Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening”

The Awakening by Kate Chopin is the story of a woman in the 1890s who felt that, due to the social and moral restrictions of her era, she would never be free to live her life the way she wanted.  Chopin’s prose is beautiful, with vivid descriptions of Louisiana scenery.  Her sarcastic wit made the characters come alive, and took the edge off the sadness in this story.

Edna Pontellier’s married life in New Orleans, with her Catholic Creole husband and the customs and traditions so different from her childhood in Kentucky, leaves her wanting more.  Her husband provides her with a stately home and posh lifestyle, but views her as more of an accessory than a soulmate, caring more about what people think than how his wife feels.  Edna loves her two small sons, but motherhood is not the definition of her existence.

Kate Chopin captured the essence of late Victorian life for women, who were expected to be perfect wives and mothers content to fulfill their husbands’ every wish and keep up the appearances.  Activities like music and art were fine, as Edna’s husband points out, as long as they didn’t interfere with her social obligations.

In the story, Edna’s very soul seems to be awakened when she starts to fall for a man known for flirting.  When she stops her Tuesday open house to visitors, takes up a serious interest in sketching, and befriends a pianist disliked for speaking her mind, her husband fears she’s losing her mind.  And when another man is enchanted by Edna, it only adds to her depression and struggle to find herself.

I totally recommend this novel as well as Kate Chopin’s short stories, my favorite of which was ‘Desiree’s Baby’.