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The Awakening by Kate Chopin

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1 The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Review PowerPoint Mrs. Dibble

2 Setting and Social Background
Grand Isle and New Orleans, LA – circa 1899 are the two settings NO – Catholic, French, with a great deal of interracial mixing – is a relatively easy-going society. Husbands are NOT overly jealous of the attentions that their wives receive from other men. Women do not place too much credence on these attentions. The problem comes from Edna who is not from there – she does take Robert’s flirtations seriously.

3 Cont. Edna is a Southern Presbyterian who contrasts with her husband who is a Creole. Creoles are the descendants of early French or Spanish settlers. Another definition is a mixture of African and French or African and Spanish. A third definition is “Gens de Couleur” or “Free People of Color”

4 Cont. NO was established in 1718 as a French-Canadian outpost.
Located by the mouth of the Mississippi, it developed rapidly. Its unique social structure began to evolve with the mass importation of African slaves in the 1720s. By the end of the 18th century it was the haven of smugglers, gamblers, prostitutes, and pirates! Became refuge of whites and free blacks – and their slaves – escaping slave revolts in St. Dominque.

5 Cont. The Spanish, French, and people of color worked together, lived next door to one another, and intermarried, creating a distinctive Creole culture. NO was already a diverse city when it was part of the Louisiana Purchase – American immigrants weren’t particularly welcome there. Then, in the Battle of NO, the final battle of the War of 1812, Anglos and Creoles fought side by side. They were even backed by pirates like Jean Lafitte!

6 Cont. Before the Civil War, NO experienced an economic Golden Age as a port and finance center for the cotton industry. This came to an end with the Union occupation and the Union blockade. The Old “French Quarter”- where Edna and the others live – is the site of the original settlement. The Quarter is laid out on a grid that hasn’t changed since 1721. The architecture is predominantly Spanish, with a strong Caribbean influence.

7 Victorian and Early 20th Century Sexuality
The Victorian attitude toward human sexuality was largely influenced by two people: Darwin and Freud Darwin “lowered” man to almost animal status Freud “revealed” that man’s most every thought was sex related Although it is clear that Alcee Arobin’s threat to Edna is sexual and that they did indeed consummate their relationship, Chopin does not openly discuss this. Men and women were not supposed to talk or THINK about sex.

8 Symbolism in the Text ART – - a symbol of both freedom and failure
- a major part of Edna’s awakening is her decision to take up painting again - through her sale of paintings, she is able to leave Leonce’s house and move to the Pigeon House - there is the suggestion that her art is flawed (her drawing of Mad. Ratignolle is not a good likeness) - Mad. Reisz often cautions Edna about what it takes to be an artist – the “courageous soul” and the “strong wings”.

9 Birds - major symbol from the first page to the final image - the mockingbird and parrot symbolize various ineffective attempts at communication. - both birds are best known for their imitation of others, rather than having their own voice – they cannot tell their own stories - the parrot screeches “Get out! Get out!” which could foreshadow Edna’s desire to leave confines of her middle-class life.

10 - The fact that both birds are caged clearly shows entrapment.
- the ability to spread wings and fly occurs often in the novel – “strong wings” - while listening to Mad.Riesz, Edna daydreams about a naked man standing on a beach watching a bird fly away.

11 Food There are several symbolic meals in the novel including
The meal on Cheniere Caminada which occurs when she wakes up from her fairy tale sleep The dinner party at her “old house” when she is ready to leave for the Pigeon House – viewed by some to recreate the Last Supper

12 Swimming Appears as a central issue 3 times
- Edna tells Mad. Ratignolle of her experience as a young girl swimming through the meadow – here the swimming is an escape from formalized religion (Edna’s father’s gloomy prayers) - Edna finally learns how to swim – after trying all summer. Experiences exhilaration and freedom. Also experiences the fear of drowning

13 Cont. The final swimming episode is, of course, her suicide. It is ultimately ambiguous whether Edna is embracing a new freedom from restriction by stripping off her clothes and surrendering herself to the seduction of the sea. Or – is it a final desperate act because she can no longer live the life she seems destined to live???

14 Water Water is a symbol of both freedom and escape.
Edna remember the Kentucky fields of her childhood as an ocean, and she daydreams of the day she “swam” the meadow. Her learning to swim in the Gulf is a show of self-assertion, and she finally “escapes to the sea”. Even in NO there are lots of references to water in the form of rain or the river.

15 Piano Playing Even at the beginning of the novel we hear the Farival twins playing the piano. Here, the fact of playing the piano is an allusion to the opera. On the evening of Edna’ 1st swim, the twins play again, but their inept poundings are replaced by Mad. Reisz. Both Adele and Mad. Reisz play the piano. Each woman functions to underscore a different aspect of the novel. Adele is good because she practices every day – but she does not love it. She wants to set a good example for her kids. Mad. Reisz is an artist. She serves as a mentor to Edna.

16 Sleep and Awakening The 1st night of the novel, Edna cannot sleep after her husband rebukes her for neglecting the children. It is during this sleepless night that her “awakening” begins. We are told, “An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish.”

17 Cont. Similarly, the night of Edna’s 1st successful swim, she also cannot sleep. Yet, the next day, she experiences a deep, dream-filled sleep during her nap at the home of Madame Antoine. Each major episode – disagreements with Leonce, encounters with Alcee, Madame Ratignolle’s childbed – are punctuated by specific mentions of Edna’s sleep, or lack of sleep. During this time, physical sleep also comes to represent a state of awareness as in Edna’s conversation with Doctor Mandelet the night of the birth, the night before her suicide.

18 Themes Repressed Feelings – almost everyone in the book , w/ the possible exceptions of Mad. Ratignolle and her hubby, repress their feelings, and this repression has a significant impact on how the characters interact and how the plot develops. - We are told very early that Leonce truly loves Edna. But does he tell her??? Robert flees to Mexico rather than express his love. On his return to NO, he delays seeing her for the same reason. - Mademoiselle Reisz seems to possess an insight into matters of the heart and soul yet she never reveals what in her past gives her this wisdom. - It is ultimately Edna’s inability to repress her newly discovered feelings that drives her to suicide.

19 Cont. Personal Freedom – all of the characters are trapped by social expectations. The only characters who are not ( Victor, Mad. Reisz, and Alcee) are criticized by others. As Edna begins to gain a sense of personal freedom (evidenced by her learning to swim, painting, bagging her “at home” days, and moving out), she, too, falls subject to gossip and criticism.

20 Cont. Role of Women- The society of Chopin’s novel allows for essentially one feminine role, and that is wife and mother (“…women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.”) The various female characters in the novel represent the various responses to this single role.

21 Cont. Madame Ratignolle fills the role perfectly. She is the “embodiment of every womanly grace and charm.” Notice that she is pregnant throughout the novel. Mademoiselle Reisz represents the woman who has thumbed her nose at the role. She is described as “a disagreeable little woman, no longer young… (with) …a temper which was self- assertive and a disposition to trample upon the rights of others. She lives in near poverty. Edna, of course finds it difficult in her role and kills herself

22 Cont. Search for Self – To some extent, this theme is a combination of the idea of the repressed feelings and the search for personal freedom. It is only by witnessing Edna’s struggle of self-actualization that we can question whether any of the characters has a strong sense of self. If there is such a character, it is probably Mad. Riesz.

23 Alienation and Loneliness
Mad. Riesz lives alone but does not seem to be lonely. Edna, on the other hand, feels lonely when her husband and children and more but she feels no less alone when she is with him. With Robert, however, she is not lonely. It is the ultimate aloneness caused by Robert’s final leaving that immediately precipitates Edna’s suicide.

24 Consequences of Choices
- Immediately before Robert and Edna’s reunion, Madame Ratignolle warns Edna, “You seem to me like a child, Edna. You seem to act without a certain amount of reflection that is necessary in this life.” Does Edna care about the repercussions of any of her decisions?

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