Humanities in Class: Webinar Series, Beyond the Monograph

Teaching The Awakening

Lead Scholar: Jennifer Fleissner (Fellow, 2011–12)

November 5, 2015

When Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening appeared in 1899, one reviewer deemed it an unhealthy, “morbid” book. Another maintained that its protagonist Edna Pontellier embraced “the fiend called Passion,” while a third wondered if Chopin were claiming that a married women should be free to “wantonly” severe ties to her husband and live openly as an unmarried woman. But amidst the harrumphing and handwringing one critic struck a note that resonates today. “Edna Pontellier,” wrote the reviewer, “whose husband has vaguely held her dear as a bit of decorative furniture, suddenly becomes aware she is a human being.” How can we interpret Edna’s awakening? Is sexuality central to it or incidental? Why, at the end of the novel, does Chopin present what seems to be a tragic scene with non-tragic language and imagery? Join us as we explore these and other questions about this widely taught novel.

Subjects: Literature; Gender and Sexuality; Literary Criticism; Novels; Feminism; American Literature