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Reviews of Awakening, the (1899)

Review by Tamarah (2003-04-18)
This book is such an excellent story for a young woman embarking on sexuality. The main character, Edna, goes through the expected societal roles, from maiden to wife, without a second thought. But once she begins wondering what life would be like if she were alone and not under the thumb of her high-class peers and distant husband, she begins to discover who she really is and who she really loves.

The first time I read this was an amazing experience. I read it while camping and identified with it immediately. Some lingering questions persisted, and it was not until I studied this book in college that many details started answering themselves; for instance, why was it necessary for Edna to kill herself at the end of the book? In the era of Kate Chopin, but most particularly the preceding eras, women who were involved in a scandal were destined to be killed in Literature; they must, to be an example for the women reading the book. A few examples of these female sacrifices lie in the pages of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" by Victor Hugo, "Daisy Miller" by Henry James, or even "Othello" by Shakespeare. But the difference between these older stories and Chopin's work lies in how the woman was killed. Chopin was on the cusp of a feminist revolution in 1899 and she knew it. She did not kill Edna because Edna must be an example to other women in society, in that she is not allowed to live on her own, earn her own living, desert her family - she swam far out into the ocean to drown because she knew that an independent woman could not exist and survive in society as it was then, and she would rather die with happy memories of life than life under the burden of being a kept woman.

I continue to re-read this book for inspiration. I was not raised to be a housewife, and have been satisfied with life only when I know I am pulling my own weight in the world. I was taught to have my own opinions and my own ideas…and I later found how difficult being an independent woman is in society today. Fortunately, I do not have to go to the lengths Edna swam out to, but I still see her journey as the pilgrimage for the future of all working women in America.

©Steven Jeffery /, 2017
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