A Woman’s struggle:
Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” and “The Story of an Hour”
Would you stay in an unhappy marriage? Would you care about what people thought? Or what people might say? In Kate Chopin’s novel “The Awakening” and her short story “The Story of an Hour” she takes you to a place and time were divorce was not very expensive, but very hard to get. Many couples stayed in their marriages because it was considered prohibited. In Both “The Awakening” and “The Story of an Hour” Kate describes two women who were so depressed they would rather die than be with their husbands. Most of Kate Chopin’s Novels and Short stories were often viewed as negative, “morbid,” “disagreeable,” “unwholesome,” “distasteful,” and “toxic”.
Kate was born to Eliza Faris and Captain Thomas O’Flaherty on February 8th, 1850 in St. Louis, Missouri. At the age of five Kate lost her father in a train accident. After her father’s death Kate was raised by her mother, grandmother, and great grandmother Madame Victoire Verdon Charleville. Kate’s great grandmother Madame told her stories, about the French, stories about a woman struggles, and stories about life in general. These stories Madame told her, inspired Kate in her pursuit as a writer.
On June 9th, 1870, Kate marries Oscar Chopin. Both Oscar and Kate moved to New Orleans, were the majority of Kate’s novels and short stories setting took place. Kate and her husband had a total of six children, Jean Baptiste, Oscar Charles, George Francis, Frederick, Felix Andrew, and Lélia, before her husband’s death on December 10th, 1882. With six kids, no husband, and a company to run, that she couldn’t keep afloat, Kate moved back to St. Louis, were she published her novels and short stories.
Throughout Kate Chopin’s 54 years, she has written two novels and about a hundred short stories. Jennifer Hicks stated, “Some of Chopin’s short stories were rejected for publication on moral grounds, for editors perceived in them an unseemly interest in female self-assertion and sexual liberation. (Hicks)” In 1969, Per Seyersted summarized Kate Chopin’s accomplishments stating, “She broke new grounds in American literature. She was the first woman writer in her country to accept passion as a legitimate subject for serious, outspoken fiction. Revolting against tradition and authority; with a daring which we can hardy fathom today; with an uncompromising honesty and no trace of sensationalism, she undertook to give the unsparing truth about woman’s submerged life. She was something of a pioneer in the amoral treatment of sexuality, of divorce, and of woman’s urge for an existential authenticity. She is in many respects a modern writer, particularly in her awareness of the complexities of truth and the complications of freedom. (Seyersted)”
Kate’s second novel, “The Awakening” was published on January 21st, 1898. Like most of Chopin short stories and novels she takes you to a time were divorce was quite rare, were men automatically had the right to both the children and property, and were women looked for a voice and a cause. “The Awakening” for many of reasons was not one of her best works in that time. Many people criticized Kate because of it. In Peggy Skaggs Short Story Criticism, she stated, “In Chopin’s masterpiece, The Awakening, we encounter a husband beset by the “man-instinct of possession” and a woman who discovers that she needs to be a person as well as a wife and mother. The novel evoked outrage from critics, readers, and library censors primarily because Chopin allowed the protagonist, Edna Pontellier, to take control of her own life without criticizing her for doing so. (Skaggs)”
“The Awakening” it takes place in New Orleans with a married couple Edna Pontellier and Léonce Pontellier and their two children Etienne and Raoul Pontellier. Edna was married to a man who made sure his family had everything that they wished for. Although Mr. Pontellier provided all these things, it still did not make Edna Pontellier happy. While Edna husband Léonce was away at work, her and her two children stayed on an island off the coast of Louisiana. While there Mrs. Pontellier meets people who she feels fulfills her life. Among these people was a man name Robert Lebrun whom she falls madly in love with. With The Awakening taking place in the late nineteenth century, people felt that marriage was a bond that you should not break, which was exactly what Mrs. Pontellier did.
In Russ Sprinkle critical reception of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, he stated: “Yet willing to give up everything–even her own life–for the freedom of unencumbered individuality, Edna Pontellier epitomized the consummate New Woman of the late nineteenth century” (Sprinkle). He also stated, “About a month before the release of Chopin’s novel, Lucy Monroe reviewed her novel for the March 1899, issue of Book News. Monroe praised Chopin’s work as an “extraordinary novel” and applauds it as “subtle and a brilliant kind of art” (Toth 329) (Sprinkle). With praises like these Chopin’s thought her novel would be one of her best works. Instead Sprinkle stated, “Most critics regarded the novel as vulgar, unwholesome, unholy, and a misappropriation of Chopin’s exceptional literary talent. Many reviewers regarded the novel’s aggrandizement of sexual impurity as immoral, and thus they condemned the novel’s theme” (Sprinkle).
While the character Edna was loved by few, she was disowned by many. She showed how an unhappy marriage can lead to self destruction. In Carrie Harris Feminist Criticism to The Awakening, she stated: “Kate Chopin wrote “The Awakening,” to show people of the nineteenth century society and the future generations, how hard women struggled to overcome their conflicting emotions and the oppression of society’s tradition to become more than just personal property for men to control”( Harris).
At the end of the novel Edna expressed her love for Robert and even though he felt the same way, he knew they could not be. When Edna left the house, Robert had promised her that he would stay, but when she came back he was not there.
“When she thought that he was there at hand, waiting for her, she grew numb with the intoxication of expectancy. It was so late; he would be asleep perhaps. She would awaken him with a kiss. She hoped he would be asleep that she might arouse him with her caresses. Still, she remembered Adèle’s voice whispering, “Think of the children; think of them.” She meant to think of them; that determination had driven into her soul like a death wound – but not to-night. To-morrow would be time to think of everything. Robert was not waiting for her in the little parlor. He was nowhere at hand. The house was empty. But he had scrawled on a piece of paper that lay in the lamplight: “I love you. Good-by – because I love you.” Edna grew faint when she read the words. She went and sat on the sofa. Then she stretched herself out there, never uttering a sound. She did not sleep. She did not go to bed. The lamp sputtered and went out. She was still awake in the morning, when Celestine unlocked the kitchen door and came in to light the fire” (Stone)
Torn and broken hearted Edna went to the beach and swimmed until she drowned. In Suzanne D. Green criticism, she states: “The Awakening offers a stirring glimpse into the psyche of a woman, giving contemporary readers insight into both the social structures and the effects that these structures have exerted over generations of women. This novel also offers a female protagonist with whom we can identify, and for whom we can have a great deal of sympathy. Edna Pontellier’s escape strikes a cord in many readers, in large part because she had the strength to act, to take control of her destiny. It is this very act, this empowerment, which has made The Awakening a mainstay in the American literary canon” (Suzanne).
Weather people understood the pain Edna Pontellier felt or not she showed throughout the novel how she wanted to feel free. Free from her husband, free from her kids, and free from responsibilities as a whole. Edna Pontellier Death showed how a women’s struggle.
Published on December 6th, 1894, “The Story of an Hour” was somewhat like “The Awakening”. Many people saw marriage as something everyone should long for. In an article by Nicole Smith, she states, “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin represents a negative view of marriage by presenting the reader with a woman who is clearly overjoyed that her husband has died” (Smith). Chopin often showed woman longing for freedom. Much like “The Awakening” Chopin wrote about a wife Louise Mallard and her husband Brently Mallard. Mr. Mallard, like most husbands, cherished his wife Louise. Many critics spoke about how wonderful Mrs. Mallard husband was. How he worked and adored his wife. But on the other hand you have Mrs. Mallard, a woman who has an ideal of how she would feel if she was alone.
Chopin opened her short story up with, “Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death” (Line 1). Mrs. Mallard sister Josephine only saw a happy marriage. So when it was time to tell Mrs. Mallard about her husband, she felt as if it would cause her to have some type of heat problems. As Josephine spoke to Mrs. Mallard the story states,
“She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzedinability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her. There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reachinto her soul” (Line 6-11).
In, The Faces of Eve,Judith Fryer writes, “In the last year of the nineteenth century a woman succeeded where men had failed: Kate Chopin created . . . a woman who is a person” (Fryer). Chopin’s showed how a woman who feels trapped; feels the desire to celebrate.
“When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: “free, free, free!” The vacant stareand the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed everyinch of her body. She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and exalted perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial. She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome” (Lines ).
Feeling free from her overprotective husband she heads downstairs. Once downstairs everyone realizes the door was being opened with a key. Mr. Mallard walks in alive and well. The shock of seeing Mr. Mallard killed Mrs. Mallard. The Joy that she had before was killed when her husband walked through that door.
“When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease–of the joy that kills” (Line ).
Studies show, “That the suicide rates have decreased from the 1950-1980 from 13.2% to about 11%”(Wikipedia). In 1904 Kate Chopin’s dies, but it wasn’t until five years after her death, people start realizing that she will be remembered forever. Chopin’s novel “The Awakening” and her short story “The story of an hour”, both shows “A woman’s struggle” of the nineteenth century.
- Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour. The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
- Hicks, Jennifer. The Story of an Hour Criticism. Gale Research, 1997.
- Seyersted, Per. The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969, 2006.
- Skaggs, Peggy. “Kate Chopin.” Short Story Criticism. Ed. Thomas Votteler. Vol. 8. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1991. 20 vols.
- Sprinkle, Russ. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening: A critical Reception. Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio. 1998.
- Harris, Carrie. Feminist Criticism to The Awakening. Published March 31, 2008.
- Stone, Herbert S. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. Chicago & New York Mdcccxcix. 1899.
- Green, Suzanne D. The Awakening Criticism. Gale, 1998.
- Smith, Nicole. Literary Analysis of “Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin : Language, Emotion and Marriage. 2010.
- Fryer, Judith. The Faces of Eve. New York: Oxford UP, 1976.
- Toth, Emily. Unveiling Kate Chopin. Publisher: University Press of Mississippi. Jackson, MS. Publication Year: 1999.
- Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Suicide rates. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004. Web. 10 Aug. 2004