Book Review: The Awakening by Kate Chopin


Mumtaheenah Zaman Agoto


Kate Chopin in her marvelous novel The Awakening, first published in 1899, has sketched the duality of our society — how it has objectified females and enslaved them to the privileged segment of their species, how it is trying to tame women by throwing “hypocritical norms” at them in the name of spiritual and behavioural sophistication and propriety; she narrates Edna Pontellier’s journey of awakening and discovering her inner-self.

“A green and the yellow parrot which was hung in a cage outside the door…

He could speak a little Spanish, and also another language which nobody understood unless it was the mockingbird that hung on the other side of the door, whistling his fluty notes out upon the breeze with maddening persistence.” 

These are the words with which the author begins and this wonderfully constructed allegory refers to the constrained condition of women in our societies, who are heard and understood only when they spit what is desired from them. However, Edna, the protagonist of our novel, was not like the conventional ladies trying to fit into that very society; she wanted to swim out where no woman had swum before. 

She realised that she did not need someone else to influence her growth in life — her spiritual maturity, which was important and essential for her sustainability. She felt it was necessary to hold on to things which constructed her entity bit by bit and kept her happy from within. She would give up anything but herself; her individuality. She dared to break the conventional laws of nurturing womanly thoughts, and preserve the essence of her life. She chose not just to survive, but to live.

But when our society waged war against her inner sanctum — a war to suppress her wild thirst for being who she was and take control of the strings of the puppet show which the growing Edna denounced — Edna decided to bring herself a little peace and called off the war by giving herself away to the sea. She found the sea more befitting than the society she was surviving in. 

The conclusion of the novel as the fate of women seeking freedom is as real it can get. Her end marks the existence of a demoralised society that cannot protect and dignify the due rights of its women. It’s a threat to break the stereotypes which shackles a woman’s choice of living and evolving. It’s a warning for change. A courtesy call for the awakening of a new society which would give room for one to become a human before a woman, let live and ignite the spirit of freedom in its women. The book as a whole is an outstanding message to societies which seem unnerved by the empowerment of the women.

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