Friday, August 13, 2010

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

I've gone back to the classics recently, and found the experience very enriching, especially with Kate Chopin's short novel--The Awakening.

The book is short but the language is gorgeous. Chopin gives us a vision of the Creole society and its air of aristocratic resignation. Edna Pontellier, an American, marries Leonce Pontellier and dives into the Creole world. I began reading the book with thoughts of feminism hovering over my head. I expected outright scenes of the oppression and repression of women. However, as I progressed in my reading, such preconceptions fell away. Leonce is an adoring husband who, while watching Edna closely, lets her do as she pleases, even flirt with other men as she does in Grand Isle. Narry a word is spoken, nor signs of jealousy arise from Edna's seemingly inappropriate behavior toward other men. Yet it appears that it is exactly this silence that points to the bondage of Edna's awakening spirit to the Creole society's idiosyncratic logic and mores.

Edna appears apathetic at the beginning. Her marriage is peaceful, but it is as placid as a stagnant lake. She takes everything as they come, after all, she can pretty much do what she wants. It is when Edna goes to Grand Isle that Edna's soul is stirred from slumber. A certain duality becomes apparent--the city and nature. In the city, Edna is wrapped in an illusion of freedom, never realizing that she can only move within society's mores. However, in Grand Isle, nature takes its hold of her when she develops an infatuation toward Robert Lebrun--a passion verily absent in her manicured home life.

The sea is a recurring theme. Its inexorable flow whispers of both its sensous touch and its deathly grip. When Edna chooses the sea at the end, the act becomes the climax of her emancipation. She takes hold of her life, as only nature herself can do. The story becomes a gripping tale of how the act of dying can become one's ultimate awakening.
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