Thursday, March 5, 2009

the awakening

When I read any significant literature I almost always have a pen in hand. I underline powerful lines, jot notes, and deliver compliments to the author (I am quite certain the Orlando public library appreciates this). As I scribble, I fester in my supreme jealousy over the powerful ease these authors have in painting glorious pictures of our (human beings) strongest emotions. Through their strategic placement of words they construct sentences that rekindle past emotions, flaring them up again like they parted. Hatred, love, lust, passion, despair, hopelessness... Anyone can describe a setting. It takes a deeply intelligent person to understand human emotions, and then a literary genius to convey them properly through written word. I envy this talent.

With that said, I just finished reading Kate Chopin's The Awakening. This novel is about an obedient wife and mother who through a series of events and relationships is "awakened" to the stifling reality of her life, both sexually and emotionally. Stuck in a loveless marriage, painfully bored at 29, she sheds the conventions of her time and begins a liberating quest for her own independence. It was released 1899 and received awful reviews at the time. While reviewers acknowledged Chopin’s masterful literary technique, they were absolutely shocked with the protagonist’s independence and sexual liberation. Women simply didn't talk like that. While exploring the pages, I found it compelling that the emotions she describes in her book, the romantic infatuations, unexpected moodiness, her boredom (bordering on depression)... these are emotions that I feel every day. Women have always been the same, whether oppressed by social conventions or fear of retribution has blocked their voice. True, we have variances in personality (just ask my friend Kate about Myers-Briggs) but literature is the most effective medium in guiding us to understand our common behaviors as humans. These words transcend.

“An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish. It was like a shadow, like a mist passing across her soul’s summer day. It was strange and unfamiliar: it was a mood.”

“She was still under the spell of her infatuation. She had tried to forget him, realizing the inutility of remembering. But the thought of him was like an obsession, ever pressing upon her. It was not that she dwelt upon details of their acquaintance, or recalled any special or particular way his personality; it was his being, his existence, which dominated her thought, fading sometimes as if it would melt into the mist of the forgotten, reviving again with an intensity that filled her with an incomprehensible longing."

“There were days when she was happy without knowing why. She was happy to be alive and breathing, when her whole body seemed to be one with the sunlight, the colors, the odors, the luxuriant warmth of some perfect Southern day. She liked then to wander alone into strange and unfamiliar places. She discovered many a sunny, sleepy corner, fashioned to dream in. And she found it good to dream and be alone and unmolested. There were days when she was unhappy, she did not know why, when it did not seem worth while to be glad or sorry, to be alive or dead; when life appeared to her like a grotesque pandemonium and humanity like worms struggling blindly towards inevitable annihilation. She could not work on such a day, nor weave fancies to stir her pulses and warm her blood.”

1 comment:

  1. This book is so difficult in that it's tough to decide how one (I) feel(s) about Edna. On the one hand, you've got to empathize with her a bit, due to her unfortunate circumstances concerning her recent shift in perspective. On the other hand, she's immensely immature and selfish; dismissing her children and flaking out on her marriage. The whole suicide at the end of the book is hard for me to put a finger on...It's as if I get it, but at the same time, am not sure if I stand for it. It's not even the suicide that I necessarily don't stand for...I think it's more her cowardice in terms of rather choosing that over facing the reality that she created (social constructs or not), that is, her husband and children - or at LEAST her children.

    Definitely one of the most intriguing characters in any book I've ever read, I think.