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Transcript of The Awakening
"Edna's experience reflects the oceanic origins of life itself, with recognition that the emergence of a new reality, especially in an unsympathetic natural or cultural environment, is fraught with unpredictable complications and the likelihood of failure-- as Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859) suggests regarding biological evolution" (John Glendening). Society & Expectations of Women Claire Woodcock & Desiree Lyman Discussion Questions "Personal Property: Exchange Value and the Female Self in The Awakening" by Margit Stange "In the context of the property system in which Edna exists as a sign of value, Edna's body is detachable and alienable from her own viewpoint: the hands and wrists are part of the body yet can be objectified, held out and examined as if they belonged to someone else... Edna's perception of her own body is structured by the detachability of the hand and arm as signs of Leonce's ownership of her" (Stange 878). "You are burnt beyond recognition, [Leonce says], looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage" (Chopin 697). Class Activity 1. In chapter XXXVIII, Edna said, "The years that are gone seem like dreams--if one might go on sleeping and dreaming--but to wake up and find! oh! well! perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one's life" to the doctor. (775). What has she realized at this moment in the novel? In what ways did Edna discover her true identity? How does this foreshadow the conclusion of the novel?
2. Margit Stange wrote, "Chopin's dramatization of female self-ownership demonstrates the central importance of the ideology of woman's value in exchange to contemporary notions of female self-hood" (878). How does Edna specifically express her self-ownership? How does her ideologies progress as the novel comes to a conclusion? How does Stange consider Chopin to dramatize the female self-hood?
3. Edna tells Robert that he has been a "very foolish boy, wasting your time dreaming of impossible things when you speak of Mr. Pontellier setting me free! I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier's possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose" (772). Explain what Edna may mean by not being "one of Mr. Pontellier's possessions." What does Edna mean when she says, "I give myself where I choose?" How does this show Edna's expression of individualism?
4. At the conclusion of the novel, in what ways did Edna finally "possess the courageous soul that dares and defies" (778)? Why do you think some readers of 19th century saw Edna's suicide as selfish? Why do you think some readers in contemporary times supported the conclusion of the novel?
5. According to Mary K. DeShazer, "Woolf experienced massive mood swings and psychic terrors that led to several mental breakdowns. Her illness worsened in early 1940, and in 1941 she committed suicide by drowning herself in the River Ouse near the Woolf's home in Sussex" (15). How was Edna's suicide similar to Virginia Woolf's? How could Woolf's mental illness compare to Edna? What passages in The Awakening could relate to Woolf's A Room of One's Own? Stanford University scholar Margit Stange studied the works of early twentieth century literary and sociological texts to further discover how women have been viewed as commodities or objects of exchange, and how women writers avoided branding. In Stange's essay, Stange examines Chopin's novel and considers concepts of self-ownership, the right of a woman to refuse marital sex, the right to choose motherhood or not, and her right to choose pregnancy. "but a woman who would give her life for her children could do no more than that-- your bible tells you so" (723). -Madame Ratignolle Adele's "response goes directly to conventional moralities and sounds more like a dismissal" (Davis 564). Alys W. Pearsall Smith, a woman in 1894 once wrote,
Among all the girls I know there is scarcely one who is not especially interested in something outside the family life, and who is not longing to be allowed a little time to devote to it...to do her work, [she] is obliged to get up at five every morning. From the fear of seeming selfish, or in dread of the opposition they will be sure to meet, none of these girls have as yet dared to insist on their own personal rights. (564) Was Chopin "a woman before her time?" -Split the classroom into two groups: 1899 critics and 2013 critics.
-As a group, find the three strongest contextual evidences that support the groups' claims about Edna's suicide and how the evidence supports or contradicts the reactions in that time in history.
-In the debate, group one will state a passage that supports their argument and group two will be expected to refute the contextual evidence the previous group provided.
-Following, group two will state a passage that supports their claim and group one will be expected to refute the evidence provided by group two. "Chopin's The Awakening was published in 1899, it immediately created controversies among the literary critics and scholars...who were outraged by her depiction of a woman protagonist with active sexual desires, who dares to leave her husband and her children, falls in love with a man younger than her, and has an affair with another man." Davis, William A., Jr. "Female Self-Sacrifice In Kate Chopin's The Awakening: Conflict And Context." Notes And Queries 58 (256).4 (2011):563-567. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 4 February 2013. Feminist Criticism's of Edna's Suicide "Women seldom take their own lives, and so we have the curious and contradictory spectacle of the sex that is universally accounted the braver and stronger, flinging themselves out of the world to avoid its troubles, while the weaklings patiently bear theirs on to the bitter end" (Dix 150).
"The babe salutes life with a wail, and the dying man takes leave of it with a groan" (Dix 151). "'The Awakening" is epitomized in the range of responses to Edna's suicide. The finale constitutes the critical crux of the novel, not only in that it is central to the interpretation of Edna's character and the theme of the story; but also because it is joined with the issue of Chopin's attitude to her protagonist and the artistic integrity of her work" (Wolkenfeld 242). Reviews & Reactions to The Awakening in 1899 Darwinist Approaches to Edna's Suicide Culley, Margo. "The Awakening: An Authoritative Text Biographical and Historical Contexts Criticism."Second Edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1994. 145-151. Print. "Because we admire Kate Chopin's other work immensely and delight in her evergrowing fame and are proud that she is "one-of-us St. Louisians," one dislikes to acknowledge a wish that she had not written her novel. It absorbs and interests, then makes one wonder, for the moment, with a little sick feeling, if all women are like this one, and that isn't a pleasant reflection after you have thoroughly taken in this character whose "awakening" gives title to Mrs. Chopin's novel." (The Mirror). Frances Porcher, "Kate Chopin's Novel," The Mirror 9 (4 May 1899): 6. "It is not a healthy book; if it points any particular moral or teaches any lesson, the fact is not apparent. But there is no denying the fact that it deals with existent conditions, and without attempting a solution, handles a problem that obtrudes itself only too frequently in the social life of people with whom the question of food and clothing is not the all absorbing one" (St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat). "Notes from Bookland," St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat 13 May 1899. 5 "Miss Kate Chopin is another clever woman, but she has put her cleverness to a very bad use in writing "The Awakening." The purport of the story can hardly be described in language fit for publication" (Books of the Week). "Books of the Week," Providence Sunday Journal 4 June 1899. 15. "According to Freud's 'structural model of the psyche,' ...Edna Pontellier is undergoing such a psychic abnormality that due to not having a strong 'ego,' she cannot balance out the demands arousing from her subconscious area -the id- of her mind...It is based on the principles that psychological illness comes about from repressed emotions and thoughts from experiences in the past." Historical Context Duties of a wife in the 1800s:
-Avoid all causes for Complaint-“Nothing can be more senseless than the conduct of a young woman, who seeks to be admired in general society for her politeness and engaging manners…when at the same time, she makes no effort to render her home attractive" (Wells 122).
-Beware of Confidants- “Beware of intrusting any individual whatever with small annoyances, or misunderstandings, between your husband and yourself, if they unhappily occur. Confidants are dangerous persons…should any one presume to offer advice with regard to your husband, or seek to lesson him by insinuations, shun that person as you would a serpent” (123).
-Influence of Mother- "what a child needs pre-eminently above playthings, books, clothes, and every other earthly thing, is the presence and influence of the mother…if she has the true mother-heart the companionship of her children will be the society which she will prefer above that of all others” (123). Tas, Mehmet Recep. "Kate Chopin's The Awakening In The Light Of Freud's Structural Model Of The Psyche." Uluslaraast Sosyal Arastirmalar Dergisi/Journal of International Social Research 4.19 (2011): 413-418. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 4 Feb. 3013. Glendening, John. "Evolution, Narcissism, and Maladaptation in Kate Chopin's The Awakening." American Literary Realism 43.1 (2010) 41-73. Print. Glendening argues that Edna's awakening is perpetuated by a variety of inherent and environmental factors, such as her continuous pursuit of individuality, the early death of her mother, her militaristic father, her unsuitability for motherhood, her dwindling marriage and romantic interests outside of the marriage, her high-matinence Creole society, and narcissistic mindset all lead to her untimely suicide. Culley, Margo. The Awakening: An Authoritative Text Biographical and Historical Contexts Criticism. Second Edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1994. 122-123. Print. Freudian Views on The Awakening Tas, Mehmet Recep. "Kate Chopin's The Awakening In The Light Of Freud's Structural Model Of The Psyche." Uluslaraast Sosyal Arastirmalar Dergisi/Journal of International Social Research 4.19 (2011): 413-418. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 4 Feb. 3013. "The moment at the very end of the novel, the moment Edna is ready to embrace the unknown of the sea, will be identified as the promise of this awakening. A last image this reading will risk will be that of an Edna beyond the novel, an Edna laughing while swimming. The events preceding and supposedly leading to this ending will be read as a story of intoxication, an intoxication meant to avoid or at least postpone the moment of awakening as awakening-unto-death" (Anca Parvulescu). 1899 1899 1899 Parvulescu, Anca. "To Die Laughing and to Laugh at Dying: Revisiting the Awakening." New Literary History 36.3 (2005): 477-95. Print. Culley, Margo. "The Awakening: An Authoritative Text Biographical and Historical Contexts Criticism." Second Edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1994. 241-247. Print. "She has not determined to commit suicide; in fact, on her way to the beach she talks with Victor about what will be served for dinner upon her return...Edna drifts into death because she does nothing to stop it; in this action, as in preceding ones, she has not controlled her own identity" (Walker 256). "Edna does not possess the strength to live her life alone and is therefore driven to seek the solitary security of death. Her view of her children has enemies who seek "to drag her into the soul's slavery for the rest of her days" is the hysterical response of a woman who, compelled by the instinct to return to the unbroken bond with her mother, must perforce renounce her own motherhood" (Wolkenfeld 246). Culley, Margo. "The Awakening: An Authoritative Text Biographical and Historical Contexts Criticism." Second Edtion. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1994. 252-256. Print. Deshazer, Mary K. The Longman Anthology of Women's Literature. 1st Edition. New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc., 2001. 876-888. Print. DeShazer, Mary K. The Longman Anthology of Women's Literature. 1st Edition. New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc., 2001. 697. Print. Critics descended upon Chopin's publication of her novel. Chopin received severe criticism of her leading protagonist's actions and mannerisms throughout the novel. Chopin's character defied society, therefore, Chopin's novel defied society as well. After negative feedback, she never published again. Although the feminist critics all had different interpretations of why Edna committed suicide at the conclusion of the novel, critics are more accepting to the possibility of why Edna ended her life. Contemporary Reactions Towards Edna's Suicide Parvulescu revisits The Awakening with an acceptance of the suicide at the conclusion of the novel as the absolute limit of the experience and the knowledge Edna could possibly acquire in her lifetime. Parvulescu also explores the feminist movement for the novel as opposed to the novel for the feminist movement, stating that "Edna is not a feminist...her desire is not recuperable within feminism" (Anca Parvluescu). Edna wanted to discover her identity, but never knew exactly what she wanted. "Chopin's official biographer, Per Seyersted...considers Edna's suicide as 'a strong assertion of her identity.' Seyersted goes on underlining that 'feminism was well advanced in Kate Chopin...and she probably foresaw that women would obtain the degree of equality with man." Nadine Mark claimed, "Chopin's The Awakening is a masterpiece of feminist philosophy. It tells the story of Edna Pontellier, a wife and mother who realizes that her society does not allow her the possibility to be ab autonomout individual human being."