The Awakening



I know I am not the first person to admire Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. The book focuses on Edna Pontellier, a married woman, who through her friendship with a younger man discovers her gradually awakening sexuality and desire. Published in 1899, the book was ahead of its time, and Chopin’s book was declared immoral by her contemporaries. Her writing fell into obscurity, but you can hear this podcast on Chopin’s continued relevance for the post-millennium generation:

I didn’t read The Awakening until I was in my 30s, and I was struck by the portrait of a woman who lives in a world where man’s sexual desires are paramount. Women have always been portrayed as having sexual power as objects, but expressing hunger and their own desires? Not so much.

Edna is also a woman who is a mother, and the discussion of desire versus motherhood is very relevant. Edna’s undoing occurs when she realises that to satisfy her own desires, she must run counter to society at large, and become an outcast. Society will never let her attain joy, but will turn her own beloved child against her. Given the choice between desire or motherhood, Edna would rather die, and she turns back to the ocean which enabled her sensual awakening in the first place.

When I was auditing a poetry workshop with Kathy Fagan, she noted that a poem I was writing had echoes of The Awakening. At Kathy’s suggestion I went on to write a kind of cento/Oulipo techniques to create a poem called ‘Letter from Edna Pontellier,’ which is now out in The Manhattan Review.