Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Title: The Awakening
Author: Kate Chopin
ISBN: 0553321330X
Publisher: Bantam Classics/1981
Pages: 205

The Awakening was first published in 1899. Even though Kate Chopin was a well known writer, because of its subject matter, it was widely criticised and was banished from the literary world for decades.

The story starts in Grand Isle, Louisiana on a Sunday morning where Leonce Pontellier is waiting for his wife Edna Pontellier, to ome out from a swim with another young man, Richard Lebrun. Edna and Leonce have two young sons. Edna is a mother to them in her own fashion. Pontellier is very much a Creole belonging to the place and Edna is the outsider. He had fallen deeply in love with her and married her.

We also meet Adele Ratignolle, who is equisitely beautiful and has three children, with a fourth one on the way. We observe womenbeing pursued by young men, none of their husbands minding it a bit. They behaviour is beyond question and they mantain decorum at all levels. Edna is happy enough to be with her husband and she loves the attention Richard lavishes on her. Only when Richard leaves, we find her missing him, thinking of him. She slowly awakens from her life which she percieves as dull. She wants to be her own person, comes to realise that she has fallen in love with Richard.

From the beginning, there is a strange intimacy between Edna and Richard. None of them are aware of it, including Leonce. I see it as a sign of a liberated man. A man who loves his wife and trusts her implicitly. He is aware too that Richard wouldn't cross the limits of acceptable society. He can observe the change in her behaviour but does not relate it with Richard.

This is a book about a woman's emancipation, one who desires to live in own terms, one who wants to succumb to her needs and desires. A woman in the path of self-discovery. One who wants to give in to her senses, deep primal forces within her. Does she? Is she able to break away the shackles? This novels gives us insight of those times, the embarkments it place on a woman's life. Of liberation, freedom of both women and men too. It speaks about Southern culture, Creoles and the social norms. Even in those times a woman could live in her own terms. Mademoiselle Reisz is one such woman who is independent, ill-mannerd, single and childless but still respected and admired for her knowledge and skill in music. How many can claim the same even in our so-called liberated times? In some parts of the world, nothing has changed.

The short stories too are filled with insights and Chopin's prose keeps us hooked in. I especially liked Beyond the Bayou and Desiree's Baby. Her work is filled with symbolism which was rare in those times. Somehow it made The Awakening difficult to be accepted in the litrary circles. However, this very symbolism has elevated the novel. No doubt, a classic.