Edna Pontellier’s Awakening and her Final Decision in Kate Chopin’s Novel

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The aim of this thesis is to introduce Kate Chopin, a popular American writer of the late nineteenth century, and her most famous work, a novel The Awakening. Despite the pre-publishing promotion, which should have prepared good conditions for a positive reception of the novel, it was condemned by majority of critics who found the story vulgar and immoral.

Critics expected what they were used to from Kate Chopin, a regionalist writer. But instead, they were shocked and consternated by the protagonist Edna Pontellier, whose behaviour was viewed as selfish, amoral, stupid and unacceptable. The novel was criticised as morbid and lacking literary value. The critics did not understand the reasons, which made this exceptionally talented writer whose career was increasingly successful, create such an immoral and provocative story (Sprinkle 2).

The unfavourable reception of the novel was in my opinion caused mainly by the fact, that most of the critics were men. The nineteenth century was a man’s century and the Victorian society was not ready for such frankness about woman’s sexuality and desire for independence. Therefore, Chopin’s Edna, who broke away from the traditional role of wife and mother and showed an unromantic picture of marriage, drew a storm of criticism. The public, especially men’s public, might not still be prepared for such an open drawing of an emancipated woman. As have been said and written many times, Chopin was decades ahead of her time (Sprinkle 5). Therefore, The Awakening was not well received in its time.

Nevertheless, Kate Chopin did not only listen silently to the criticism but attempted to defend herself and her novel. In the July, the 1899 edition of “Book News” she reacted to her critics saying:

Having a group of people at my disposal, I thought it might be entertaining (to myself) to throw them together and see what would happen. I never dreamed of Mrs. Pontellier making such a mess of things and working out her own damnation as she did. If I had the slightest intimation of such a thing, I would have excluded her from the company. But when I found out what she was up to, the play was half over and it was then too late.8

When I look at the journey of the novel The Awakening since it was published, it reminds me of the Calvary. At first a refusal and damnation but later on, at the end of the journey, glorification and a success so big that The Awakening received the significant place in the canon of American literature.

I can also see some connection between awakened Edna, trying to escape from the cage of morals of the nineteenth century society and the reception of the novel. It seems that the novel was sleeping - forgotten and neglected. Edna also made herself sleepy when trying to shape to the surroundings. Nevertheless, both of them were in fact only waiting for right time to awake. In the nineteenth century, it was too early for the book to be understood and accepted with open arms as well as it was too early for Edna Pontellier to live the life of an independent woman.

However, the right time for the novel came with the feminist movement fifty years after its first publication. Feminism came up with a completely new look at women. An interest focused on an independent woman searching for her self-awareness and demanding equality changed the perception of the protagonist of the novel The Awakening. An initial misunderstanding and negative critics were replaced by positive reception.

On the example of the novel The Awakening, we can see that the interpretive strategies9, which vary according to cultural and social values accepted in a particular time, are the most powerful tool for evaluating any kind of work. The analyses of the reception of The Awakening in three different periods demonstrate the power of this tool and explain how the same book can be received once as beneficial and the other time as unacceptable (Corse and Westervelt 8).

Corse and Westervelt in their research show that “the dominant interpretive strategy of reviewers in 1899 was built on assumption of reading as moral instruction and of women as selfless nurturers. Such interpretive strategies could make little of value out of The Awakening, constructing a narrative that was objectionable at best and virtually unintelligible at worst. Late-twentieth-century feminist interpretive strategies, however, constructed The Awakening as a compelling and socially resonant narrative of the search for the female self and patriarchal limits to woman’s lives that resonated powerfully with contemporary social concerns” (Corse and Westervelt 141).

Critical receptions of Chopin´s The Awakening reflect the mores and accepted conventions of the nineteenth century.The most important criterion of that time was the moral value of the work not the literary quality. Therefore, although the evaluation of Chopin’s literary style was positive, Edna’s immoral behaviour was the main evaluative factor and the novel was condemned to a failure.

  1. Resumé

Tato bakalářská práce se zabývá Kate Chopin, populární spisovatelkou konce devatenáctého století a jejím nejslavnějším dílem, románem Probuzení.

V první části je popsáno rodinné zázemí autorky, její život a práce a jejich vzájemné propojení. V této části jsou také popsány typické znaky Ameriky v druhé polovině devatenáctého století, s důrazem na roli žen v patriarchální společnosti. Zmíněn je také vztah mezi kreolskou společností a románem.

Druhá část práce seznamuje s obsahem románu, podrobněji se pak zabývá hlavní hrdinkou Ednou Pontellier a symbolikou ptáků zavřených v kleci.

Třetí část je hlavní částí závěrečné práce. Tato část se zaměřuje na Ednu Pontellier a průběh jejich probuzení. Soustředila jsem se na zobrazení klíčových momentů v životě hlavní hrdinky a pokusila jsem se demonstrovat jejich význam pro sérii probuzení a transformaci, kterými Edna Pontellier prošla. Mým záměrem bylo ukázat význam, jaký mají naše životní rozhodnutí, náhodná setkání, podmínky a okolnosti na vnímání budoucí skutečnosti.

  1. Resume

This bachelor thesis deals with Kate Chopin, a popular American writer of the late nineteenth century, and her most famous work, a novel The Awakening.

The first part of the thesis describes Kate Chopin’s family background, life and work and shows their interconnection. It also describes typical characteristics of the second half of the 19th century America, particularly a role of women in the patriarchal society. In this part, also a relation between Creole society and a novel The Awakening is discussed.

The second part of the work introduces a novel The Awakening and its content with a detailed look at the protagonist Edna Pontellier and the symbol of caged birds in the opening scene of the novel.

The part three is the main part of the thesis. It is aimed at Edna Pontellier and her process of awakenings. I focus on depicting the key moments in Edna’s life and try to demonstrate their significance for the series of her awakenings and the process of her transformation. My intention was to show the importance of our life decisions, encounters, conditions and circumstances on our future perception of reality.

  1. Bibliography

1. Books and Journals
Baym, Nina, et al. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Vol. 2. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1989.
Corse, Sarah, and Saundra Westerwelt. “Gender and Literary Valorization: The Awakening of a Canonical Novel.” Sociological Perspectives, Volume 45, Number 2 (Summer 2002): 139-161

Cott, Nancy F. The Grounding of Modern Feminism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.,1993.
Chopin, Kate. Probuzení. Praha: Euromedia Group, 2008.
Eaton, Clement. “Breaking a Path for the Liberation of Women in the South.” Georgia Review, 28 (Summer 1974): 187-199
Hart, James David; Leininger, Phillip W. The Oxford Companion to American Literature. 6th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Skaggs, Peggy. Kate Chopin. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1985.
Toth, Emily. Unveiling Kate Chopin. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1999.

2. Internet Sources
“About Kate Chopin.” ClassicAuthors.net. Cyber Studios Inc., 2010. Web. 26 February 2010.
“Answers on The Awakening.” Answers.com. Answers Corporation, 2010. Web. 2 March 2010.
Baumann, Harriet. French Creoles in Louisiana: An American Tale. Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, 2010. Web. 2 April 2010.

“Biography of Kate Chopin.” GradeSaver. Gradesaver LLC., 2010. Web. 27 January 2010.

Clark, Zoila. “The Bird That Came Out of the Cage: A Foucauldian Feminist Approach to Kate Chopin's The Awakening.” Journal for Cultural Research 12.4 (2008): 335-347. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 18 March 2010.

Eshelman, Julie.“A Basket That Holds Everything” 7 April


Howard, Jane. “Kate Chopin: A Woman Far Ahead of her Time.Virginia Commonwealth University. VCU, 2010. 18 February 2010

KateChopin.org: The Official Site of Kate Chopin. Kate Chopin International Society, 2010. 10 January 2010.
Murphy, Samantha.“The Effects of Birth Order on Personality” 5 March 2010


Sprinkle, Russ. “Kate Chopin’s The Awakening: A Critical Reception”. Domestic Goddesses. Editor, Kim Wells. Web. 23 March 2010.

“The Best Southern Novels of All Time.” Oxford American. The Oxford American, 2010. 6 October 2009.

“The Cult of Domesticity and True Womanhood.” College of Staten Island Library. CSI, 2010. Web. 27 November 2009

Tolentino, Jasdomin. “Kate Chopin´s Life and Personal Influence. 20 February


Volo, James M., and Dorothy Denneen Volo. “Family life in 19th-century America.”

15 January 2010

Wikipedia.org: Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopaedia. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. Web. 24 March 2010.
Wyatt, Neal. “Exploring Kate Chopin's The Awakening.” Virginia Commonwealth University. VCU, 2010. Web. 14 December 2009

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