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LIT 4386 British and American Literature
by Women

Class 15

Reading Assignment:

    Chopin, The Awakening (1011--1101)
    Post #6 Group A

    Class Objectives:

  • To read through chapter 21 or page 1061
  • To explore the use of third person narrator
  • To discuss ways in which Edna awakens in this part of the novel

Notes and Discussion Questions:

1. Kate Chopin (1851-1904)

Background information:
Chopin started writing at the age of 36 in 1889 -- had ten years of fairly successful writing

She is most famous for The Awakening (1899) but also respected as a leading writing in regionalism, "local color" -- an area that women began to excel in late in the century.

The Awakening, unlike "The Yellow Wallpaper," does not reflect the life of its author

Chopin was happily married by all accounts -- five children. After husband died she lived with her family in St. Louis -- writing for therapy

She maintained an active socialite life in the elite circles.

2. The Awakening

This week we will discuss first half of the novel; read through chapter 21 or page 1061.

In this novel we have an extended look at the effects of marriage, traditionally understood, on the awakening consciousness of the individual woman.

We also need to understand the historical context -- 1890s; the cultural context --a wealthy, conservative white woman in a Creole environment and in her urban roles.

Consider, once again, the common themes of confinement, law, submission, silence -- this story allows us to explore what happens when a woman follows her desire.

We will consider some carry over themes from "The Yellow Wallpaper" and Jane Eyre: the conflict between autonomy and duty and emotional stability, the theme of the need for artistic expression, the themes of self-discovery and escape; new themes of sexual awareness and desire.

Nina Baym does not see this book as particularly feminist in its message; she commends Chopin's "use of a female protagonist to represent a universal human dilemma" (xxxiv).

Further she says that "Kate Chopin does not provide a single interpretation of Edna's story; she refuses to reduce it to one meaning" (xxxii).

I would like you to look at the story as the representation of a woman's life -- in keeping with the other literature we have read for the semester. This is slightly different, however.

Standard Questions:
What form is it?

What style?

Paying attention to the opening passage: How do we know where the narrator's perspective is? Where does it stay? What are the implications of the opening shift from Mr. Pontellier to Edna? What are the implications of staying with Edna but maintaining a distance from her identity?

How is this different from the first-person narrations we have read thus far?

Discuss the title of the story: What are the meanings of The Awakening?

p. 1022: read "A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her, -- the light which, showing the way, forbids it . . . . vouchsafe to a woman" (1022).

In what ways does Edna awakens in the novel?

Consider the following: Senses / Aesthetic appreciation / Desire - Romance / Independence / Sex

Examine the following passages:
1022: sea
1021-3: painting
1024-5: her past
1026: expression
1027- 1032: music
1028- 1033: swim
1035: hammock
1038 : boat
1041-42: Cheniere
1042 : independence
1047: Rob/ infatuation
1049: passage on sacrifice for children
1052: wedding ring
1056: her painting
1061: visit Mlle. Reisz