Date of Publication: 1899Number of Pages: 106
The Awakening begins at a crisis point in twenty-eight year-old Edna Pontellier’s life. Edna is a passionate and artistic woman who finds few acceptable outlets for her desires in her role as wife and mother of two sons living in conventional Creole society. Unlike the married women around her, whose sensuality seems to flow naturally into maternity, Edna finds herself wanting her own emotional and sexual identity. During one summer while her husband is out of town, her frustrations find an outlet in an affair with a younger man. Energized and filled with a desire to define her own life, she sends her children to the country and removes herself to a small house of her own: “Every step she took toward relieving herself from obligations added to her strength and expansion as an individual. She began to look with her own eyes; to see and apprehend the deeper undercurrents of life. No longer was she content to ‘feed upon the opinion’ when her own soul had invited her.” Her triumph is short-lived, however, destroyed by a society that has no place for a self-determined, unattached woman. Her story is a tragedy and one of many clarion calls in its day to examine the institution of marriage and woman’s opportunities in an oppressive world.” ~By Erica Bauermeister
Although this book starts of rather slow, it soon becomes riveting as the characters become more developed. As I became acquainted with Edna and the awakening she goes through, I found that I could identify with her on a deeply personal level. Many of us have felt that we are living our lives in a false way, as if we have put up a facade to show to the world. Edna desperately wants to be free of her loveless marriage, but even the man with whom she is in love, and who loves her, will not permit her to break her vows to her husband; she belongs to him. To a modern reader, the story is even more of a tragedy, as her unhappiness seems needless.
This is a short novel, but doesn’t suffer from it’s length, or lack thereof. There are several fascinating characters, besides Edna and her lover, Robert. There is also the alluring setting of 1890’s New Orleans and its Creole community. The Awakening is a terrific example of an early feminist work, and provides a tragic example of the consequences of the foolish “proprieties” demanded by society.