THE AWAKENING (1899) is Kate Chopin's
[SHOW-pans] lyrical, stunning study of 29-year-old Edna Pontellier, who gradually "awakens" from the 19th-century society's vision of women as passionless beings desiring only submission to the needs of their husbands and children to realize her own emotional needs and sexual desires. Edna signals her emergence as an independent person rather than her husband's appendage when she declares: "I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself."
Edna experiences a journey of self-discovery -- an "awakening" -- to the pleasure of individuality (being a "solitary soul"), the passion of art, and the ecstasy of sexual desire. As Mademoiselle Reisz's piano playing teaches Edna the power of music to unleash emotion, she discovers how to express herself through art. From Robert and Alcee, her lovers, Edna learns how to express her bottled-up passion and love. She is pulled by romantic, sentimental longings for handsome Robert and by sexual satisfaction to the experienced lover AlcŽe.In an era only slowly understanding women's public needs -- a useful education, a voice in government through suffrage, economic independence through property ownership and employment, and sexual equality -- THE AWAKENING was praised for its craft and damned for its content. Considered scandalous when it was published, the novel pushed Chopin into literary oblivion until the sexual and feminist revolutions of the 1970s, when it was finally reconsidered and appreciated. Previous