July 2002

Jessa Crispin

hundred books

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

"An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her unconsciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish. It was like a shadow, like a mist passing across her soul's summer day. It was strange and unfamiliar; it was a mood."

I'm not sure how I managed to not read The Awakening before now. I remember it lurking in Norton Anthologies in high school and college, occupying the same dreaded territory as Ethan Frome: tragic story with people ending up dead because they wanted something.

I'm glad I wasn't assigned this book as I do not believe it's really appropriate for high school students, or any kind of required reading. In the first place, there isn't any plot. Things happen, of course, but not in any structured order. Secondly, it's terribly low key. Nothing big nor brash happens. Even her death is muted. (Everyone knows she dies right? I mean, it's like Anna Karenina; you expect that everyone knows the ending and you can reference to it at parties without anyone yelling at you for ruining it.) The one sex scene is a "fade to black" kind of scene.

That having been said, I loved The Awakening. I thought it was a great portrayal of depression and how it destroys your ability to have a normal life. It was all very subtle to the point that someone hearing a synopsys of the story would not understand why Edna did what she did. I had that conversation.

'So the things oppressing her were her marriage, her children and her lifestyle?"
"Yes."
"And so she moved out of her house, sent the kids away, and started sleeping around?"
"Yes."
"And so then why did she kill herself?"
"Because she was still oppressed."
"Umm, okay."

You really do have to read it.