The Awakening

The Awakening Study Guide

The Awakening was published in 1899, and it immediately created a controversy. Kate Chopin's contemporaries were shocked by her depiction of a woman with active sexual desires, who dares to leave her husband and have an affair. Instead of condemning her protagonist, Chopin maintains a neutral, non-judgmental tone throughout and appears to even condone her character's unconventional actions. Kate Chopin was socially ostracized after the publication of her novel, which was almost forgotten until the second half of the twentieth century.

The Awakening is often considered in association with one of three distinct movements: the local-color movement, naturalism, and modern-day feminism. The local-color movement was a literary movement popular during the 1890s. Local-color writers focused on a particular region of the United States and tried to recreate its culture, dialect, and customs in minute detail. At this time, the United States was still very fragmented culturally, and local-colorists wanted to convey the "quaintness" of a minority culture to mainstream American society. The Awakening portrays the Creole culture of Louisiana in vivid detail, and other of Chopin's fictional works deal with this area of the country.

Naturalism is another turn-of-the-century literary movement. In naturalist writing, characters' motivations are strongly influenced by their environment, frequently in negative ways. Characters behave in a certain way because their environment has a direct affect on how they view the world, themselves, and other people. Naturalist writers tried to convey the grim reality of life, often with particular attention to crime, poverty, and moral vice. The Awakening is often associated with American naturalist writing because of the profound effect that the ocean has on Edna Pontellier's interiority.

Finally, The Awakening has been reclaimed by late twentieth-century theorists who see Edna Pontellier as the prototypical feminist. A woman before her time, Edna questions the institution of marriage, has sexual desires of her own, and becomes completely independent of her husband.