The Awakening (Overview) Chopin’s experience with Because of the death of her male domination in the home father when she was still a small child, Chopin grew up without the influence of a father. After a brief stint in a Catholic school, she went to live with her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother—all strong widows who shared a strong with ethic and strong will. Chopin’s development as The Chopin women were all gifted a story teller story tellers. Her talent, then, was nurtured from the very beginning. local color Critics have touted Chopin as a local colorist. This is a term that J. A. Cudon has defined as, “the use of detail peculiar to a particular region and environment to add interest and authenticity to a narrative. This will include some description of the locale, dress, customs, music, etc. It is for the most part decorative. When it becomes an essential and intrinsic part of the work then it is more properly called regionalism.” Critics have noted that Chopin’s classification as a local colorist has allowed her more latitude in the way of subject matter. What might otherwise have been considered to risqué for publication (especially by a woman) could be excused as the a function of particular locale and sub- culture, rather than the creation of an independent feminine mind. marriage and social class Although Oscar Chopin was a loving and devoted husband who tolerated his wife’s sense of independent spirit, Chopin apparently found the institution of marriage to be somewhat restricting. Had her husband not granted her a considerable monitary allowance and acquiesced to her need for solitude, her situation would certainly have been unbearable. The wife of a successful merchant, Chopin enjoyed luxury in her personal life. Her position as a helpmate for her husband also afforded her the opportunity to observe the less fortunate element that constituted their clientele. One cannot help but remember the short story entitled “A Pair of Silk Stockings.” In this story, the protagonist, a somewhat impoverished young mother, spends the total amount of $15 (windfall cash, the exact source of which is unknown to the reader) on extravagances for herself, NOT on necessities for her household or clothing for her children. Also, Chopin’s position in the mercantile brought her into contact with the many different cultures present in Louisiana at the time (Creole, African-American, Spanish, Native American, etc.). The experience enabled her to splash many shades of local color onto the canvas of her writing. Creole According to C. T. Onions1, “descendent of European or Negro settler in the West Indies, etc.; a negro born in Brazil, home-born slave . . . .” The term can also mean 1 C. T. Onions is the chief editor of The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. a Caucasian person who descends from French or Spanish settlers in the Gulf states. These people’s speech is infused with notably French influence, and their way of life in general pays homage to their rich cultural heritage. Cajun This is a slang term for Acadian. In fact, it was once considered an offensive term in Acadian circles. These folks are of mixed heritage: Caucasian, Native American, and African American. They settled in southwestern Alabama and certain parts of Mississippi that border Alabama. Major Themes Social Non-Conformity: particularly in relation to sexual roles for women in 19th century America. Edna breaks with tradition and becomes a social outcast as a result. Personal Alienation: this comes about as a result of being a social non-conformist. It is certainly in keeping with the predominant mood of Modernist fiction, which would follow it in about twenty years. The Need for Artistic Expression: in Chopin’s mind, it would seem that self-actualization necessitates a certain degree of artistic expression. Whereas Hurston’s Janie is a story teller, Chopin’s Edna is a painter. These are but two different media; the origin of both forms of expression is the same—a discovery of self. Major Symbols Birds: represent women whose freedom is thwarted by men. Songbirds seem to symbolize artists who must “sing” in order to live properly. In other words, the artist must have the freedom and opportunity to create. Houses: they represent familial arrangements, distribution of power, priorities, and mores. The most interesting symbol here is the pigeon house. We should remember that pigeons are archetypically associated with the delicacy and sensitivity of women. The significance of this correlation is obvious. Is this novel a “feminist” text? While the spirit of it is certainly daring, and while Chopin seems clearly to be championing feminine power and independence, I don’t think we should refer to this novel as feminist. The movement of feminism was just beginning to form and had yet to gather momentum when Chopin published The Awakening in 1899. So, in order to be proper historicists, we should refrain from using that adjective in relation to it. What shall we call this time period? I suppose we should technically call this period Victorian, although we traditionally think of Victorian literature as earlier texts. Queen Victoria reigned until 1901, so this novel “got in just under the wire,” as it were. The next period would be known as the Georgian Age, immediately followed by the Augustan. No matter how we divide these years, it is important to note that the Victorian respect for propriety and rigid mores certainly remained in place until the advent of World War I. Against this backdrop of “social propriety,” Edna comes into her own and asserts her independence. It is no wonder that Chopin has her die at the end of the novel. This world that she is in is not the world that she is of. Does that makes sense? In other words, she cannot exist in this rigidly structured and unforgiving world. Her artist’s soul cannot “breathe”; therefore, she makes her exit. What is Chopin’s tone in relation to This is a difficult question to answer. Edna’s suicide? While Chopin does not condone her actions, she does not condemn them either. It would seem that the author regards Edna’s act as a means of achieving freedom. This would certainly be in keeping with the spirit and thematic bent of the novel. Still, I have to say that suicide is NEVER a good answer. It inevitably is a far too permanent solution to a temporary problem, and no matter what Chopin’s intentions are, we must never glorify or condone suicide. Understanding this novel and discussing it with critical maturity most certainly is not synonymous with embracing its philosophy without any degree of reserve. On your exam, you should discuss this (or any other novel) as any other mature critic would do, but that does not mean that you should ever let anyone, Chopin included, tell you what to do or think. Character “Types” in this novel 1.) Adele Ratignolle: the perfect wife/mother type. Her chief concerns are the wellbeing of her family. She is self-effacing, generous, perfectly beautiful, and absolutely modest in her conduct. She is the nineteenth-century ideal. Perhaps this is why Chopin describes her as perfectly beautiful—she is what nineteenth-century society (particularly the male element) found most charming, most attractive, and most desireable. 2.) Leonce Pontellier: the “proper husband” who cares much more about appearances and shows of propriety than he does about personal fulfillment and individualism. 3.) Mademoiselle Reisz: the uncompromising artist. No sacrifice is to great for art. She has never married and never has had children. She is a consummate pianist, and is one of the few characters who can really see into the hearts of others. She is a non-conformist and encourages Edna to be as well. She is outspoken and courageous. 4.) Mariequita: the shameless (“hussy”) flirt. Her bare feet and her sense of abandon are meant to indicate that she is an entirely natural creature. In other words, her sexuality is not repressed at all. While Edna does not intend to be an Adele figure, I must suspect that she has no desire to be a Mariequita figure either. 5.) The Farival Twins: the prototype for “nice,” unmarried young girls. They are perfectly charming. While they are musicians, they lack the true spirit of the artist. They use their talent to entertain and amuse. They are tedious and somewhat bothersome. 6.) The Lady in Black: the representation of a woman whose husband has died and who has decided to live the rest of her life as a testimony to her love and admiration for him. In essence, she denies her own desires and aspirations in an attempt to glorify and honor a dead spouse. It is no accident that wherever we see the young lovers, we also see the Lady in Black. 7.) The Lovers: self-evident 8.) Robert Lebrun: the young lothario who woos without promise. He is chivalrous, but his romantic intentions are somewhat amorphous. Alcee Arobin is the completion of the Robert Lebrun “type.” He is less “gentlemanly” in his romantic ventures. How’s that for euphemism??!! The Awakening (chapter 1) Grand Isle This is a lavish resort for the wealthy and is located on the Gulf of Mexico. For information about modern-day Grand Isle, consult www.grand- isle.com Another worthwhile site to visit is www.literarytraveler.com/summer/so uth/Chopin.htm (You’ll have to forgive the melodramatic bent of this woman’s style, but it is interesting to look at this article for its practical value; for instance, she notes that Grand Isle was all but destroyed by a hurricane in 1893, so the community that remains bears little resemblance to the one with which Chopin was so familiar.) noisy birds It is interesting that the novel begins with a mention of how the noise of a parrot and a mockingbird so annoy Leonce, that he leaves the house. If the birds (particularly the latter) represents thinking, sensitive womanhood, then how must this reflect on Edna’s husband? Will he emerge victorious from the “struggle” that follows? The parrot is often thought of as a brainless bird that mimics what it hears without any degree of understanding; hence, the expression to parrot someone means to repeat what that person says without personal conviction or legitimate comprehension. Still, Chopin notes that, in addition to crying out the admonition of “Go Away . . .,” this parrot is speaking a language unique to itself, a language that no one but perhaps the mockingbird can understand. The implication is that it seeks to express itself, but no one is willing to hear or understand. Traditionally, critics have identified this bird as Edna, a burgeoning artist who is yet to understand herself or assert her artistic independence. The mockingbird, in contrast, tends to elicit much more favorable associations. We think of mockingbirds as symbols of gifted musicians whose artistic expression has the potential to nourish the soul and gladden the heart. Critics traditionally identify this bird as Mademoiselle Reisz, a mature artist who can recognize artistic potential in others. This makes sense, as she is the only character in this novel who really understands Edna and encourages her to grow independently and live on her own terms. It is interesting that both birds, even the latter, are caged. If the critics are correct along these lines, then is Chopin here implying that no matter how independent a woman becomes, she can never completely break the shackles of socio-sexual subjugation. Leonce’s comment about Edna’s Leonce’s admonition does not result tanned skin from his concern for his wife’s welfare, but rather his displeasure in having one of his possessions somehow marred. Clearly, he is concerned that Edna always reflect well on him. . The Awakening (chapter 2) Robert’s mention of Mexico This serves as foreshadowing. Also, Mexico is rather exotic, just as Robert becomes in Edna’s estimation. An interesting side note here is that Robert is given to such claims about leaving for Mexico, but has more full youthful bombast than he has reliability in this regard. In fact, Chopin’s description of Robert highlights his youth and inexperience. The effect is always endearing rather than accusatory. Edna’s upbringing The fact that Edna comes from Kentucky shows us that she is not really part of this environment. Because she stands apart from these Creole women, it is even easier for the reader to identify her as an outcast figure later on. We have come to associate wildness and rugged individualism with Kentucky. It is also noted for horse racing, a passion of Edna’s. Chopin’s description of Edna recalls the beauty and strength of a thoroughbred; this character has a marked degree of stubbornness and effrontery. Otherwise, she would never find the gall to stand so firmly against convention. We might also call Edna a “dark horse.” This term actually has little to do with real horses. It was a term originally coined to describe political candidates about whom little is known. This absence of familiarity or knowledge about someone makes that person a bit more exotic and, in a strange way, attractive to others. Nowadays, we tend to use the term to describe elusive and confident women (ordinarily with dark features) who exude strength and a certain sense of unstated danger. Although this description does not fit the Edna we meet in the beginning of the novel, some would argue that it certainly fits the transformed Edna we come to know by the end of the narrative. The Awakening (chapter 3) Leonce’s admonition The motivation for Leonce’s displeasure is somewhat questionable here. He may well be genuinely concerned that Edna is not caring properly for the children, but this interpretation is unlikely since he does not himself seem overly nurturing or even selfless enough to care about Raoul’s welfare. It is far more likely that he is threatened by Edna’s cavalier attitude toward her household. He comes upon her as she is sleeping—oblivious to all concern. This is somehow inappropriate in his estimation. Interrupting Edna’s slumber It is ironic that Leonce seeks to awaken Edna, when her metaphorical “awakening” will certainly displease him gravely. Leonce as a “good husband” Edna’s agreement that Leonce is the best husband she has yet encountered is a somewhat humorous response. If Leonce is the best, then how miserable must be the worst? LOL Edna’s reaction (crying) Edna’s bizarre reaction to Leonce’s outburst is clearly the result of more than her husband’s displeasure. The omniscient narrator notes that Edna is not entirely of why she is crying. In fact, it is her confusion about her emotional reaction that is more disturbing than the altercation itself. She seems to be climbing out of a slumber of another sort—a dream state in which she moves and operates in a world that she does not really embrace but which has claimed her anyway. For the first time, she is becoming aware of her abiding displeasure with her subordinate role in marriage. The Awakening (chapter 4) Adele Ratignolle see overview Creole women (their community) These women speak freely with one another regarding marriage, childbirth, sex, etc. Edna finds this candor shocking, yet somehow attractive (eventually). Her realization that she too is invited to speak candidly on these topics is a significant moment in her metaphorical awakening. We should not see this candor among the Creole women as an indication of their individuality. On the contrary, they have completely submitted to social expectation, relinquishing all claim to individual spirit. They are instead “mother-women”; that is, their entire reason for being (raison d’etre) is motherhood, marriage, and household. The Awakening (chapter 5) Robert’s summer routine Each summer Robert chooses one unattainable, married woman as his beloved. He and she flirt and pretend to regard one another with romantic passion, but none of this is serious. The relationship is never consummated, and no one ever gets jealous. This is noteworthy because Edna is not a part of this sub-culture and does not understand this silly dynamic. Robert seems also to understand that Edna is not to be treated so lightly as these others. The difference seems somewhat endearing at this point, but the later repercussions will perhaps prove tragic2. It will all depend on the individual reader’s interpretation of Edna’s demise. Edna’s sketch of Adele The likeness is not a good one. Perhaps this is meant as an indication that Edna’s artistic vision is not yet clear. Her development into a mature artist is not nearly complete—in fact, it has barely begun at this point. Also, she is just now beginning to see Adele as a perfect “mother-woman.” Doesn’t it, then, make sense that she cannot yet render her likeness on the canvas (sketch pad)? The Awakening (chapter 6) excerpt significance . . . Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to Again, we have the image of a woman realize her position in the universe as awakening to a reality previously hidden a human being, and to recognize her from her. This is a controlling metaphor of relations as an individual to the world the novel—OBVIOUSLY! The most within and about her. This may seem interesting bit of this cutting has to do with like a ponderous weight of wisdom the idea of wisdom as it comes to a woman. to descend upon the soul of a young Chopin issues an indictment of God here; woman of twenty-eight—perhaps She seems to be saying that even God is more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is unwilling to deal fairly with women—most usually pleased to vouchsafe to any women, in any case. Edna, it would seem, is woman. destined to see more than the average woman. She is an extraordinary creature. Let me ask you—is Chopin perhaps implying that Edna is actually an allegorical representation of the woman of the future. After all, the very next paragraph speaks of the feelings of uncertainty that accompany all beginnings—the beginning of things, of a world especially . . . . Does Chopin here 2 in the Aristotelian sense envision a “new woman” who will go beyond the boundaries previously established by God (here, certainly a male conception of God) and the world of men? The voice of the sea is seductive; Clearly, the sea is associated with the advent never ceasing, whispering, of a new sense of self. Imagine the sound of clamoring, murmuring, inviting crashing waves and the seemingly endless the soul to wander for a spell in depths of dark, eerie, inviting water. Does abysses of solitude; to lose itself the association make sense? in mazes of inward contemplation. The Awakening (chapter 7) Why is it important that Edna has Edna has not been open with others because not previously been one to confide she has not been in tune with herself. in others or share her feelings Chopin notes that this character has been openly? driven by habit rather than spontaneity. She mentions a particular moment of childhood in which Edna “swam” as she walked through tall grass. Here we have a key moment in which the sea metaphor (suggesting the advent of knowledge and freedom) that controls the novel is linked to a “natural” and spontaneous act of childhood. Once again, in a sense, Edna is a child, but this time, she really will grow into spiritual adulthood—which is, of course, synonymous with independent thought and action. Edna’s repression It would seem that Edna has never been comfortable with her womanhood. Her girlish infatuations with the officer and the tragedian seem less than complete. Instead of healthy “crushes,” they seem to have been a source of confusion and discomfort for this confused young woman. When, earlier in the novel, Edna recoils from Robert’s touch (while she was sketching Adele), we see evidence of this same repression. If Edna has suffered from an inability to tolerate her own “romantic” drives and instincts, then her eventual acceptance of those feelings becomes even more monumental. Her marriage to Leonce Pontellier Edna fancied that she and Leonce shared was purely an accident, in this ideas and thought alike—in which fancy she respect resembling many other was mistaken. Chopin implies that this may marriages which masquerade as well be the case in many other marriages, the decrees of Fate. yet those who find themselves so duped are far too often willing to see the unions that they have forged as determined, or necessitated, by cruel fate. The implications are heavy here. What do you make of this passage? The Awakening (chapter 8) Adele’s warning When Adele warns Robert to leave Edna alone, he takes offense. This chapter is interesting because later text will show that he never seriously loves Edna; what, then, is his motivation for continuing to pursue this woman? No one seems to take him seriously, so if he feels that this woman may do just that, is it understandable that he would continue the pursuit despite Adele’s warning? The Awakening (chapter 9) The difference between Chopin shows us several pianists in this entertainment and art chapter. None can inspire emotion in Edna but the irascible Mademoiselle Reisz. Adele’s playing makes her imagine various scenes and “see” the emotion that the music should inspire, but that’s all. It must be the conviction and purpose behind the performance that constitutes the difference. The Farival twins and Adele do not aspire to more than entertaining friends. Their priorities are certainly different from the much more serious and unconventional Reisz. Edna’s reaction to Reisz’s playing Edna is not prepared for the heady reaction she experiences. At the same time that she is awakening to her sensuality, she is also awakening to art. Robert’s suggestion (a moonlight Here we have a most timely suggestion; swim) Edna’s reaction to Mademoiselle Reisz’s playing suggests another incremental movement toward self-actualization. Clearly, Chopin has linked the sea to Edna’s journey inward. Robert’s suggestion at this particular moment (unbeknownst to him, no doubt) connects the two once more. The Awakening (chapter 10) Technical climax The moment that Edna steps into the water and begins to swim in incredibly significant. In an instant her fear leaves her and she resolves to swim far beyond the reach of the others on the beach. She will swim out farther than any other woman has done. Clearly, this “distance” that Chopin speaks of is far more metaphorical than literal. Edna has finally consciously resolved to disregard convention and live for herself. This is the technical climax of the novel3. Chopin even speaks of her in terms of a stumbling, unsteady child at this point. The water, in this instance, might also remind us of the emersion of a babe from the amniotic fluid in the womb. Just a thought! Edna’s fear of the sea Even though she is invigorated and excited as she dares to swim out so far, Edna is also frightened. She realizes that she could 3 technical climax: point at which power changes hands drown if she goes too far, but this flirtation with death heightens, rather than “kills” her excitement. Gotta love those puns!! Edna’s attraction to Robert It makes sense that Edna should fully discover her attraction for Robert at this particular point in the novel. After all, she has now fully awakened, so her passions become absolutely evident to her. But it is also interesting to think of how insignificant this particular man is in the grand scheme of this novel. Robert’s individuality is of no narrative consequence; he might just as well be any other man to whom Edna might find herself attracted. The Awakening (chapter 11) Why is Leonce’s request that A better question would be why is her Edna go inside significant? refusal to submit significant. She realizes that she has obeyed Leonce in the past, but she will no longer do that. She pleases herself, remaining in the hammock until she is ready to go elsewhere. The Awakening (chapter 12) The lady in black Chopin keeps the lady in black always close at hand in this chapter. She is reminiscent of the blind beggar in Madame Bovary. One must wonder if she is more a means of foreshadowing future calamity (death) than she is an indication/reminder of how “proper” women should act once their husbands are dead. I suppose it is true that Leonce is, in a sense, dead to Edna at this point, but marriage seems to have become entirely unimportant in the thematic structure of this novel, now that Edna has “awakened.” What do you make of the omnipresence of this looming, ominous figure in this particular chapter? The Awakening (chapter 13) all this on Sunday! Edna’s excursion with Robert comes to pass on a Sunday. They even go to mass but do not stay until the end of the service, since Edna finds herself feeling drowsy and irritated. This is curious since Chopin has made it perfectly evident that Edna has finally awakened to her own desires and thoughts. Why is it that the church service has made her drowsy? Is the institution of religion seeking to suppress her once again? One shouldn’t wonder why Chopin garnered such negative reviews; this borders on blasphemy. Edna’s “baptism” Edna drinks water from the well. Critics have long drawn a connection between this water, that comes from “mother earth,” and the water used for the sacrament of baptism. The former is obviously more secular— AND more appropriate for her new identity. The food at Madame Antoine’s Edna finds this food especially delicious. This is an indication that all of her appetites are stronger now. The Awakening (chapter 14) Adele vs. Edna During Edna’s absence, Adele has cared for Leonce and Etienne. The contrast between the women has never been sharper than it is at this point. Edna’s singing When Edna sings, “If you only knew,” the implication is that she knows something that no one else does—particularly the men in her life. Is she thinking of Leonce? Of Robert? Of her entire circle of friends? If they only knew what? That she has discovered her strength? That she actually is strong and alive and passionate? The Awakening (chapter 15) Robert’s departure for Mexico This is an unexpected narrative turn. We must wonder what Chopin’s intentions are here. His sudden plans to leave and his failure to tell Edna before the general announcement certainly makes this man look like a cad. Edna’s trust in him seems to have been a mistake, but is Chopin saying here that disappointment of this sort is a necessary consequence of spiritual awakening? Take note of the two sentences which close the chapter: The future was a mystery which she never attempted to penetrate. The present alone was significant, was hers, to torture her as it was doing then with the biting which her impassioned, newly awakened being demanded. The Awakening (chapter 16) I would give up the unessential; Edna’s perception of self becomes clearer I would give my money, I would in this passage. She even considers her give my life for my children; physical life to be less valuable than her but I wouldn’t give myself. I inner life. Again, we are reminded of her can’t make it more clear; it’s characteristic reserve—her tendency to only something which I am hold herself apart from others. This idea beginning to comprehend, of a woman’s necessity for a space of her which is revealing itself to me. own is rife in female writers of the period; I’m reminded of Doris Lessing’s “To Room Nineteen.” I will place a copy of this story on reserve in the library. You might find occasion to draw some connection to it later. Mademoiselle Reisz This character’s interaction with Edna in this chapter is important because later in the novel, the relationship between the two will become much more important. And the spring board for this connection between them is Robert. The Awakening (chapter 17) Leonce’s fondness for his Chopin tells us that Leonce enjoys walking possessions about his house admiring his possessions. When he sees Edna dressed in rather mundane fashion, rather than her ordinary Tuesday finery, he is taken aback. Does this remind you of the narrator’s earlier comment about his reaction to Edna’s tan? It should. the Tuesday ritual In refusing to continue with the Tuesday ritual of receiving visitors and entertaining as any “proper hostess” might, Edna horrifies Leonce. His primary objection to her effrontery is a concern for his own financial welfare. If he and his household do not adhere to certain social expectations, then his clients may well cease to conduct business with them. Edna’s reason for flouting tradition in this manner is her now- mature sense of independent spirit. She now has become a social iconoclast, and she relishes the change. Leonce’s complaint about the soup Leonce finds fault with the soup, claiming that it is bland. His explanation for this is that the servants need supervision or they will begin to run the house as they see fit. Clearly, this comment is a slur intended for his wife; this is his way of chiding her for her independence. She, like the servants, apparently needs his guidance if she is to fulfill her duties properly. open windows As you will see when you read “The Story of an Hour,” Chopin is fond of showing newly independent characters poised before an open window. The narrative meaning here should be fairly obvious. When a window is open, it invites a breeze and suggests possibility, whereas a closed window suggests finality, immobility, and stifling closeness (of the air). In this chapter we see Edna standing in front of an open window. Why is this an appropriate stance for this particular scene? the uncrushable wedding ring The symbolic significance of Edna’s attempt to destroy the ring is so obvious that I won’t insult your intelligence by explaining the connection. What is more interesting than her actions here is the apparent indestructibility of the ring itself. Is this Chopin’s way of showing that the institution of marriage is so indelibly ingrained in American culture, that no woman—not even one as bold and resolved as Edna—can hope to escape its clutches? Take a look at this: Once she stopped, and taking off her wedding ring, flung it upon the carpet. When she saw it lying there, she stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it. But her small boot heel did not make an indenture, not a mark upon the little glittering circlet. Significantly, the chapter ends with Edna slipping the ring back on her finger. The Awakening (chapter 18) What is the significance of the Edna’s visit with Adele has shown her final paragraph of this chapter? that she absolutely does not desire the kind of life that Adele has. She thinks of Adele as an unthinking and “blindly content” woman. She somehow knows that while Adele will not know paralyzing sadness, neither will she enjoy “life’s delirium.” In other words, this “mother-woman” will never know passion either. The Awakening (chapter 19) Edna’s painting Edna chooses to paint instead of receive Tuesday callers, even though she does not really hope to become a great painter. She is, however, an artist. Consequently, she cannot resist her urge to create in her medium. Leonce does not understand, of course. He regards her painting and sketching as the playful occupations of a child. To what cause does Leonce Take a look at the following cutting: attribute Edna’s obstreperousness? It sometimes entered Mr. Pontellier’s mind to wonder if his wife were not growing a little unbalanced mentally. I hope that you remember my earlier claim this year that strong female characters in literature published prior to the Modern Period often suffered one of the two following ends: 1. death (murder or suicide) 2. insanity If you remember, we decided that the reason for these particular eventualities was the inability of male writers to fathom the actions and ideas of a liberated, intelligent, resolute woman. Rather than deal with such a creature, it was much easier to dispatch her to the graveyard or the dungeon. Why is it somehow appropriate that Leonce would wonder about Edna’s mental stability here? The Awakening (chapter 20) the grocer’s distaste for This is a bit of humor, but it is worth more Mademoiselle Reisz than a cursory glance. Is Chopin implying that a serious female artist is bound to raise the ire of traditional men? One must wonder to what extent Chopin found this to be true in her own case. Victor’s recounting of his Victor’s feeling that Edna is “different” is romantic conquests interesting. It enables him to tell her of his romantic exploits—something that he surely would never think of doing with another woman of her situation. Edna’s appearance (according to As Edna leaves the Lebrun’s, they both Victor and his mother) realize that she is now “ravishing.” In fact, Victor conjectures that she does not seem to be the same woman. This is surely a bit of dramatic irony. Although he has sensed her “difference” from other women like herself, he certainly would have no way of knowing about (and certainly must, by the very nature of his sex, lack the ability to intuit) the changes she has undergone. The Awakening (chapter 21) Edna’s claim that she is not This pleases Mademoiselle Reisz for its sure whether she likes uncompromising honesty. It makes sense Mademoiselle Reisz than an artist would appreciate this virtue, since true art absolutely depends on it. Art that does not deal honestly with emotion and experience is doomed to failure. She takes Edna’s straightforward answer as an indication that she is unlike the Victorian prudes and automatons that surround her. Review the passage in which Mademoiselle Reisz explains the characteristics of the artist: To be an artist includes much; one must possess many gifts—absolute gifts—which have not been acquired by one’s own effort. And, moreover, to succeed, the artist must possess the courageous soul. . . The brave soul. The soul that dares and defies. Mademoiselle’s music as She moves from Chopin to a love song from Edna reads Robert’s letter Richard Wagner’s intoxicating opera Tristan und Isolda. As with Wagner’s other operas, this piece contains great emotional swells and bursting, passionate crescendos meant to imply the rapture of love and slow, plaintive movements that suggest heartbreak and loss. Tristan und Isolda concerns a married woman who has fallen hopelessly in love with another man. This song that Mademoiselle Reisz plays addresses the theme of suicide as the only means of union for the ill-fated lovers—suicide as the result of drowning. Wow! How about that? The Awakening (chapter 22) Doctor Mandelet It would seem that this is the wisest and most intuitive man in this entire novel. He suspects that Edna may indeed be having an affair, and this shows some insight, but not even he can fathom her new motivations and her newly found values. the eternal rights of women This is Leonce’s dismissive, derogatory term for Edna’s “delusions.” His tone suggests his inability and unwillingness to recognize the possibility of female empowerment. pseudointellectual women— This is Mandelet’s name for early Feminist superspiritual superior beings political organizations (their membership rather). Edna’s refusal to attend Janet’s Edna’s claim that, “a wedding is one of the wedding most lamentable spectacles on earth” is most powerful and telling. Clearly, she means that marriage quells a woman’s freedom of thought and expression. Her motivation for refusing to attend Janet’s wedding has much more to do with her new-found perspective than it does with her somewhat troubling personal history with her sister. The Awakening (chapter 23) the Colonel Edna’s father. Although he and she have never really been of one mind, they enjoy one another’s company. Also, he does not belittle her painting and sketching. This is to his credit. Perhaps another reason that Edna now relishes the company of her father is that she remembers how “violently opposed” he was to the marriage that is now proving so unbearable for her. horse racing The Colonel and Edna are from Kentucky, for goodness sake. It should be no surprise that he and she would have a fondness for this pastime. Still, this trip to the races is noteworthy for two other reasons: 1. Edna is strong and beautiful—like a race horse. 2. This visit to the tracks provides an opportunity for Edna to meet her future lover, Alcee Arobin. Dr. Mandelet’s story at dinner His tale is a veiled warning to Edna, whom he suspects of becoming involved with Alcee Arobin, a randy lothario known for his ruthless romantic exploits. Edna’s story at dinner Edna tells of lovers who are lost at sea. Clearly, this idea of becoming lost is a metaphorical suggestion of “becoming lost in love.” This is what she most desires— absolute abandon. Her listeners are drawn into her story; they feel its passion and react as any audience would to such a story related by a true artist. The Awakening (chapter 24) the Colonel on male domination The manly and gruff Colonel criticizes and “coercion” Leonce for being too accommodating with Edna. Chopin’s inclusion of the following line delivers quite an assessment of this character’s wisdom and demeanor: The Colonel was perhaps unaware that he had coerced his own wife into her grave. Edna’s bath Chopin ends this chapter with Edna in the bath. She has attained a bit of solitude and is loving her freedom. She dines in her night clothes, reads, wanders about the house, and converses with the servants. She is not encumbered with a husband and children. So this bath at the end of the chapter signifies a further step in her independence. If she is washing away the remnants of outside restraint, we are left to wonder what is next. The Awakening (chapter 25) There is not much here worth mentioning specifically. This chapter is key in that it establishes the foundation for Edna’s illicit relationship with Alcee. The association of race horses has the effect of creating a sense of excitement, sexual tension, and romantic energy. The Awakening (chapter 26) key moments explanation He sometimes talked in a way that Alcee will not demonstrate the restraint that astonished her at first and brought Robert has shown. ‘Nuf said?? the crimson into her face; in a way that pleased her at last, appealing to the animalism that stirred impatiently within her. “I will take some brandy,” said Edna is assuming a position of sexual Edna, shivering as she removed equality. her gloves and overshoes. She drank the liquor from the glass as a man would have done. question or concern: answer/explanation What is the significance of Edna’s Her chipper tone is attributable to her letter to Leonce? new romantic interest, but the real import of this letter is that it is her means of informing Leonce that she is leaving his house—and, also, the marriage. The Awakening (chapter 27) Mademoiselle’s comment about Again, we have the bird motif—birds wings with women in particular. But here we have wings associated with ability and resolve. As Mademoiselle places her hand on Edna’s back and utters this statement, she (and Chopin) are implying that Edna is the bird and that she will need great strength if she is to flout convention so daringly. Daedalus and Icarus This myth concerns a father and son who seek to escape the Minotaur by creating wings for themselves. They use wax to piece the feathers together, so flying too close to the sun may cause the wax to melt and the “bird” to fall, crashing to earth. Flying too close to the water would imbue the wings with moisture and cause a similar disaster. We know, of course, that Icarus falls to earth because he fails to heed his father’s warning. This tale has often been used as a warning to the artist who must act wisely and create truthfully. In fact, the name Daedalus is a particular favorite in this regard. One noteworthy example is James Joyce’s artist-protagonist in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. This passage in The Awakening is reminiscent of the Icarus myth. What are the parallels? Please visit the following site, read the text, and be able to recall the content for our next quiz: http://thanasis.com/icarus.htm The kiss with Alcee The text says it all: It was the first kiss of her life to which her nature had really responded. It was a flaming torch that kindled desire. The Awakening (chapter 28) A tiny chapter whose purpose is merely to show how Edna’s recent interaction with Alcee has made her love for Robert more obvious to her—a source of pain. She wishes that this kiss with Alcee had been motivated by love. Also, Chopin here gives us a tasteful and subtle suggestion that the relationship between Edna and Alcee has been consummated with more than just a kiss. The Awakening (chapter 29) the Pigeon House This little house will serve as a symbol of Edna’s feminine independence. The name Pigeon House is interesting because it contains a reference to a bird that is traditionally associated with women and sensitivity—I mean that a great many authors besides Chopin have made this association (Remember the “pigeon-livered and lack gall” passage in Hamlet?). The Awakening (chapter 30) the significance of Edna’s party Edna intends this party to be her farewell to her former life—a life of subjugation. However, it turns awry. Victor’s singing Robert’s brother Victor, dressed in garlands, begins to sing the song that Robert sang to Edna (“If you only knew . . .”), and this is more than she can bear. She misses Robert terribly, and here is his brother—dressed as an ancient Greek fertility figure—singing his song of love. Ugh! Talk about tacky!! LOL The Awakening (chapter 31) This chapter is significant in that it shows Edna leave Leonce’s house for good. It is perhaps significant that her new lover escort her to the Pigeon House, since it has been her new-found attraction to men other than her husband that seems to have acted as a catalyst for this monumental change in her character. The Awakening (chapter 32) Leonce’s reaction to Edna’s move Leonce’s first concern is his business persona. In an effort to prevent negative financial repercussions, he makes it known that he and Edna are remodeling their home and that they may vacation abroad during the coming summer. This is interesting. He cares far less over the destruction of his marriage than he does over having his peers think that he is nearing financial ruin. Only a wealthy man could pay for extensive remodeling and take an extended trip to Europe. The Awakening (chapter 33) Robert’s return The tension and awkwardness as Robert walks through that door and finds Edna waiting within!! It is interesting that they meet again in Mademoiselle Reisz’s apartment, since this is the person who has done more than any other character to help Edna aspire to complete selfhood. Why is it noteworthy that Whereas Mademoiselle Reisz’s playing is Robert’s arm crashes down sublime—a reminder that art can indeed on the piano keys? reside within human beings, women in particular—, the horribly cacophonous sound that Robert inadvertently makes at this difficult and awkward moment is anything but graceful and sublime. One can almost imagine that Chopin is having a chuckle at this point; the “symphony in our heads” as we imagine a perfectly romantic encounter achieves a laughable counterpart as Edna and her beloved meet again. Robert’s jealousy This is wonderful, isn’t it? Remember how we made an earlier point about the absurdity of jealousy among the Creoles? Well, it seems that Robert has undergone a transformation in this regard. Of course, the reason that the Creoles felt that jealousy is an absurd emotion is that they worked under an assumption that there would be no consummation of extramarital affairs. Perhaps Robert knows that he cannot count on such restraint in this case. Chopin is having a field day as she tells us of Robert’s discomfort as he looks at Alcee’s photograph. The Awakening (chapter 34) jealousy Edna is jealous of the Mexican girl who has given Robert a gift, and Robert is jealous of Alcee. It would seem that Alcee is the only one who isn’t jealous, although he claims to be—saying to Edna, “I am always less than Robert. Has he been imparting tender confidences?” Alcee is not really one to give his heart to any woman, even Edna. The Awakening (chapter 35) Alcee’s letter This is funny. If you were under the false impression that Edna has emotionally invested in her illicit affair with Alcee, this little turn of events should convince you otherwise; she burns his letter rather than deign to answer it. The Awakening (chapter 36) speaking one’s mind as a masculine Edna says, “I suppose this is what you trait would call unwomanly; but I have got into a habit of expressing myself.” Edna as Leonce’s possession Edna scoffs at Robert’s remark about wanting to marry her, should Leonce “set her free.” She is not a possession to be bandied about. She says, “I am no longer one of Mr.Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose.” slumber motif Edna tells Robert that, “It was you who awoke me last summer out of a life-long, stupid dream.” The Awakening (chapter 37) childbirth Edna sees childbirth as a torture for women. In fact, she can hardly remember the experience: Edna began to feel uneasy. She was seized with a vague dread. Her own like experiences seemed far away, unreal, and only half remembered. She recalled faintly an ecstasy of pain, the heavy odor of chloroform, a stupor which had deadened sensation, and an awakening to find a little new life to which she had given being, added to the great unnumbered multitude of souls that come and go. Please notice the mention of “awakening.” Adele’s admonition Once again, Adele encourages Edna to change her perspective so as to become a “mother-woman.” She tells her to “remember the children.” This she says just after she has yet again given birth. Edna, too, has just given birth as well—she has given birth to herself as a thinking, feeling, courageous, independent person in the world. The Awakening (chapter 38) Edna’s refusal to tour Europe with We should be aware of Edna’s sense of Leonce personal strength and independent vision by now, but I mention it once more because her statement to Dr. Mandelet (when he asks if she will accompany Leonce on a trip to Europe) is perhaps the most powerful statement of her new position: I’m not going to be forced into doing things. I don’t want to go abroad. I want to be let alone. Nobody has any right . . . The years that are gone seem like dreams—if one might go on sleeping and dreaming—but to wake up and find—oh! Well! Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life. Edna’s strange mention of children After Edna’s claim that “nobody has any right,” she rambles into a mention of children. She is implying that children may have some right to make demands, but then her statement trails off into confusion. She has just come from Adele’s bedside, and she is probably thinking of her own children. Perhaps she is feeling some degree of responsibility to them, and this feeling is confusing or troubling to her. This new concern for her brood “muddies the water” a bit here. Perhaps total abandon and absolute non-conformity are not an entirely real avenue for her. Doctor Mandelet’s view of passion He sees this as a means of securing the propagation of the race. In other words, sexual passion leads to copulation, which then leads to the birth of children. This is an extremely pragmatic view of passion; it is also one that carries mild accusation—an indictment of those who are so weak as to fall victim to “illusions.” Robert’s farewell letter He writes, “Goodbye—because I love you.” This is somewhat confusing. Does he mean that her association with a man other than her husband would bring her shame and ruin? Does he love her so much that he will not have her suffer in this way? It seems far more likely that his own fears have driven him away. Would Chopin really allow Robert to become a self-sacrificing hero at this point in the game? The Awakening (chapter 39) the bird with the broken wing This symbolism is overwhelming. Of course Chopin intends that the reader connect this bird and Edna. Whereas the bird’s wing is broken, causing it to fall to sea, Edna’s strength (her wing) is broken with Robert’s abandonment. Perhaps it is not actually Robert’s departure that so wounds her, but rather the realization that he has never understood her and never would have. Edna’s nakedness Before she enters the water, Edna sheds all her clothing. Her nudity here is symbolic of her complete departure from convention. She is now absolutely free from outside constraint. She is accountable only to herself now—hence her nakedness. suicide in the sea Edna’s choice of drowning as a means of her suicide fits thematically into this narrative. From the beginning the ocean has been a symbol of freedom, and this has always been her ultimate desire. Please read the following short story and be prepared to encounter it on your Chopin test. Story of an Hour Kate Chopin Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death. It was her sister Josephine who told her, in broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in half concealing. Her husband’s friend Richards was there, too, near her. It was he who had been 5 in the newspaper office when intelligence of the railroad disaster was received, with Brently Mallard’s name leading the list of “killed.” He had only taken the time to assure himself of its truth by a second telegram, and had hastened to forestall any less careful, less tender friend in bearing the sad message. She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed 10 inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself, she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her. There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul. 15 She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which someone was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves. There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met 20 and piled above the other in the west facing her window. She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep contin- ues to sob in its dreams. She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain 25 strength. But now there was a dull stare in her eyes, whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on one of those patches in the sky. It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought. There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, 30 reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air. Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will—as power- less as her two white, slender hands would have been. When she abandoned herself a little, a whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. 35 She said it over and over under her breath: “Free, free, free!” The vacant stare and the look of ter- ror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body. She did not stop to ask if it were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and exalted perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial. 40 She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked, save with love, upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her abso- lutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome. There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for her- 45 self. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination. And yet she had loved him—sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What 50 could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strong impulse of her being! “Free! Body and soul free!” she kept whispering. Josephine was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the keyhole, imploring for admission. “Louise, open the door! I beg; open the door—you will make yourself ill. What are 55 you doing, Louise? For heaven’s sake, open the door.” “Go away. I am not making myself ill.” No; she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window. Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be 60 long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long. She arose at length and opened the door to her sister’s importunities. There was a fever- ish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She clasped her sister’s waist, and together they descended the stairs. Richards stood waiting for them at the bottom. 65 Someone was opening the front door with a latchkey. It was Brently Mallard who en- tered, a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella. He had been far from the scene of the accident, and did not even know there had been one. He stood amazed at Josephine’s piercing cry; at Richards’ quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife. But Richards was too late. 70 When the doctors came, they said she had died of heart disease—of joy that kills.
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