The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, has been categorized as one of the first feminist works from the 19th Century. The author herself was one of the earliest female role models of classic literature because of the continuous oppression of women not being able to acquire their own independence. Although the book came to bring the author much praise by women in the south, the primary reason for Chopin’s interest in writing was for financial issues, but even if she struggled economically to support her family, she still persevered through the gender-injustice to achieve her fullest potential, which happens to be a principal theme throughout the story. The plot seems to reflect Chopin’s life prior to writing the book for there are some similarities between the message of the novel and the author’s life, mainly the fact that the behavior of both the author and main protagonist changed after comprehending the fact that she must not be subdued to the many sexist encounters as a female in the late 1800’s.
The story introduces us to Edna Pontellier, a wife and mother, who essentially is a portrayal of Chopin’s experiences of gender oppression in the southern region of the United States. The main concept of the story that bewildered men of that time was that Pontellier ‘awakens’ to realize how limited the societal role of women was, and for this era of change, she comes to achieve her full potential as a woman. The conflict we can see in Chopin’s novel is that she wished to portray a female figure that could illustrate the domineering tradition of gender inequality as she finds that her purpose is to solely serve the wants and necessities of her family.
Nowadays the book is considered genius, especially for how Chopin handled such a delicate topic, but back then, there was much controversy regarding the message of her book; enlightenment of the female role. Aside from her support coming from women, many men who heard of the book found it to be an abomination for the infidelity Edna Pontellier exemplified to her husband and children. It gained much notorious recognition from many newspapers, and eventually was stopped from being published for over half a century, but fortunately was rediscovered in the mid 20th Century for its significance in American literature.
“Mrs. Pontellier was not a woman given to confidences, a characteristic hitherto contrary to her nature. Even as a child she had lived her own small life all within herself. At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life–that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions.”
I highly recommend to any interested readers of American Literature that you read The Awakening for its elegant yet loud perspective of how women faced gender oppression in the 19th Century. There happen to be very few accounts regarding this topic during that age for the harsh reviews and social ostracization that would have been to pay, but Chopin’s novel ambitiously ignores this with her finely written narrative which still has great influence on the progression of women’s equality movements, and will continue to inspire whom fight for equality.