Kate Chopin _amp; The Awakening by ewghwehws


									Kate Chopin & The Awakening

       Literary Perspectives
    Critical Responses in 1899
           (Published April 1899)
• “Trite and sordid”
• “Essentially vulgar”
• “Unhealthily introspective and morbid in
• “. . .its disagreeable glimpses of
  sensuality are repellent" (from The
       From the St. Louis Daily
       Globe-Democrat (1899)

"It is not a healthy book; if it points any
particular moral or teaches any lesson, the
fact is not apparent. . . . Mrs. Pontellier
does not love her husband. The poison of
passion seems to have entered her system,
with her mother's milk."
From The Providence Sunday Journal (1899)

"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. It is nauseating to
  remember that those who object to the
  bluntness of our older writers will
  excuse and justify the gilded dirt of
  these latter days."
The Chicago Tribune June 1, 1899

      “That the book is strong and that
Miss Chopin has a keen knowledge of
certain phases of feminine character will
not be denied. But it was not necessary
for a writer of so great refinement and
poetic grace to enter the overworked field
of sex fiction.”
From The Nation (1899)
"Had [Chopin] lived by Prof. William James's
  advice to do one thing a day one does not
  want to do (in Creole society, two would
  perhaps be better), flirted less and looked
  after her children more, or even assisted at
  more accouchements . . . we need not have
  been put to the unpleasantness of reading
  about her and the temptations she trumped
  up for herself."
Public Opinion, June 22, 1899
“If the author had secured our sympathy
   for this unpleasant person [Edna] it
   would have been a small victory, but we
   are well satisfied when Mrs. Pontellier
   deliberately swims out to her death in
   the waters of the gulf.”

Extracted from the Norton Critical Edition (Ed.
  Margo Culley, 2nd ed., New York: W.W.
  Norton & Company, 1994).
Chopin’s response:

“Having a group of
people at my disposal
[the characters in her
novel], I thought it might
be entertaining (to
myself) to throw them
together and see what
would happen. . . .
“I never dreamed of Mrs. Pontellier
making such a mess of things and
working out her own damnation as she
did.” (Chopin’s response cont.)

(Book   News July 1899).
     Contemporary Response to
          The Awakening
“She’s one of those writers whose sense
  of craft puts her right on the edge of
  poetry. . . . The rediscovery of The
  Awakening came as a Godsend, the
  most incredible gift to the women’s
  movement” Prof. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Emory U.

  Others deplore the novel’s “misuse as
  a political manifesto” for feminism.
“The Awakening is consummate art.
The theme is difficult, but it is handled
with cunning craft. The work is more
than unusual. It is unique. The integrity
of its art is that of well-knit individuality
at one with itself, with nothing
superfluous to weaken the impression of
a perfect whole.”
                       C.L. Deyo, reviewer
    Contemporary Controversy

When Chopin’s work became available in
the 1970s, scholars defined her as a
feminist, a local colorist, a regionalist, a
romantic, an anti-romantic, a neo-
transcendentalist, a realist, a naturalist,
and an existentialist. Critics are still
debating the issue.
•   Realism?
•   Regionalism?
•   Local Color?
•   Naturalism?
•   Romanticism?
•   Feminism?
               On Realism
• presents an accurate imitation of life
• the characters are drawn to present the
  reader with the illusion of actual experience
• topics covered include love, marriage,
  parenthood, infidelity, and death
• characters find life dull and are often
  unhappy, but find touches of joy and beauty
  in life            (M. H. Abrams)
  On Local Color and Regionalism

fiction and poetry that focuses on the
   characters, dialect, customs,
   topography, and other features
   particular to a specific region.
Its weaknesses may include nostalgia or
        More on Local Color
• According to the Oxford Companion to
  American Literature, "In local-color
  literature one finds the dual influence of
  romanticism and realism, since the
  author frequently looks away from
  ordinary life to distant lands, strange
  customs, or exotic scenes, but retains
  through minute detail a sense of fidelity
  and accuracy of description" (439).
   Local Color vs. Regionalism
• “Regional literature incorporates the broader
  concept of sectional differences, but some
  critics have argued convincingly that the
  distinguishing characteristic that separates
  ‘local color’ writers from ‘regional’ writers is
  instead the exploitation of and condescension
  toward their subjects that the local color
  writers demonstrate” (From the Encyclopedia
  of Southern Literature).
       Local Color vs. Realism

Eric Sundquist: "Economic or political
  power can itself be seen to be definitive.
  . .those in power (say, white urban
  males) have been more often judged
  'realists,' while those removed from the
  seats of power (say, Midwesterners,
  blacks, immigrants, or women) have
  been categorized as regionalists“ (from
  the Encyclopedia of Southern
         What does Chopin do?

• Draws on personal
  experience to color
  the settings, details,
  and characters.

 •Presents a clearly drawn portrait of life on
 Grand Isle and in New Orleans.
• Shows Catholic Creoles
  with European customs,
  polyglot witty speech,
  rich agricultural
  landscape of
  Natchitoches Parish.
• Skillfully integrates
  French in the English
•Develops a moving, soaring,
lyrical, poetic style with
beautiful use of imagery

•Exceptional depictions of
nature -- not necessarily as a
benevolent force
“The naturalist often describes his
  characters as though they are
  conditioned and controlled by
  environment, heredity, instinct, or
  chance. But he also suggests a
  compensating humanistic value in his
  characters or their fates which affirms
  the significance of the individual and of
  his life. . . .
“The tension [for the naturalist writer] is. .
  .between the new, discomfiting truths. .
  .found in the ideas and life of the late
  nineteenth-century. . .and. . .his desire
  to find some meaning in experience
  which reasserts the validity of the
  human enterprise” (from Pizer’s
  Realism and Naturalism in Nineteenth-
  Century American Fiction, rev. ed.
“a tendency towards melodrama and idyll;
  a more or less formal abstractness and,
  on the other hand, a tendency to plunge
  into the underside of consciousness; a
  willingness to abandon moral questions
  or to ignore the spectacle of man in
  society, or to consider these things only
  indirectly or abstractly” (Chase, The
  American Novel and Its Tradition ix).
Chopin denied that she
was a feminist or a
suffragette. Her fiction
repeatedly deals with
female characters’
efforts to find place,
love, and autonomy in
a society that denies
these needs.
      According to Treu, Chopin took women
seriously and had a different understanding
of freedom: spirit, soul, character living life
within the constraints the world and God
      Chopin wrote about many kinds of
people, but all seem to lack a clear concept
of their own roles and purposes in life; a
constant groping for self-knowledge shapes
their personalities and actions.
Literary criticism involves judging the
value of literature based on such things as
the personal and/or cultural significance of
the themes, the uses of language, the
insights and impact, and the aesthetic
quality of the text.

Part of a critic’s job is to patrol the
boundaries of good writing and
determine what cultural value should be
placed on a text.

What constitutes, guides, and
legitimizes interpretation?
Literary theory attempts to explain what
the nature of literature is, what
functions it has, what the relation of
text is to author, to reader, to
language, to society, to history.

Since literary theory provides a position
through which or from which the
reader/critic interacts with the text, the
theoretical stance will prejudice—or at
least inform—the critic’s evaluation.
Source: Lye, John. “The Differences between Literary Criticism, Literary Theory, and ‘Theory Itself.’” For ENGL 4F70:
Contemporary Literary Criticism. St. Catherine’s, Ontario: Brock University, 1998. 18 Mar. 2005.
Theories of Literary Criticism:
Marxist: challenges power structure
Feminist: Marxist re females
New Historicist: bio & historical context
Archetypal/Mythic: universal patterns
Freudian: sexual archetypes & unconscious
New Criticism: explores how the text is written
Postmodernist/Deconstructionist: the value of
     any text is relative, personal, and
       What are her themes?
• the dilemma of an individual’s conflicting
  responsibilities to others and to herself
• a wife’s impatience and frustration with
• A rejection of the traditional roles of
• a woman’s acknowledgement of and
  responses to her sexual urges
• the results of acting on one’s nature and
• alienation
• the search for freedom
• the search for identity—a theme that
  recurs in Chopin’s work

How do her themes fit in with the
 various literary aesthetics, theories,
 and perspectives?
1. Find passages, evidence that identify it
as belonging to your literary school; then
explain how critics with your perspective
would interpret the novel (20 min.).
   CFHS: Naturalist, Feminist & Marxist
   RHS: Romantic & Archetypal/Mythic
   SHS: Realist, Regionalist & Historicist

2. Report back (3 min. each; 10 min. total)
3. Vote?

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