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"The Awakening" by Kate Chopin

The Awakening and Selected Short Stories is available for free download from our ebook catalog. The following is a review by Erica Bauermeister from 500 Great Books by Women.

The AwakeningEdna Pontellier, the heroine of The Awakening, shocked readers in 1899 and the scandal created by the book haunted Kate Chopin for the rest of her life.

The Awakening begins at a crisis point in twenty-eight year-old Edna Pontellier's life. Edna is a passionate and artistic woman who finds few acceptable outlets for her desires in her role as wife and mother of two sons living in conventional Creole society. Unlike the married women around her, whose sensuality seems to flow naturally into maternity, Edna finds herself wanting her own emotional and sexual identity.

During one summer while her husband is out of town, her frustrations find an outlet in an affair with a younger man. Energized and filled with a desire to define her own life, she sends her children to the country and removes herself to a small house of her own: "Every step she took toward relieving herself from obligations added to her strength and expansion as an individual. She began to look with her own eyes; to see and apprehend the deeper undercurrents of life. No longer was she content to 'feed upon the opinion' when her own soul had invited her."

Her triumph is short-lived, however, destroyed by a society that has no place for a self-determined, unattached woman. Her story is a tragedy and one of many clarion calls in its day to examine the institution of marriage and woman's opportunities in an oppressive world.


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