The Awakening by Kate Chopin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The truth is, I have always struggled to understand feminism, and I'm a woman. For me, feminism has always been about choice. It's about women being able to define for themselves what they want for their lives, regardless of what society (or anyone, really) says. It means that if a woman chooses to get married, have children, and be a stay-at-home mom, she can. If a woman chooses to focus on her career, travel, and not have children, she can. If she chooses any number of combinations in between, that's her prerogative. It means recognizing that women are more than just their gender and not judging how they choose to live their lives. We are human beings with our own ambitions, thoughts, and value.
Unfortunately, we women are still fighting many of the same battles that Edna faced in this novel. We are still fighting against a male-dominated society who still wants to keep us in our traditional roles. On top of that, we are fighting against each other. It saddens me to see women attacking other women because they do not prescribe to the same brand of feminism. Feminism should be about equality and valuing women, and embracing the many different and unique talents and traits women bring to the table. We are more than our gender, but our gender also makes us uniquly qualified to contribute to society.
I could keep going, but I'll step down off my soapbox for now. Back to the novel...I can see why The Awakening is hailed as "feminist" literature. Edna starts out as a "traditional woman" - she gets married to a suitable match, has children, and fulfills all of the social obligations expected of her, seemingly without stopping to ask herself if that is what she really wants. As time goes on, she begins to realize that the life she leads is not the life she would have choosen had she known herself better or had other options. She falls in love with a man who is not her husband; while she still appears to love her children, she reconsiders whether motherhood is really right for her; she pursues her own desires, rather than engaging in social niceties that she abhors. In short, she refuses to continue defining her life by what society and other people say it should be, which ultimately leads to her downfall.
People seem to either love her or hate her. In reading other reviews, Edna is harshly critized for her choices and I have to wonder why? Do I agree with everything she did? No. But I also have to ask myself how I would feel and respond if I felt trapped in my own life. It's important to consider the time period of this piece as well. Women did have the options they had today. However, I wouldn't go so far as to say that she was a victim because she made choices and knew the potential consequences of those choices. I find her to be a sympathetic character. This book certainly sparks great discussion and I can see why it was so controversal when it was first published.
I suggest giving it a chance. It would certainly make a great book club read.
2015 Reading Challenge: A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit
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