[Review] The Awakening - Kate Chopin

Title of Book:
The Awakening
Author: Kate Chopin
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Publication Year: 2018
Language: English
Format: Paperback
Pages: 188

'The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamouring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude...'
When 'The Awakening' was first published in 1899, charges of sordidness and immorality seemed to consign it into obscurity and irreparably damage its author's reputation. But a century after her death, it is widely regarded as Kate Chopin's great achievement. Through careful, subtle changes of style, Chopin shows the transformation of Edna Pontellier, a young wife and mother, who - with tragic consequences - refuses to be caged by married and domestic life, and claims for herself moral and erotic freedom.
The Penguin English Library - collectable general readers' editions of the best fiction in English, from the eighteenth century to the end of the Second World War.

This edition of the Awakening collects four short stories and a novella which becomes the title of this book. The Awakening itself is a novella first published in 1899. It tells a story of Edna Pontellier, a married woman who was ‘awaken’ to find that she too can have personal and sexual freedom. It all started one summer when she met a charming young man named Robert Leburn. Since then, she began her journey on self realization.

I must say I didn’t expect to find that this book has so many negative reviews. Upon further research, apparently it’s either because Edna comes across as a spoiled woman who abandoned her children or because of her infidelity. I won’t say that I agree with all of her behavior and what I’m going to write here is not me trying to justify her actions. However, considering her upbringing and the societal norms at the time she lived, I wouldn’t be surprised she behaved the way she did.

First of all, when Edna left her children at her parents’ home, I understand why she did so. Of course what we read in this book is only a part of Edna’s life after she found that she too could have individual freedom. I assume up until this moment, she’s been a decent mother who fits society expectation on what being a good mother at the time. So she decided to take a break which I personally think is humane. Everyone need that once in a while. Besides, it’s not like she just went ahead and left her children, she thought it through and considered that the setup is the best option for all.

If we’re talking about what she did in the end, I’d put it like this, Edna was a person, a woman, who’s been sheltered all her life. Then she found that she could have her own thoughts, passion, and dreams which she needed to figure out first. That could be overwhelming. Unfortunately, most people around her didn’t give proper reactions and support that she needed, causing her to respond to the situation inappropriately. Hence, the tragic end of this novella. If anything, I see this novella as a cautionary tale. As a woman who lives in the 21st century, I’m glad that I was raised fully aware that I have my own choice and voice. That more and more people now understand when we know an Edna in our life, instead of judging or shunning her, we should treat her with compassion and give the support she needs. Nowadays there are people who have the proper knowledge to help too. Though there’s still a lot that we need to work on, at least it’s a bit better than Edna’s time.

Having read this novella, I understand why it is considered as one of the earliest feminist reads. It’s definitely way ahead of its time and I applaud Chopin for it. Aside of the Awakening, this book also include short stories called Desiree’s Baby, Lilacs, Miss McEnders, and A Pair of Silk Stockings. Of the four, Desiree’s Baby is the one which stands out to me. It shows the example of double standard which applied to women. Basically, the story tells how whenever there’s something wrong in a relationship or marriage in this case, people quick to put the blame on the women. The story takes a dark turn in the end which further prove the point.

Overall, I think the Awakening can be considered as the important feminist read. It could give us a grasp on the history of women’s role in society. Instead of judging quickly and only see the flaws of this book, I’d suggest to read it to get a new viewpoint of the issue. I recommend this book to read for that reason.

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