Civic Imagination

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The Awakening, by Kate Chopin is a novel, set in the late 1800s in Louisiana. The story revolves around Edna Pontellier and her breakaway from societal norms. She becomes the embodiment of everything an upper-class southern woman was not at the time. She leaves her husband for a younger man, allows her skin to tan, leaves her children and lives on her own in New Orleans. The novel follows her life, starting when she is the epitome of a high society Creole woman, and describes her overwhelming unhappiness with the state of her life, which would seem perfect to others. She then begins an affair, and gathers the courage to support herself and reject the stereotypical roles that society placed on her, based on her gender and social class. Although she achieves independence, she commits suicide when she realized she would never have the life she wants for herself. One of the most profound scenes I remember is when Edna began to let her hands tan, which was unheard of in her Creole culture. Tan skin represented the working class, so upper-class women would wear gloves and hats, or sit under umbrellas when outside.

This story was required reading in my 11th grade English class. We had multiple class wide discussions on the symbolism behind the story, and how it related to the culture at the time. This story appeals to me because of Edna’s movement towards female empowerment. She realized she was unhappy in the stereotypical feminine roles of her time, and made an effort to break out of them, no matter the social implications. When I first read the novel, it did not mean as much to me as it does now, because I was fairly unaware of how much feminine stereotypes are still present in modern culture. It resonates with me more now, because of how much momentum the feminist movement has picked up, and the increasing societal rejection of the “perfect mother and wife” role. Along with that, I would like to be financially independent from my future husband, which Edna becomes when she leaves him. Also, Edna’s rejection of her children resonates with me, because I do not know if I ever want to have children, which does not go along with the typical American woman stereotype. The novel was first published in 1899, so I am not sure if it is still a popular novel. I had never heard of it before I was required to read it, and I do not know if it is required in other schools. I think it should be better known, because of its connections to feminism. I have discussed this story before with others, because it was one of the first of its kind and it presents a very interesting perspective. After reading the novel in my class, we would often bring it back up to parallel it to other readings, or to compare with current events.

This story can inspire because it is a call to break societal norms. Women have been working incredibly hard to break stereotypes and gain the same rights as men throughout the world. I believe the story is still a reflection to what is happening today, just on a larger scale. While many women have been able to break free from gender and societal roles placed upon them, it is still apparent in modern culture nearly everywhere. This story can relate on a certain level to most women, which makes it dynamic and still relevant. This novel also inspired other women to become writers, and include feminist ideas within their writing, even when it was not socially acceptable at the time. I believe this is a story everyone should read at least once.

Gender roles, societal roles, feminism, stereotypes

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