Saturday, January 29, 2011

Book 70: Finished.

The first time I read this as a 17 year-old high school student, I knew I loved it. I don't know why I was so in love, since I certainly didn't have enough life experience to fully understand the heavy weight of this little novel.

And on subsequent rereads, I still don't think I fully understand every little nuance in language, or relate to the emotions that Edna has towards her children and life. I am not in her situation. I cannot understand what it must feel like to be sweltering under the weight of things that you don't want.

I don't have the trapped feeling my own marriage. I don't know what it would be like to feel that way. Perhaps I am lucky.

My husband understands who I am, what I enjoy, and who I want to become. He allows me the freedom to be the person I want. He doesn't hold me back, or expect me to be something else.

Edna is in a relationship like that. While her husband seems to care about her, he doesn't understand her. Instead, he holds her to the image of what she should be. When she begins to rebel against that image, he freaks out. Who wouldn't be a tad upset with their spouse if they stopped doing the things they had done for so long?

Of course, this novel was published in 1899, so the relationships between men and women, husbands and wives were held to different standards. Women were expected to marry, have babies, and take care of the household. It was never really accepted for a woman to do what she wished with her own time, to cultivate deep passions for things that were not her husband or children.

But that is what Edna so desires in this novel. And she begins to pull away, to "wake" the person inside her who has been pushed down for so long. She longer wants to see herself as a mother or a wife, but as a person.

That is a powerful realization. To know that you have been suppressing the deepest and more central part of yourself, for fear of it not being understood. And to finally release that person into an environment where everyone sees you as something else...well, that is bound to cause ripples.

But this is what happens to Edna in The Awakening. She begins to pull away from the woman she once was, define her independence, and come to the realization of what that means.

It is no wonder that this book was controversial upon its publication. A strong woman making her own choices, and being seen sexually, was too much for audiences in 1899. Now, some may read it and wonder why she didn't leave sooner.

In many ways, I am grateful for where society is now-that I am allowed to make my own decisions and follow my passions because they make me happy. I don't have to be something that will make me miserable. If I want to leave the home and work, I can. If Matt wants to stay home with the kids, he can. It may raise eyebrows, but it is never as shocking as it once could have been.

I know that as I age, have kids, have more responsibilities, that The Awakening will be something I often return to. It is a book with choice, with possibilities, and alternate meanings. Like so many other classics, I know I will pull more from it in each and every read of it.


  1. I remember loving this book. While I couldn't relate to her, I felt for her. Great review. I'm not sure what I think of the updated cover.

  2. Having been a mother with three young children, a stay at home mom, I know what it feels like to have your identity defined by your motherhood. While in today's day women aren't generally defined as wives anymore, even married (they aren't "Mrs. Jason Gignac" you know?), they are still defined by children once they have them, and that's very difficult when you've always had your own identity. I remember feeling so oppressed, just like Edna, and I read this for the first time at the height of that feeling of oppression. Thankfully there are options for redefinition now...

  3. Wonderful book! You said it perfectly - there's a heavy weight to this little novel. One of my favorites!

  4. I read this when I was a senior in high school and I didn't like it. I think it was the format in which it was taught. Part of me wants to reread the book but I'm afraid that I'll have the same reaction.
    I did like the character of Edna but when it was taught it was more along the lines of the scandal. It kind of ruined the book for me.
    But I'm really glad that you liked it.

  5. Beautifully written post. I'm definitely inspired to read the book. Being a mother of a young child, and sometimes forgetting myself in that role, I suspect I will relate to Edna at times.

  6. This is such a great post. It almost makes me appreciate The Awakening again. :) I liked it the first time, but I was really annoyed the second time I read the book for some reason.

    Like you, I do not feel trapped in my marriage, and since I don't have kids, I am not defined by them either. It's nice to have it good. :)

  7. This book has definitely had more layers of meaning each time I read it. And it makes me incredibly grateful to live in this time when a woman is allowed to be married and an individual. It still takes work, especially now that I'm a mother, but my husband isn't repressing me.

  8. My friend recommended this book to me a few years ago,so I bought it and its been sitting on the shelf ever since...this review's definitely inspired me to pick it up again!

  9. I haven't read this one yet, and I have no idea HOW I haven't read it before now. It's on my "immediate" list for this year. It sounds wonderful! Reading the description, I think about Chopin's short story, "The Story of an Hour" and Ibsen's A Doll's House. I loved both.

  10. I remember Amanda from the Zen Leaf talking about how much she liked this.

    I am a stay-at-home mom, and while staying home is my choice and I don't want to go back to work -- ever, really at this point -- I still feel tired and stuck of the mother responsibilities sometimes. I'm really looking forward to reading this novella, I think I may relate, even though, like you, I have a wonderful, understanding husband.

    And I too am so glad I don't live 100 years ago, when I had no choices about staying home or not! That kind of pressure would break me.

  11. I look forward to treasuring this one. (Coming in July.) ;-)

  12. Sounds very special, I will look forward to reading it as well.

  13. Wonderful review! I've had this one on my bookshelf for a while now, and while I'm not feeling trapped by a marriage, I am at a place where oftentimes, I feel like I am not entirely open to be who I am. Looks like I need to read this soon!

  14. I loved this one too. Like you, I don't feel trapped by my marriage and I don't have kids, but it's easy to see how that could happen when you have very little choice in your spouse. I'm grateful our society has changed, but I do think we should remember what women had to go through a century ago.