When it was first published in 1899, The Awakening was a shocking look at how society treats female infidelity. The novel was a door-opener, and as is oftentimes the case, it is difficult to read such novels and understand, in today’s context, exactly what the big deal was. The main character, Edna Pontellier is a 28 year old housewife, well-off and living in Louisiana. Her husband has no time for her, and her children are cared for by a nanny. She is bored and wants more out of life. When she meets and falls in love with a man who is not her husband, Edna’s life is forever changed.
The author does not render judgement, nor does she try to create a morality story. Kate Chopin also goes to great lengths to keep her characters at a distance. As a reader, I didn’t have any feelings for them one way or another. It appears that this was purposeful – Chopin was trying to make aware conditions that exist in then-contemporary society, without politicizing it.
The detachment created by her writing style lessened my enjoyment of the novel, and there was little in it that I did not already know. I would only recommend it as a study in writings that forge new paths in the literary world.
3 stars (out of 5)