Thursday, 15 January 2015

Kate Chopin's The Awakening

Amazon describes this book as :

The Awakening shocked turn-of-the-century readers and reviewers with its treatment of sex and suicide. In a departure from literary convention, Kate Chopin failed to condemn her heroine's desire for an affair with the son of a Louisiana resort owner, whom she meets on vacation. The power of sensuality, the delusion of ecstatic love, and the solitude that accompanies the trappings of middle- and upper-class convention are themes of this now-classic novel.

Published in 1899 this book was seen as quite shocking by American readers. I loved this book. It is as relevant in today's modern society as it was back then.  The story involves Edna who is married to a successful but boring man and they live in New Orleans.  Edna can't reconcile herself to the confines of marriage and appears to care little about being a mother to her two children. She has a "quadroon" to take care of them in her household. A "quadroon" is a person who is 1/4 of being black  and along with many  black people worked as servants in New Orleans society.

She meets James at their summer house at a resort area at the Gulf of Mexico and realises she is falling in love with him. He is the son of a resort owner and is a happy go lucky flirtatious man in the community.  

I loved the time they spent on the island. Everything appears to be brilliantly fun and a most carefree lifestyle. However Edna is always alone in the throngs of friends and family members, lonely to her core. 

But Edna's dissatisfaction continues to grow and the reader watches the many consequences as they play out.

After Kate Chopin wrote this book she was quite ostracised because of her seemingly accepting ways of what happens to her characters in this story.  After all this was turn of the century southern United States and not that long after the Civil War.

Also the white characters of course are quite developed in her writing whereas the black characters, although they feature quite prominently in the story are never really developed and are written more as props to the lifestyle of the richer people for whom they work.

I really enjoyed this story. I loved some of the eccentric characters that were Edna's friends. I too felt frustrated by the confines of her husband's ways and his authority and I could completely understand the choices she made at times.  For the seemingly carefree lifestyle of the characters in this book, of being in the upper classes of New Orleans society I could feel Edna's frustration with her seemingly meaningless life.  This is not a happy book but I cared so much about Edna and hoped things might turn out better for her.  

The remainder of this book contains selected short stories that I have yet to finish. If anyone else is familiar with Kate Chopin's work I would love to hear from you.

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