“The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.”
March is kicked off with Mardi Gras and continues with Women’s History Month, so what better time to read a classic feminist novel based in New Orleans?
The Awakening by Kate Chopin was first published in 1899 when it shocked readers with its honest portrayal of female marital infidelity. Fans of late Victorian romantic fiction were astonished by Chopin’s story of a young woman, trapped in a suffocating marriage, who seeks and finds passionate physical love outside of her domestic home.
Our protagonist, Edna Pontellier, is a relatively well-off married woman.
Her husband, Léonce, is a sociable businessman who often views Edna as a “valuable piece of personal property.” The story begins in Grand Isle at the start of summer, with Edna slowly gaining awareness of the constant oppression of her seemingly ideal, yet inwardly-suffocating marriage. Triggered by romantic melodies, a passion for the sea, and a growing desire for a charismatic and handsome man named Robert Lebrun, Edna awakens to her sense of self.
Not unlike waking from a dream, the beginning of this journey towards self-realization is tangled, chaotic, and often disturbing. Edna’s inward life, where she allows herself to question the reality she is forced into as a woman, starts to bleed out into her outward existence. She abandons false relationships, ideas, and other limitations as she moves towards an existence centered around following her heart.
As the story unfolds, Edna spends stretches of time in solitude while attempting to feed her hunger for liberation.
She wishes to be independent, giving up the comforts she’s grown used to in exchange for freedom. Unfortunately, her two children complicate this dream. Guilt is sprinkled throughout the narrative, often felt most when Edna has reunited with her children after time away from them. As readers, we are kept guessing as to whether she will give up her newfound independence for the sake of her children or commit to chasing her dreams, living for herself alone.
Chopin’s feminist novel of identity and self-consciousness continues to burst with relevance more than 120 years after publication. Although not all women will share Edna’s exact experiences, every woman will be able to see a bit of herself in this convoluted character. Her unwavering resolve, knowledge of what she wants, and refusal to settle for less will inspire any woman who has felt the constraints of societal expectations.
The Awakening feels both intimate and surreal, heartbreaking and exhilarating.
I strongly recommend this classic novel not only to women but all humans, as we have all experienced at least a small drop of the sea of emotion found in Edna’s mind as she navigates this enigmatic chapter of her life.
Order a copy of The Awakening from Bookshop Benicia and celebrate your beautifully complex self by mixing a New Orleans classic, the hurricane, to sip on as you read or discuss with friends. Share your opinions and favorite quotes with me @beniciabooktails on Instagram, where you can also be the first to find out the next Booktails pick!
- 2 oz light rum
- 2 oz dark rum
- 3 oz passionfruit juice
- 3 oz orange juice
- 2 tbsp grenadine syrup
- Juice of half a lime
- Orange slices and maraschino cherries for garnish
- Fill cocktail glass with ice then squeeze the lime over the ice.
- Stir the remaining ingredients together in a mixing glass.
- Pour into the cocktail glass.
- Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.
- 1 (10 ounce) bottle of V8 tropical blend
- 1 ½ oz orange juice
- 1oz grenadine
- Lemon-lime soda
- Orange slice and maraschino cherry
- Put some ice in a shaker and add the tropical punch and orange juice. Shake until cold. 2. Pour into a tall glass.
- Pour the grenadine over the drink, layering it on top of the juices.
- Pour the soda on top of the grenadine.
- Garnish with an orange slice and cherry.