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The Awakening by Chopin: Time Period

Instructor: Meredith Spies

Meredith has studied literature and literary analysis, holding a master's degree in liberal arts with a focus on depictions of femininity vs masculinity in literature and art.

This lesson is about the time period in which Kate Chopin wrote and set her novel ''The Awakening'' and how this impacted not only the story but also the reception by publishers and the reading public. This lesson also includes a brief summary of ''The Awakening''.

The Awakening

The Awakening by Kate Chopin is a bildungsroman, or a novel of moral or intellectual revolution. Set in 1899, it follows Edna Pontellier as she vacations with her family on Grand Isle in Louisiana, a popular destination for wealthy Creole and French-descent families. Edna becomes close to a young man named Robert while there but, before they can act on their feelings for one another, he leaves for Mexico. Edna is lonely and listless as she returns to her home in New Orleans with her husband. She finds herself feeling stifled and trapped by her marriage and by societal strictures placed upon women. She takes up painting and decides to move in to a house of her own, effectively leaving her husband. She takes a lover named Alcee during this time, but they are not in love. They are the equivalent of friends with benefits as Edna explores her sexuality and her independence. Eventually, Robert returns and professes his love for Edna and says he wants to marry her one day. Edna refuses to return to the restrictions of marriage and societal expectations and Robert leaves her before they can finish the conversation. Edna is heartbroken and returns to Grand Isle where she swims out to sea and, presumably, drowns.

A cottage in Grand Isle, Louisiana
Cottage in Grand Isle, Louisiana

The Significance of 1899

Set in 1899, The Awakening takes place during a time when a woman was still considered her husband's property. Louisiana, where the novel takes place, was a largely Catholic state and governed by Napoleonic law. Faithfulness in marriage was expected and divorce was so rare as to be remarkable when it occurred. Women were expected to remain devoted to their husband and children and even their extended family from marriage until death, no matter what happened.

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