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Summary of The Awakening by Kate Chopin

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Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” examines the implications placed on women for self expression during the 1800’s

Banned for several years by critics after its initial publication in 1899 because of its unsettling content, “The Awakening” later became a most cherished account of a woman’s journey towards self-discovery and abandonment of her conventional society. Kester-Shelton) Within that story is where we meet Robert LeBrun, A young, flirtatious and confident womanizer with a reputation to match and it is within this paper, that we will analyze the influential character of Robert LeBrun who without control, falls in a forbidden love affair with the protagonist, Edna Pontellier. Robert, a younger man with immature tendencies, clean shaven face, yellowish-brown hair, and quick bright eyes maintains a reputation for floating in between different older women every summer. Eventually his affectionate nature catches the attention of Mrs.

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Several of Chopin’s characters liken Edna’s behavior to the carelessness and unpredictability of a child. “In some way you seem to me like a child,” says Madame Ratignolle. “You seem to act without a certain amount of reflection which is necessary in this life.” The statement—which does not provoke a response from Edna—is a criticism of our protagonist’s habit of accepting late-night visits from a man who is not her husband. Later, Dr. Mandelet refers to Edna as “my dear child” and tells her that she has not awakened to the realities of adult life—particularly, the necessity of self-abnegation and concern for other people. Edna herself admits that her behavior is childish after she has paranoid, jealous feelings about the Mexican woman who made Robert a new pouch. In each case, Edna acts on her own desires without showing empathy for others, and is thus labeled a child. The label seems most accurate whenever Edna interacts with her own children, as she never shows an interest in what they’re thinking and feeling. An early, painful passage describes Edna in the midst of telling a story; she hopes to calm down Etienne and Raoul before they go to bed

Instead, her story excites the children, makes them more talkative and awake, and they are ultimately puzzled when Edna breaks off mid-sentence, gives a halfhearted promise to finish the next day, and leaves to fret about Robert’s imminent departure for Mexico. Later, Edna betrays her childishness again when she tells Raoul and Etienne about the new apartment she has bought near the Pontellier house. Raoul and Etienne ask sensible questions about whether there will be room for the whole family in this apartment, and Edna murmurs that “the fairies” will take care of all logistical problems. Edna’s willingness to deposit her children at Léonce’s mother’s house for indeterminate stretches of time suggests that she is more concerned with her own entertainment than with her maternal responsibilities. But in this brave and unnerving novel, Edna’s childish behavior is not unique. With the exception of the Ratignolles, Chopin’s parental characters consistently fail to show empathy toward their sons and daughters. Léonce, for example, spends most of his time conducting business far from his family and sends occasional boxes of bonbons as a reminder of his ostensible paternal love. Madame Lebrun complains about Victor’s aimlessness and bad manners when, as Chopin notes, the aging woman is at least partially to blame for having favored and spoiled Victor throughout his youth. The Colonel bickers with Edna instead of trying to elicit her reasons for skipping her sister’s wedding, then gives up and advises his son-in-law to hit and yell at Edna more frequently. Léonce’s mother ignores the obvious fault lines in the Pontellier marriage so she can have more time with her grandchildren. Throughout The Awakening, Chopin’s characters disappoint their sons and daughters. By hinting that Edna is not alone in her childishness, Chopin shows that her unlikable protagonist is not simply a villain. The novel frequently encourages us to condemn Edna, since many of the characters comment on her self-absorption and she herself displays this egoism in her conversations with Raoul and Etienne. However, by describing a network of similarly flawed mothers and fathers, Chopin suggests that Edna’s failings are universal. Indeed, the reason the novel unsettles so many readers may be that, in Chopin’s honest portrait of Edna Pontellier, we recognize our own features.

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In May 1861 a communal combat broke out in St. Louis and Kate’s family was exiled for their co-conspirator empathies and lost her best friend and her brother George. Her grandmother died at the age of 83. Kate lost all her siblings and by the time she was 24 she was a single child. She graduated from the sacred heart academy as a noble student who was also a good narrator and a youthful sceptic. Kate was then assigned to write an ordinary book which became her first composition

At the age if nineteen, Kate met and fell in love with Oscar Chopin, a Louisiana resident with whom she tied the knot on the 9th June 1870. Oscar’s business fell short in 1879 and he went back to Paris. Kate got familiar with the Creole community a significant focal point of her compositions. Oscar passed on in 1883 leaving behind six children. Kate’s mother died a year after. Kate was sentimentally exhausted and she needed to turn to composing as a way of squeezing out her anger and dissatisfaction in life (Booth and Mays 500). For over a decade Kate was considered a good writer and became a countrywide applauded writer. She composed many different compositions. Among Kate’s first works was Piano Polka a composition known as Lillian’s Polka. She produced two short stories in 1889 named Wiser than God and a point at issue. In 1890 she issued a novel ‘At fault’ which received unenthusiastic re-evaluation. Next was another novel Young Dr. Gross in 1890. This novel discarded by many publishers and in the end she annihilated the manuscript. This was followed by a short story Desiree baby in 1896 a narrative trails a tale of Desiree who is ditched as a baby and is taken and brought up by a loving family. She gets married and they have a baby with a dark complexion. The husband sends her away claiming that she is of black ancestry only to realize that he is the one of black ancestry. This story was published in a short story collection the following year (Booth and Mays 236). Another collection with twenty one stories, a night in Acadia, was issued in 1897. It gave a picture of her enhanced curiosity of excitement and sexuality. This collection also expressed her disquiet for the predicament of women in the Victorian Era. Then came another short story collection, a vocation and a voice. This collection was discarded. Kate created many short poems and gave in essays to several periodicals in St. Louis. Then she came up with another short story ‘The storm’ which traced the story of two lover’s unfaithfulness during a rainstorm and depicted her curiosity in infatuation and infidelity. This was followed by her masterwork, her novel ‘The awakening’. This narration follows the story of Edna Pontellier and her great effort to conquer her increasing unusual views on feminity and motherliness with the existing social attitudes of that century.

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As can be seen, some debate exists regarding Edna as feminist. While her journey of exploration was unprecedented, or at least undocumented prior to her, there are some points which work against the feminist aspect of “The Awakening”. At many points during the story, Edna is consumed with her feelings for Robert and her desires for exploring sexuality with other men. When Robert leaves for Mexico, Edna expresses that his “going had some way taken the brightness, the color, the meaning out of everything…her existence was dulled”. She focuses intently on Robert, and temporarily lacks attention to her own needs, which is arguable the point of her journey

Additionally, Edna’s story culminates her suicide, as she believed her struggles were ineffectual, because change was slow in those around her. Some might argue that viewing oneself through the eyes of others, and allowing it to dictate one’s sense of self, is decidedly un-feminist. In some ways, the suicide undermines the theme of the novel. That said, the exploration that Chopin credits to Edna is a brave leap away from the Victorian culture of the time.

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Booth, Alison and Mays, Kelly. The Norton Introduction to Literature. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010

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