One of these days, I'm going to pull myself together for a while and think--try to determine what character of a woman I am; for, candidly, I don't know. By all the codes which I am acquainted with, I am a devilishly wicked specimen of the sex. But some way I can't convince myself that I am. I must think about it.
The above quote was spoken by Edna Pontellier, the central character in The Awakening. The title alludes to the change that Mrs. Pontellier is undergoing. The novel begins on Grand Isle off the coast of Louisiana. While there during the summer months, she is followed around by a young man named Robert. She enjoys his company and the attention that he heaps on her. But when she finds out that he is leaving for Mexico, perhaps never to return, she realizes that she is in love with him.
Robert leaves. The summer comes to an end. And Edna returns to New Orleans with her husband and children. But a fundamental change has taken place within Edna--an awakening, if you will. She begins to feel circumscribed by society's expectations of her, and she starts to ignore those expectations. While her husband is in New York on business, she goes to the racetrack in the company of a single man, known to be a cad; and she moves out of her house into a much smaller house a short ways down the street. She can afford this house on her modest family inheritance. Things are further complicated when Robert returns from Mexico, unsure of his feelings toward Edna.
It is important to note that this book is really more than its plot. Chopin deals with issues at the core of America society. For this reason, the book was understandably controversial when it was first published in 1899. It is often described as feminist literature, however, it is much more than that. Chopin speaks to larger topics such as art, marriage, and social mores. For instance, after moving out, Edna really becomes serious about her painting, finding that she has the time and peace of mind to do so. This creates an interesting connection with Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own.
This edition also included some of Chopin's short stories, some no longer than two pages. "Beyond the Bayou" was my favorite of these. Others were a little ham fisted, such as "Desiree's Baby" and "The Locket."
I have a feeling this will be one of those books that sticks with me and gives me something to think about for the next couple of weeks...months...years...lifetimes.