that she disgraces herself.
Finally, and perhaps the most crucial criticism, reviewers felt that the story’s content was morally inappropriate because of its sensuality. One criticism from The Outlook (the author is unknown) expresses the opinion that the sensual elements within the novel are disgusting, and many other reviews are filled with this same sentiment. Several criticisms describe the book as unhealthy or unwholesome and clearly express that they do not support the sensuality or the theme within the book.
I agree with most of what the various criticisms expressed—that the novel is well written but is disturbing nonetheless. In the criticism entitled “Notes from Bookland” from the St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat the author writes, “It is not a healthy book; if it points any particular moral or teaches any lesson, the fact is not apparent. But there is no denying the fact that it deals with existent conditions, . . .” (163). Indeed, the fact that Chopin does not seem to include her opinion or judgment of Edna bothers me. I am not sure that this is one of the faults of the novel, however, because it takes great skill to step outside of the issue and write neutrally on a subject about which one feels strongly. But I do agree that the book is not healthy, just as many humans are not healthy, because it shows the dark, awful yet true, side of human nature that no one likes to admit to having.
Several of the critics also express concern that young people will read the novel and that the novel will damage those young readers, putting unwholesome and dangerous thoughts into their minds, causing them to think about inappropriate subjects which they cannot fully understand. A criticism from the Providence Sunday Journal, taken from the article “Books of the Week,” reads, “The worst of such stories is that they will fall into the hands of youth, leading them to dwell on things that only matured persons can understand, and promoting unholy imaginations and unclean desires” (167). I agree that the novel could cause corruptness among young people, and I also agree that the reader must be older and more mature to understand the book. The book is complex and deals with confusing, alarming, and difficult issues, and must, therefore, be approached with knowledge and experience.
Skarns, Kimberly R.
I. Marie Fletcher. The Southern Woman in Fiction. 1966. “The Southern Woman in the Fiction of Kate Chopin.”
II. Fletcher highlights the lifestyle of the Southern woman (specifically Creole women) by identifying the specific differences between them and that of Edna Pontellier’s lifestyle, especially her “rebellion” against her societal role. Fletcher notes that Creole wives are defined by their roles as a wife and mother, whereas Edna cannot identify herself as such. Additionally, Fletcher makes mention of the Creole woman’s dedication to her role as wife and mother in order to better emphasize Edna’s lack of family commitment.
III. I agree with Fletcher in that she is very accurate with her depiction of the Creole women and their societal roles as well as the overwhelming amount of acceptance of that role. Fletcher states, “Mrs. Pontellier is sharply contrasted with the other New Orleans matrons so that the qualities of Creole wives and mothers are emphasized. She is definitely not one of the ‘mother women’ who prevail on the island…” Additionally, Edna’s personality and role conflict is further recognized through Fletcher’s notion that, “Creole women in being able to continue as a long-suffering, self-sacrificing, faithful and loyal wife and mother when love is gone…” of which Edna cannot bring herself to maintain the love for her children and the continuation of her family duties because she is no longer romantically in love with her husband Leonce any longer.
[Contrasting Forces in the Novel],” Essays on American Literature in Honor of Jay B. Hubbell. Ed. Clarence Gohdes. Durham: Duke University Press, 1967. 215-28.
II. George Arms focuses his essay, “Contrasting Forces in the Novel,” on the ways in which Edna is represented through Chopin’s eyes as contrasting each other. The important thing to note is that Arms does not say that Chopin presents Edna or her feelings in a contradictory way, just contrasting. Arms points out four specific contrasting points in the novel: First, Arms writes about the scene at the beginning of the novel when Edna is describing walking through a field as a young girl. He repeats that Edna is doing this as a part of growing up; a way to get away from the constraints of her family and her father. However, she contrasts this purposefulness with the aimlessness with which she wanders. She seems to have no destination or reason for walking, though she explained to Madame Ratignolle earlier that she was trying to free herself from her childhood and her home life.
The second contrasting force, according to Arms, is, simply put, the difference between Edna’s awakening and her constant sleeping. Though she is coming to an awakening of herself throughout the novel, at the most crucial parts in these she seems to suffer from frightfully frequent fatigue. When she goes to the island for church with Robert, she is so overcome with fatigue during the service that she must leave and sleep at a friend’s house nearby for quite a long time. Arms cites the incident early in the novel when Robert and Edna walk back to her cottage and she must rest on the hammock while Robert sits to smoke a cigarette. These are crucial times for her since these encounters with Robert build the feelings that give way to her awakening, but she seems to just keep falling asleep.
Arms provides, as the third example, information showing the contrasting forces of romance and realism in Edna’s awakening. He quotes Chopin’s description of Edna as beginning to realize her place in the world and the boundaries within which she must live, showing realism in her decision, according to Arms. However, Chopin also uses this romantic ideal of Edna separating from or shedding the outward self she had carried to wear her inside self more freely. These two ideals, according to Arms, are very contrasting in that Edna often thinks in terms of realistic actions, but also in romantic ones, and acts upon both.
The final example was of the children. This was not set up so easily in Arms’ essay, as it was not an easy topic to address throughout the novel. Arms writes about how it is very interesting that Edna does not seems to be very attached to her children, described by Chopin and other characters in the novel as not being very motherly, and every pushes them away at times when she should be caring for them. This can be seen, according to Arms, through the scene with the child’s fever at Grand Isle. However, when she has done something that would be looked upon as inappropriate, she clings to them. Arms writes that this can be seen as a type of penance for Edna. Arms writes that she coddles her children after having an emotionally connecting scene with Robert and visits them in the country after starting an affair with Arobin.
Finally, Arms argues that through these obvious contrasting forces, Chopin is able to interject her opinion throughout the book while being a non-intrusive writer.
III. I enjoyed this essay and the point that Arms brought up in it. Arms writes: “[Chopin] writes as a non-intrusive author but principally presents her material with a sense of constant contrast… essentially as the author’s way of looking at life.” This idea of the contrasting forces as a way for Chopin to subtly impress her views of the world is an excellent one, showing not only the diversity of the Chopin but a whole new way of viewing the narrator’s commentary throughout the novel.
The most intelligent observation that Arms makes in his essay, I think, is when he is discussing the children’s role in the novel and Edna’s awakening, particularly what they represent. Arms argues that “the children stand for a stable society and the permanency of an unbroken home.” This argument, especially when incorporated with the way Edna pulls the children in after doing something inappropriate, physically or emotionally, is very stable. After Edna does something that she knows would be considered wrong, something very daring for her, she clings to her children by coddling them, visiting them in the country or sending them things to reinforce her love for them. In this sense, she is clinging not only to children but the life she knows and is trying to break away from because her feelings and actions are scare her, as they are completely uncharted territory. I think Arms makes a great point here, but it could have been developed much more in his essay.
I. Lee R. Edwards, “Sexuality, Maternity, and Selfhood”, Psyche as Hero: Female Heroism and Fictional Form (Middletown UP, 1984) 123-26, 130-32. Reprinted by permission of University Press of New England.
II. In this critical essay, Edwards writes on Edna’s psychic and social structures that familiarize the world around her. Edwards states that difference with her character being unsatisfactory is as equal as her world being and unsatisfactory place. As for Edna’s affairs, Edwards can relate them back to her childhood infatuations with fairy tale figures such as Prince Charming. With her fantasies with these men, Edwards illustrates how in real life there could never be a real romance between the couples, and her marriage to her husband Leonce signifies how dead she feels in her life.
The idea of mortality, marriage, and maternity Edwards shows how Edna’s awareness of these issues are raw and unfulfilled. He states that Edna’s awareness of her sexual desire is private but moves publicly because of the reproduction of children. This demand of children is then surrounded by the idea that they take over the mothers life, but Edwards wants to stress that in Edna’s case, they do not take over her soul.
Edwards emphasizes the way that Chopin tries to give the character of Edna individuality, but by her husband she is buckled down and restricted as property instead of being his wife and lover. When accompanied by her lovers, Edna feels some sort of release but is pushed down again when she realizes one of the men she loves Robert, has the same values as her husband, and is once again let down in her dream of life. When she finally feels alive is when she takes her life, for herself, no one else.
III. This criticism I find to be realistic from the reading. It is true that Edna Pontellier never wanted or asked to be a mother. From the criticism, “Edna walks down to the Gulf, and her children appear before her like antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered and sought out to drag her soul’s slavery for the rest of her days.” 285. I agree that her children had an enormous part of her death, but like her offspring, the men she opened her heart to had a big influence as well. Edwards also states how Robert had an influence over Edna, “If merging with Robert means marriage, marriage to Edna, means death” 284. This means that in no way would she be happy with her life she has been given, or by taking a new life. She must take her life into her own hands, and if that means by suicide, then so be it.
I also agree with Edwards view on Edna’s sexuality, and how her passions are tied down with thoughts from her previous marriage. She wants to have a lust full of passion and romance like fairy tales, but knows that her lover Robert wants to same thing, and can be compared to her husband Leonce.
Edna lives a very unsatisfactory life, with her marriage, as well as her children. Edwards did a great job in stating the facts that lie underneath the mind of Edna Pontellier. Her fantasies never become a reality due because there is no such thing as a fairy tale ending. For Edna, life means death and Edwards did a great job explaining why that is.
Author: Elizabeth Ammons
Title: Women of Color in The Awakening
Source: Conflicting Stories: American Women Writers at the Turn Into the Twentieth Century
Elizabeth Ammons opens up her critical essay on The Awakening strong but writing about all of the names that black women are given in this controversial novel. These names include: black, mulatto, quadroon, and Griffe. Ammons begins to even state that Chopin is “both in and out of control of this political story” (309). She then describes the character Victor Lebrun who is verbally abusive to his black servant and punishes her for doing her job of letting Edna into the house. Ammons also comments on the way that the black characters in the novel emerge from their hiding places that leave them nameless and unimportant to the story, to legitimate characters that have an impact on decisions made throughout the novel. Even though that Chopin seems to have these black characters with real purposes, she does not seem to escape from the stereotypical and degrading themes within The Awakening.
Ammons writes about that the way Edna achieved her freedom was through manipulating and making sure that women of lower class and other races do not succeed. It is also written in this critical essay that the ones who are oppressed in this novel are the ones who actually deserve the freedom that Edna receives. It is a story of someone finding her place and her voice among those who do not see women as equal. It is the characters who do not have a voice that deserve to earn that freedom.
Ammons refers to the upper white class women that grew up privileged and receive all the things that they could ever want. She also refers to those that actually deserve it and how these types of people throughout this novel oppress them.
I believe that Ammons assumptions are valid. She makes strong points against the actual meaning of the text. There is a definite racist undertone and it does seem silly that there is an emphasis on the “awakening” of Edna, a woman who is provided with all that she could want and still wants more. Yes, she does have an important goal for herself, to be heard and seen as something more than just a woman, but I think to have all of these “nameless” characters throughout the novel and not even have one reach that type of awakening seems to be a direct attack towards that race.
Ammons does come off a little strong by attacking other analyzers of the story and the intentions of Chopin’s piece. I do not believe that it was written to show the supposed superiority of the one race over the other, but I do believe that there is a definite undertone. Ammons critical essay definitely made me look into this novel more carefully and dissect it in a completely new and different way. This is a strong critical essay and the points that are brought up in it need to be discussed after the initial reading of it. It opens up a new and interesting perspective that you can decide if it is an intention or just the writing of the time.