The Awakening is a novel by Kate Chopin, first published in 1899. Set in New Orleans and the Southern Louisiana coast at the end of the nineteenth century, the plot centers on Edna Pontellier and her struggle to reconcile her increasingly unorthodox views on femininity and motherhood with the prevailing patriarchal attitudes of the turn-of-the-century South. It is one of the earliest American novels that focuses on women's issues without condescension. It is also one of the most important novels written by an American woman in the nineteenth century (perhaps second only to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin in terms of historical and social significance). When published it was assailed for its frank depictions of female sexuality but has since been cited by critics and scholars as one of the most influential American novels ever written. It is also widely seen as a landmark work of early feminism (though feminism did not exist as a cohesive movement or literary genre at the time).
The novel's blend of realistic narrative, incisive social commentary, and psychological complexity makes The Awakening a precursor of American modernism and prefigures the works of American novelists such as William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway and echoes the works of contemporaries such as Edith Wharton and Henry James. It can also be considered among the first Southern works in a tradition that would culminate with the modern masterpieces of Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter, and Tennessee Williams (Wikipedia).
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About the Author
Her short stories were well received in her own time and were published by some of America's most prestigious magazines-Vogue, the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Young People, Youth's Companion, and the Century. A few stories were syndicated by the American Press Association. Her stories appeared also in her two published collections, Bayou Folk (1894) and A Night in Acadie (1897), both of which received good reviews from critics across the country. Twenty-six of her stories are children's stories-those published in or submitted to children's magazines or those similar in subject or theme to those that were. By the late 1890s Kate Chopin was well known among American readers of magazine fiction.
Her early novel At Fault (1890) had not been much noticed by the public, but The Awakening (1899) was widely condemned. Critics called it morbid, vulgar, and disagreeable. Willa Cather, who would become a well known twentieth-century American author, labeled it trite and sordid.
Some modern scholars have written that the novel was banned at Chopin's hometown library in St. Louis, but this claim has not been able to be verified, although in 1902, the Evanston, Illinois, Public Library removed The Awakening from its open shelves-and the book has been challenged twice in recent years. Chopin's third collection of stories, to have been called A Vocation and a Voice, was for unknown reasons cancelled by the publisher and did not appear as a separate volume until 1991.
Read an Excerpt
A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside the door, kept repeating over and over:
"Allez vous-en! Allez vous-en! Sapristi! That's all right!"
He could speak a little Spanish, and also a language which nobody understood, unless it was the mockingbird that hung on the other side of the door, whistling his fluty notes out upon the breeze with maddening persistence.
Mr. Pontellier, unable to read his newspaper with any degree of comfort, arose with an expression and an exclamation of disgust. He walked down the gallery and across the narrow "bridges" which connected the Lebrun cottages one with the other. He had been seated before the door of the main house. The parrot and the mockingbird were the property of Madame Lebrun, and they had the right to make all the noise they wished. Mr. Pontellier had the privilege of quitting their society when they ceased to be entertaining.
He stopped before the door of his own cottage, which was the fourth one from the main building and next to the last. Seating himself in a wicker rocker which was there, he once more applied himself to the task of reading the newspaper. The day was Sunday, the paper was a day old. The Sunday papers had not yet reached Grand Isle. He was already acquainted with the market reports, and he glanced restlessly over the editorials and bits of news which he had not had time to read before quitting New Orleans the day before.
Mr. Pontellier wore eye-glasses. He was a man of forty, of medium height and rather slender build; he stooped a little. His hair was brown and straight, parted on one side. His beard was neatly and closely trimmed.
Once in a while he withdrew his gorch, facing each other, each leaning against a supporting post.
"What folly! to bathe at such an hour in such heat!" exclaimed Mr. Pontellier. He himself had taken a plunge at daylight. That was why the morning seemed long to him.
"You are burnt beyond recognition," he added, looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage. She held up her hands, strong, shapely hands, and surveyed them critically, drawing up her lawn' sleeves above the wrists. Looking at them reminded her of her rings, which she had given to her husband before leaving for the beach. She silently reached out to him, and he, understanding, took the rings from his vest pocket and dropped them into her open palm. She slipped them upon her fingers; then clasping her knees, she looked across at Robert and began to laugh. The rings sparkled upon her fingers. He sent back an answering smile.
"What is it?" asked Pontellier, looking lazily and amused from one to the other. It was some utter nonsense; some adventure out there in the water, and they both tried to relate it at once. It did not seem half so amusing when told. They realized this, and so did Mr. Pontellier. He yawned and stretched himself. Then he got up, saying he had half a mind to go over to Klein's hotel and play a game of billiards.
"Come go along, Lebrun," he proposed to Robert. But Robert admitted quite frankly that he preferred to stay where he was and talk to Mrs. Pontellier.
"Well, send him about his business when he bores you, Edna," instructed her husband as he prepared to leave.
"Here, take the umbrella," she exclaimed, holding it out to him. He accepted the sunshade, and lifting it over his head de scended the steps and walked away.
"Coming back to dinner?" his wife called after him. He halted a moment and shrugged his shoulders. He felt in his vest pocket; there was a ten-dollar bill there. He did not know; perhaps he would return for the early dinner and perhaps he would not. It all depended upon the company which he found over at Klein's and the size of "the game." He did not say this, but she understood it, and laughed, nodding good-by to him.
Both children wanted to follow their father when they saw him starting out. He kissed them and promised to bring them back bonbons and peanuts.
Copyright © 1998 by Simon & Schuster
Table of Contents
BEYOND THE BAYOU
A RESPECTABLE WOMAN
A PAIR OF SILK STOCKINGS
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A 19th century feminist novel and short stories dealing with the role of women in a male-dominated society.
Given to me my senior year of high school; a fantastic introduction to turn of the century feminism, a great companion piece to books like The House of Mirth.
One of the books I read in high school that blew me away. Kate Chopin was so ahead of her time, and I love the language, especially the passages describing the pull of the sea on the main character. This is probably in my all-time top ten books. The fact that I live in New Orleans now and a lot of the places Chopin mentions haven't changed in 100 years is also delightful.