The Awakening by Kate Chopin (1983/1899)

Yet another classic that I never read in high school or college, The Awakening has been sitting idly on my shelf at work for a few years now–ever since I vowed to read all the books that our AP Lit students read (at least the ones that I missed along the way).  My first thought: I can’t imagine high school boys reading this.  Surely it would be difficult enough to understand Edna Pontellier’s torment through a feminine lens, add to that, turn of the century social conventions and those boys must be thinking, huh? I found myself flip flopping back and forth between admiration and frustration.  If I could truly put myself in that time, I suppose I would feel both sympathy for her situation and respect for actions–I mean, she bought her own house and told her husband she was moving into it.  That’s bold–especially since by doing this, she was considered mad, delusional, in need of mental help.  But I also felt that her whining sounded a bit like the woman who wrote Eat, Pray, Love, the bestselling memoir about a woman who complains a lot and must travel the world in order to “find herself.”  Edna’s “indescribable oppression” had a similar effect on me. I wanted to tell her to get over it, to remember that she had two healthy kids (taken care of by someone else through most of the book) and plenty of time to paint, read, swim, or eat bon bons.  And that lots of women don’t act on their secret passions (back then or now). I don’t know.  Perhaps that’s too harsh.  I’m not not very patient with whiny women–even those who lived in an era when women had little say and little power and had to wear ridiculously heavy, long skirts and high necked shirts.  I get that Edna felt trapped, that she did not want to be “owned” by her husband or her kids, that she suffered forbidden passion, and that she finally felt like “some new-born creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world that it had never known” as she enters the water, naked on her final swim.  But I have to admit, I found the ending to Thelma and Louise a lot more convincing.  (fiction)

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