Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Page Turners: The Awakening

Yep I'm still reading The History Keepers and right now I do not care about what happens to anyone. Except maybe the parrot...there's also a dog called Felson but I keep thinking it's called Fenton. So, let's talk about a another oldie but goodie.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
I read this book as a part of my A levels, so I was about seventeen, and I loved it from the moment we started. I also remember the only boy in the class (there were only four of us including myself) being amused by the fact that you could see Edna's boob on the cover. He was the same boy who didn't understand what 'spooning' meant when we read The Go-between (another great book). 

Anyway, The Awakening is awesome and you should read it because it shocked readers at the turn of the century. It was about a strong woman deciding that she wants to have an affair, that she's tired of being a wife and mother, that she wants to her a place of her own and that society is all together far too complicated and restricting. Edna doesn't understand the other women around her and how they are okay with being baby machines. She doesn't understand why she needs to have a husband. She's deeply unhappy and wants to escape. The book was so shocking because it also contains sex and suicide. Kate Chopin also never condemned her heroines actions which annoyed a great many people. 

This is a book the power of delusional, sensual love and about the crushing unhappiness and suffocation of middle and upper class society. It is very much a precursor for feminist writings, and the impressionistic and mood-driven novels that we know today by authors such as Virginia Woolf. The Awakening was neglected for several decades but is now a classic and I absolutely adore it. 

I know that it's not to everyone's taste and some people may find Edna to be selfish or indulgent (she does abandon her children which gets a lot of people's backs up) but I do wonder if they miss the point or don't full understand the time period. You couldn't simply say you didn't want to get married, it wasn't that easy. 

Women didn't have many rights, the book was published in 1899 to give you some idea of the time period. Women could not vote in the majority of the states. You could not own property. You did now even own the clothes on your back or the items in your house, your husband or your father did. Your children were not yours, they were your husbands. You did not even own your body, if you husband wanted to have sex and your refused then he could beat you into submission or simply force you to.

So, get the idea? Edna may have had a rich life, family, friends and nice possessions but none of it was really hers. Can you imagine how suffocating that life would have been for any woman, let alone one who begins to question it? Womens' Rights movements were around at the time and gaining some ground but they had a very, very long way to go. For example marital rape wasn't outlawed in the US for a long time, it happened slowly state by state between 1975 and 1993. Talk about taking your time.

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