Search any banned book list and you’re likely going to find “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin. I had heard a lot about this book and was intrigued by how it triggered otherwise upstanding Americans to forget about the 1st Amendment. I expected graphic depictions of lust, but the characters never had sex. More startling for readers, I’m sure, is the scandalous notion that a woman with every resource in the world could be unsatisfied. Her husband was even a pretty stand-up guy and reflected the ideal husband of the time. He was a rather understanding man for the turn of the century, but even his greatness could not surmount the melancholy existence of his wife. “The Awakening” is not about lust, it’s about discovering freedom.
The idea of an independent woman was, and sadly still is, controversial. After publication in 1899, “The Awakening” was widely condemned by critics and the public at large. Critics clearly believed that the idea of self-fulfillment belonged to men alone. They decried the book as “too strong to drink for moral babes.” Perhaps they were worried about their own wives having an awakening. If you think women today are treated as equals then please ask yourself why so many women felt an urgency to participate in the Women’s March.
Kate Chopin created an unsavory portrait of being a woman in the late 1800’s. The conditions of female life in “The Awakening” were appallingly similar to living in George Orwell’s “1984”. She was required to submit to the needs of her father, and then her husband. She was groomed from birth to be subservient. She was never taught to think too critically about her surroundings. She loved Big Brother! I mean, she loved her husband!
Mrs. Edna Pontellier is married to a successful businessman in New Orleans. While summering on Grand Isle on the Gulf Coast, Edna meets a man named Robert with whom she becomes quite fond. Without realizing it, she begins falling for him and slowly begins neglecting her family. Robert recognized the scandal of loving a married woman and promptly left for Mexico sending Edna into hysteria. When the Pontellier’s returned to New Orleans at the end of Summer, Edna begins to abandon her responsibilities simply because she just doesn’t want to do them. She didn’t like it, so she begins painting and socializes with friends. Her husband, growing concerned, seeks advice and simply wants to make her happy, but he can’t, because she doesn’t love him. She never did.
Divorce was unspeakable then. Women were trapped in their marriages of repression. A more modern example of this is in the Netflix series “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” Deirdre Robespierre is a Princeton graduate whose marriage to a billionaire relegates her intellectual abilities to sowing discord amongst fellow socialites. She shows cracks in her armor by confessing “I have a 150 IQ but I spent all morning picking out dog stationary.” It just goes to show that the central tenants of “The Awakening” are still pervasive today.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (November 21, 2017)