The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Mar 20 2011
My best friend of 23 years is an English professor. We met during my first day in the dorm before starting my freshman year in college. I was a business major who didn’t know much about English other than writing seemed to come easily for me even at a young age. I can trace my interest in creative writing back to a 5th grade teacher I had the first year I moved to Lubbock, Texas. I would make A’s and A+’s on my English papers in high school for creativity but practically fail grammar until my freshman year in college when grammar all of a sudden made sense to me. Or maybe I should say I quit trying to make sense of grammar and accepted it for what it was. My best friend is a grammar guru and maybe the combination of taking freshman English and typing her papers for her, because I typed faster than she did, somehow helped me get the practice I needed to improve my grammar and punctuation.
Our professional worlds rarely collide, but when I’m facing a situation personally or professionally, she often has a reference to literature (sadly, my knowledge of great literature is not deep or wide given my business degrees) to help me try to make sense of what is happening. Fiction is fiction but as a writer I have come to appreciate that really good fiction is based often times quite heavily on the author’s direct experience or observation of others. A book that my friend suggested I read a while back when I was going through my personal family transition is called The Awakening by Kate Chopin (wikipedia) [The Awakening (Norton Critical Editions) – Amazon link], but she didn’t think it wise for me to read it while in the middle of my turmoil since the main character kills herself and she was concerned about me. Not that I ever had suicidal tendencies, but it was probably wise I wait to read it because I’ve come to realize that the state of being one is in when they read certain words has a huge impact on how they receive and interpret those words. So I read it this weekend.
The book was banished for decades after Kate Chopin wrote it in 1899 for it’s scandalous depiction of Edna, a married woman with two young boys, and her behavior. I find it scandalous even today given her dramatic moves, an affair with not one but two men (one physical, one emotional), feeling no remorse, shame or guilt, and then killing herself when she can’t be with the man she loves thereby leaving behind two young children. But it was back in the late 1800’s, when most women had no means to support themselves and they had to remain in situations they did not want to be in. The man also loves her but knows he can’t be with her because of the rules of their society and withdraws himself from her life. Since Edna is not able to pursue other opportunities or escape her current life, she resorts to killing herself (you’ll have to read the book to see how she does it) rather than live in a despondent world “without the vibrant colors of love.”
The main character, Edna, was 28 going on 29 when she began the awakening process. I was 38 going on 39 when I started to realize I was waking up to a different perception of myself and the world around me. I remember words I read in an email, I remember my response, I remember the place, the person, the drink, the conversation, the expression, a twinge that when placed together triggered a shift in my being that resulted in my songwriting, journaling, poem writing, emotion laden emails to co-workers, family and friends (i.e., gushes from my writer’s soul that had been behind an enormous dam for a long time). I sought understanding through courses like Landmark (Transformation in Process and Who I Was Being Was Not Exactly Who I Am) and Search Within that both guided the participant to live an authentic life and not what Henry David Thoreau writes in Walden – “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” That was a quote my best friend reminded me of this past weekend. I couldn’t go to the grave with the song still in me, and I hope I don’t die (mostly for my children’s sake) before I release the songs based on my lyrics that I’ve been working on with my songwriting partner. I also hope I don’t die before I find what some people call their soul mate so I can sing him my song, and he’ll understand it just as I will understand his song.
Here are some interesting quotes from the book written by an author who was 32 years old, widowed with 6 kids:
“In short, Mrs. Pontellier [Edna] was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relation as an individual to the world within and about her. This may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of twenty-eight –perhaps more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is usually pleased to vouchsafe to any woman.” p. 17
“She [Edna] is not one of us; she is not like us. She might make the unfortunate blunder of taking you seriously.” [This was said by Edna’s friend to the man, known to Edna’s husband, who eventually became the object of her love. Edna was not Creole but apparently it was common for young, unmarried men to cater to the needs of married women and flirt with them in that society.]
“Edna began to feel like one who awakens gradually out of a dream, a delicious, grotesque, impossible dream, to feel again the realities pressing into her soul.” p. 41
“He [the doctor] observed his hostess attentively from under his shaggy brows, and noted a subtle change which had transformed her from the listless woman he had known into a being who, for the moment, seemed palpitant with the forces of life. Her speech was warm and energetic. There was no repression in her glance or gesture. She reminded him of some beautiful, sleek animal waking up in the sun.” p. 92
“Yes,” she [Edna] said. “The years that are gone seem like dreams — if one might go on sleeping and dreaming — but to wake up and find–oh! well! perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.” p. 147Author: Aruni | Filed under: book review, books, marriage, music, parenting, poetry, singing | Tags: book review, edna pontellier, english professor, henry david thoreau, kate chopin, songwriting, the awakening, walden | 8 Comments »