Sunday, March 18, 2012

ReView of THE AWAKENING by Chopin

The topic of infidelity in The Awakening is more than prevalent throughout the novel, it is the absolute main premise.  Is it a shocking topic to our society today?  No, absolutely not.  It is too common a phenomena for people to be shocked about it anymore, whether it is a woman's infidelity or a man's in the marriage.  What makes The Awakening so incredible is the "perception, artistry, and honesty" that Kate Chopin brings to the to the nature of infidelity.

Infidelity doesn't just spur into existence out of thin air, it is rooted in a destructive dynamic involving two individuals who supposedly enter into a marital promise that neither are willing to actively carry out.  That's what we see unfold in this novel.  Mr. Pontellier is too busy minding and tending to his business affairs to pay attention to his own wife.  He dismisses and blames the shortcomings of their lives on her inability to carry out simple responsibilities as a wife and mother.  She on the other end, is solidly complacent about her own self and the life around her.  She doesn't know her own spirit and soul, and she is even more confused about the structure of her existence.  Many might even consider her character as we today call someone in her state of mind, 'depressed.'  As Kate Chopin describes her character, though, it isn't quite a form of depression but more a form of escapism.  She escapes her life through a bond she develops with a young man named Robert.  Robert later leaves, and she finds herself falling deeper into her abyss of escape.  What is one to do when the sole distraction in life is now gone?  Face the reality?  Edna isn't willing to do that, so she further escapes into her lonely existence, creating further a path of destruction for herself.

The saddest part about Edna is that she is the epitomy of what we all go through in life at some point or another, but there is no hope for her.  She fails to acknowledge her own greatness, isn't willing to actively nourish and nurture her greatness, and further disgraces the blessings of her life because she is 'confused,' and 'unhappy.'  Edna's character makes you feel angry towards her, but also feel lots of empathy for her.  There is a soul and spirit about her that makes her so human that you can't help but empathize and relate to her.

For example, there is a moment in the book where Edna's passion as an artist is being discussed.  It is a conversation between Edna and another character who brings to her attention that being an artist is more than just thinking of being, rather it is more about practicing diligently and bravely being that which you desire to be.

"Painting!" laughed Edna.  "I am becoming an artist.  Think of it!"
"Ah! an artist! You have pretensions, Madame."
"Why pretensions?  Do you think I could not become an artist?"
"I do not know you well enough to say.  I do not know your talen or your temperament.  To be an artist includes much; one must posses many gifts - absolute gifts - which have not been acquired by one's won effort.  And, moreover, to succeed, the artist must possess the courageous soul."
"What do you mean by the courageous soul?"
"Courageous, ma foi! The brave soul.  The soul that dares and defies."

This whole statement embodies all that is Edna. She is so trapped and so frozen in her life which all leads to confusion and paralysis about her own vision of herself and what she can ultimately be because she doesn't quite know who she is or what she is doing.  She has no roots from which she can grow, and beyond that she doesn't have the courageous soul - to dare and defy her own existence to become all that she can be.

Even though there is an anger that arises towards this character out of frustration that she could not be brave and courageous enough to fulfill all she was blessed with, there is an empathy about her character that is so universally chilling.  "In short, Mrs Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations 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.  But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing.  How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!"  This is one of the most powerful and human parts of novel in terms of her character and where all her behavior stems from.  There is always a battle within us to understand our own world within and the world outside which sometimes seems exactly as Kate Chopin describes it above.  So it is no wonder Edna finds herself that "there were days when she was unhappy, she did not know why, - when it did not seem worth while to be glad or sorry, to be alive or dead; when life appeared to her like a grotesque pandemonium and humanity like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable annihilation. She could not work on such a day, nor weave fancies to stir her pulses and warm her blood."

Edna is a character that both touches the heart, aches the soul, and forces you to empathize with a universal human theme in life.

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