Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Awakening by Kate Chopin~★★★★

Author: Kate Chopin
Title: The Awakening
Release Date: First released in 1899; this edition released in 1999
Publisher: First published by H. Stone & Co.; this edition published by Recorded Books, LLC, Unabridged edition; read by Alexandra O'Karma
Genre: Fiction

Audio Book Cover: "Born in 1851, Katherine O'Flaherty Chopin led an unconventional life. A great beauty, she married a French plantation owner in Louisiana and bore six children. After she was widowed at 32, Chopin managed the plantation, continued to raise her children, and started to write short stories.
The Awakening, published in 1899, was immediately banned from public libraries for being indecent. The story of a young wife and mother, it shocked readers by portraying a growing awareness of passion and desire---and the woman's decision to act on those emotions. 
Narrator Alexandra O'Karma's performance conveys the young woman's new-found spontaneity and her growing frustration with the constraints of society. Now hailed as a classic of American literature, The Awakening is an exceptional work by an intelligent and sensitive writer." 

Taryn's Review: This is one of those books that is best read and appreciated if you understand the time period in which it was written and in the context of what life was like for women. The book was published in 1899; women didn't have the right to vote, women were not considered to be able to make rational decisions because of their "passions," and many women found themselves resolved to a life of being a housewife and mother, even if that is not what they wanted. Today women in the U.S. are very lucky to have rights, rights that were withheld from women of the past. I read this book as a teen and it completely went over my head. It's one of those books that expects you to have a bit of life experience under your belt before reading it.

In the book, Edna Pontellier was the wife of Mr. Pontellier, mother of two boys, Raul and Etienne. As time passed, she realized that the life she was living was not the life she wanted. However, her options were quite limited as to what she could do to change that. The book spoke of how much Mr. Pontellier loved Edna, but she was also crucial to his facade in both his public and private life. He expected Edna to want to do her "wifely duties" of calling on other women and making rounds to keep up good appearances within the social group. He alone selected what type of house the family would live in, how it would be decorated, and where his family would live, vacation, and act daily. I don't think Mr. Pontellier necessarily mistreated his wife; he lived his life according the social norms of the time. But when Edna did speak out and tried to make changes according to her wants, he quickly made the decision to mask Edna's willfulness with lies to the neighborhood via the newspaper (this seems so strange today!). Edna did not have a say in the matter. There was a point in the book where Edna wished to divorce her husband; her confidant said he had head of some men who allowed their wives to be "released" from the martial contract in divorce, but it was rare. As a divorced woman, I cannot image being trapped in a marriage I did not want anymore without the option of leaving it, nor can I image not being able to make choices regarding my education, my career, my home, and, well, my life. 

There were some great quotes in this book. One that struck me was, "I would give up the unessential; I would give up money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give up myself. I can't make it more clear; it's only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me." I find this quote to be really telling not just in the context of the book, but even today for women. How many women have I heard say they have no time for themselves; they lose themselves to work, husbands, children, school, etc. I would say I was guilty of having done so in the past. We often willingly give up ourselves thinking that it is useful to do so, or even a loving gesture to do so, but perhaps we err in that thought. Just something to think about; feel free to disagree.

The book was quite scandalous when it was published in 1899 and went onto many banned-book lists.  Chopin was an elegant writer and I loved her word choices. There were parts of the book that were vague and I wasn't sure what Chopin had hinted at, but overall her writing ability was grand and enviable. I wasn't thrilled with Edna's moral choices at points in the book, but I also cannot imagine the burden of not having control over your own life. It doesn't excuse her choices, but it does lend some perspective as to why she made them. O'Karma (what an awesome last name) did a beautiful job reading the book. The story was set in Louisiana and O'Karma sounded divine when she spoke the little French in the book or accentuated the French accent. I don't think this book is one that can be universally enjoyed by all, but it is a story of self-discovery during a time in which self-discovery was prohibited for women and the book showed the crushing effects such restriction can have on a person.

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