Oh, goodness. The Awakening. What good time I’ve had with this little gem of a novel over the years. It’s not very long, but from the ninth grade to the eleventh grade to my junior year in college, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time with the wonderful women in the world 0f Kate Chopin. For those of you who haven’t been having this book stalk you like a sociopath most of your academic career, here’s the Goodreads for you:
This story of a woman’s struggle with oppressive social structures received much public contempt at its first release; put aside because of initial controversy, the novel gained popularity in the 1960s, some six decades after its first publication, and has since remained a favorite of many readers. Chopin’s depiction of a married woman, bound to her family and with no way to assert a fulfilling life of her own, has become a foundation for feminism and a classic account of gender crises in the late Victorian era.
Edna Pontillier and all of her societal friends (and slightly less societal affairs) are, by many, considered to be a foundational part of the feminist canon. I also know quite a few people who don’t think of it that way, and instead see her choices as selfish, and her ability to be a mother ultimately non-existant. As far as my thoughts, I think it changes from woman to woman, or even from read to read. While yes, I do think that ultimately Edna’s choice is a selfish one, I don’t know if that absolves society of all the pressures, expectations, and constraints that it put around Edna’s life until she got to feeling that selfish and desperate. At the end of it all, this book is about the right for women to make choices, even those choices happen to be selfish ones. For that reason, and that reason alone (okay, and because it’s set in New Orleans, which is not only one of my favorite literary cities, but also one of my favorite series in real life) I think that all people owe it to themselves to read this book.
I’m sure this book is banned for a whole number of reasons. The primary one, I expect (although I’m sure you’d never see it listed as a reason) is because this is another book about a woman who sets out and carves her own path, who makes her own decisions and deals with the consequences and chooses not to be what society believes that she should be. And while obviously this would have been controversial at the time of publication, I think that this idea still does ruffle a lot of (male) feathers in our world. While I don’t like to sound pessimistic, I think that all too often people are willing to be complacent about feminism, believing that whole ‘woman’s lib’ thing to have been accomplished. I think, if you look deeply at the situation of many women in the world, you’ll find that this isn’t all the case. And sometimes society needs a book to remind it just how far it hasn’t come, just how much of the race there is left to run. As a side note, I’m sure the ‘promiscuous sex’ (again, relative to when it was published) also has something to do with it’s frequent challenging.