Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Book Review: The Awakening

So I've decided that I will read more classics, and as I was at the bookstore the other day trying to decide what my next read should be, I stumbled across The Awakening by Kate Chopin. I immediately thought that it would be a good book to follow Lady Chatterley's Lover, because without knowing more I thought that they would be interesting to compare and contrast given that they are both about self-realization of women in a sense, and also because one was written by a man and one was written by a woman.

Turns out, though, that the two books are not as comparable as I thought. For one thing, Edna's awakening in The Awakening is of a different sort than Connie's was in Lady Chatterley's Lover. Edna seems dissatisfied with everything in her life, with her identity as a person, while Connie is primarily sexually frustrated. Sure, that affects many aspects of Connie's life, but she is also just a completely different character. I'm not sure that I can write my thoughts down in a coherent fashion, so here they are in babble form:

—Edna came across as very unlikable to me. There was a part of me that was unsympathetic to her "plight" because she seemed unaware that, despite how unhappy she was with her life, she failed utterly to realize how blessed she was in the freedoms that she did have, i.e., she had a home, clothes, food, and didn't have to work to support herself. As a result she was able to go around and socialize and dally with her painting hobby. Connie, on the other hand, was a very likable woman. I felt that she was a cheerful woman that was wasting away in her marriage to a paralyzed, pompous man. Another contrast was that Connie seemed very aware of her position in society and her privileges.

—But to be fair to Edna, Connie was not defined by her role as a wife and mother. Clifford, Connie's husband, treated her more of an equal than Edna's husband did. He was pompous and annoying, yes, but he respected her as a person and appreciated her mind (when it was useful to him, at least). Edna was suffocating in every area of her life and had to make a change.

All in all I think that The Awakening is a very good book. Everything that is written is there for a reason and nothing is superfluous. The book flows nicely and is so coherent as to be utterly believable. Still, though, Edna is hard to sympathize with. I found myself forced to remember more than once that a woman's place in society was considerably different when this book was written than it is today. I think the only thing that protects Edna from my scorn is knowing that she probably didn't have much conscious choice in the way her life turned out. Women in her era got married and had children without really thinking about whether that was something that they wanted. Edna herself realized that:

She was fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way. She would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart; she would sometimes forget them. The year before they had spent part of the summer with their grandmother Pontellier in Iberville. Feeling secure regarding their happiness and welfare, she did not miss them except with an occasional intense longing. Their absence was a sort of relief, though she did not admit this, even to herself. It seemed to free her of a responsibility which she had blindly assumed and for which Fate had not fitted her.

However, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Edna's situation is rather common in today's age, too.

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