“The Awakening”: Concept vs. Execution

Maeve O'Sullivan

When “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin was released in 1899, to say that it was not well-received would be an understatement. However today, it is respected as a classic feminist piece of literature. Why does the subject matter make up for poor writing?


When this book was published, nearly every state denied women the right to vote. Everything that a woman owned became her husband’s when she married, and most men considered their wives their own property as well.


Many “first-wave” feminists of the 19th century pushed the idea of self-ownership or bodily integrity. Bodily integrity encapsulates the right of every human being to have control over him/herself.


Protagonist Edna longs for this. 


She tries to assert herself whenever possible and becomes bolder with her steps towards her own freedom. Her power to defy her preconceived role as a woman is what makes her unique.


Edna’s expressiveness of her sensual thoughts was what made this book so controversial. Although many people objected to the subjects discussed in this novel at the time, the subject matter is not where Chopin falls short.


It is in the writing. 


Kate Chopin as an author has written many books that have achieved high praise from sources such as the New York Times itself. However, her writing in this novel is uneven and hard to read. 


For the most part, Edna is a strong main character, but she is also insufferable at times. Edna has a nice life for a woman in her time, even compared to some women today. Her husband has a cushy job, and all she really has to do is take care of the children. Although her search for herself is inspiring and revolutionary for this time, the way other characters exist just to please her is unendurable and quite frankly, unrealistic.


As a concept, Kate Chopin’s novel should be good, but something is off. It’s a tiresome read, and although parts of it are gorgeous, the descriptive text gets to be too wordy. All that aside, Chopin’s extended metaphor and rule-bending in this book are unprecedented, and that is why it is an interesting read. 

Despite the problematic writing style in this novel, Chopin was way ahead of her time. Her courage as a feminist author to publish this is very respectable, and she shed much-needed light on the need to re-evaluate the roles of men and women in marriage and parenting. 


This book was controversial simply because of Chopin’s fearlessness towards discussing sexuality and gender roles. That should not mean it deserves high praise now, but her bravery as an author certainly does.