Recently, a blogger I follow, Book Club Mom, reviewed the Awakening by Kate Chopin–it was her choice for her summer reading challenge’s book with bad reviews. Her review of the book got me to remembering when I read it as a Freshman in college in a literature class on self-discovery. Later in college, I read many of the feminist classics in another class and understood some of the book better. That was 35 or so years ago–I’ve been thru a lot since then! I’ve been a wife and later I became a mother. I’m also a writer who is fascinated with older man, younger woman relationships. Therefore I’ve chosen Edna Pontellier, the main character who experiences the so-called ‘awakening’ as my lunch guest.
I’d want to interview her over lunch–like Jane Pauley or Barbara Walters would. I’d want to draw her out on why life with Leonce was so horrible.I’d want to know why she was so bored with everything. Was she completely unprepared for the [wink, wink] “ways” of marriage? Was Leonce a tyrannt? Why Robert? And what about Alcee? What did they have that Leonce lacked? Had she wanted children? If she’d not been expected to marry what would she have done?
Honestly? I don’t really care why she walked into the water. She struck me as too vapid too think of a better solution. But, then again, she could have been pregnant by her lover or could have contracted a social disease from him. At least that wouldn’t be boring. I thought she was a martyr to self-pity. I really think Edna was just not really interested in solving her own problems. But then, anti-depressants hadn’t been invented yet so that could be the very real reason for her lethargy and hopelessness. She probably had enough brains to leave morphine alone–or maybe Leonce forbid it in the house? Maybe over lunch she could tell her side and I’d finally feel some sympathy for her after all these years.
The Awakening has been called “morbid, vulgar, disagreeable, and scandalous” (source). It did not do well when published. In the 1960s it was rediscovered by the women’s movement as a model of the oppression of wives and mothers. It showed how Edna was stifled and belittled by marriage and motherhood.
Objections to the book come mainly from those holding traditional views of marriage and motherhood. Women should always be there for their children and husband, no matter what. Edna dared to be different, but not really. What did she do? Had an affair? Lots of upper class women had affairs, but they didn’t kill themselves over it. See, I can’t come up with sympathy. I need to interview her. There has to be more to her story than just being married to an older man and being “burdened” with managing a houseful of servants.
In recent years it has been challenged for silly reasons–an exposed breast on the book’s cover and for supposedly for something a school board member read on the internet! Silly or not, these landed it on the list of most challenged classics. [I was hoping they’d want it banned for being dull].
I’m not recommending you go and read it. Trust me, The Sparks Notes version is more than adequate–probably even the Wikipedia entry will do. At least until my lunch with Edna is over….hmmmmmm…. maybe someone should find Edna’s long-lost diary and write the real story of her life and its true awakening. Not me though.
Who would you take out to lunch? Do you have a favorite banned book character? Leave me a comment.