In its time,
The Awakening received much social and religious criticism
for its outrageous take on feminism.
Critics condemned Chopin saying the novel was nothing
but ‘an overworked field of sex fiction’.
Resultantly, the book was out of print for decades.
It was only in the 1960s
that it was observed to be one of the greatest books
in Feminist Literature and enjoys its status
as one of the most read books of the century.
Now the story.
The curtain opens to the Pontellier family
relaxing away at Grand Isle, a summer resort in Louisiana.
Mr Pontellier is busy reading a newspaper whereas
the our protagonist, Edna Pontellier
is preparing herself to go for a swim in the sea.
Mr Pontellier stays away for work
and comes home only during the weekend when the couple
spends time together at the resort with their 2 sons.
Of this routine, he quickly gets bored and leaves away with friends.
As the story progresses,
Edna feels an attraction for the resort owner’s son – Robert,
a charming young man who also is equally attracted to her.
Mr Pontellier does seem to mind this growing attachment
as he takes it as nothing more than casual conversations,
only to realise later that Robert could perhaps be his greatest rival.
This connection for Edna is symbolical to freedom
from the bondage of being a wife and a mother.
She starts to see him often and develops a feeling
which she believes has never had for her husband.
She is totally heart-broken when Robert leaves town for work.
There is also a mention of an another charming man Alcee Arobin
who she develops likeness for,
but soon realizes it is only the yearning for Robert
that is getting her attracted to other men.
Half way into the book and it is pretty obvious
that Edna does not believe in society’s restrictions,
or rules laid down for woman.
She is a rebel and goes about following her heart,
crushing gladly all the predispositions one is supposed to have as a woman.
She is raging a battle inside as her heart pushes her to belief differently,
seek differently and live life in a manner acceptable to her.
Her wishes seem bizarre to her husband and yet she goes forth to fulfill them.
At one point, she feels so lonely and agitated
that she moves into a place away from her home,
away from her kids and her actual routine.
The end of the story is tragic enough.
Edna learns that Robert loves her too but has left her
for not wanting to tear apart her family for their personal affair.
She is devastated.
The curtain closes on Edna naked and walking towards the sea,
in the arms of death, shattered by a life governed by husband and kids
and stretched apart by a heart that wants freedom from such a life.
Edna is a classic example of a caged bird,
trying fiercely for an escape and at the first chance,
flies to heights so as to be not caught and caged again.
As you will read through the pages of the book,
you will see increasing frustration and the urge to set yourself free
deeply rooted in all its pages.
Every sentence will make you feel the suffocation Edna feels.
I marvel at the story so well written in a time
when it couldn’t be imagined
let alone submit yourself to such impatient impulsive actions.
Freedom is not free and this is well captured in the story.
If you happen to read it or have already read it, do share your thoughts below.
THE UNREAD BOOK©