The Awakening

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The Awakening Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Kate Chopin's The Awakening. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Kate Chopin
Katherine O’Flaherty was born in St. Louis to an Irish father and a French-Canadian mother. Her father died in a tragic accident when she was only five, so she spent most of her childhood surrounded by a warm community of widowed older women: her mother, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother, who taught Kate to love fairy tales, music, and French culture. When she was a teenager, Kate attended a Catholic boarding school called the Sacred Heart Academy, where she was known for her intelligence and literary wit. At the age of twenty, she married Oscar Chopin and moved to New Orleans. By twenty-eight, she had given birth to six children.
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Historical Context of The Awakening
In turn-of-the-century America, when Kate Chopin lived and wrote, the women’s rights movement was still quite young and toothless. In Louisiana, a predominantly Catholic and conservative state, a woman was considered the legal property of her husband, and divorce was practically unheard-of. Women (especially upper-class women) had to conform to Victorian ideals of femininity and motherhood: they were expected to be delicate, passive, and saintly, and they were meant to find fulfillment in raising children and tending to household tasks. The Awakening questioned the foundations of this fading social order.
Other Books Related to The Awakening
The Awakening is similar in theme to Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which describe the boredom and desperation of intelligent housewives. Kate Chopin’s writing has many elements in common with the novels of Edith Wharton and Henry James, who wrote about the nuances, deceits, and dissatisfactions of American high society; such elements include intricate, contradictory psychological narration, witty dialogue, and a delicate subversion of stale but still powerful social rules and prejudices. The Awakening is linked to the tradition of French existentialist literature, as well; the narrators of novels like Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea share Edna’s formless dread and alienation.
Key Facts about The Awakening
  • Full Title: The Awakening
  • When Written: between 1897 and 1899
  • Where Written: St. Louis, Missouri.
  • When Published: 1899
  • Literary Period: late Victorian
  • Genre: Bildungsroman, a novel tracing a young person’s emotional and intellectual maturation.
  • Setting: Grand Isle and New Orleans in the late 19th century.
  • Climax: There are several potential climaxes in the story. One could choose the night Mademoiselle Reisz’s music moves Edna to tears; her first kiss with Arobin; or her last, fatal swim.
  • Point of View: Third person.
Extra Credit for The Awakening

Divorce in the Family. Kate Chopin’s great-great-grandmother was the first woman in Mississippi to legally separate from her husband. She went on to raise five children and run a successful shipping business.

Fame After Death. Female desire and nonconformism were so taboo in turn-of-the-century Louisiana that The Awakening was largely forgotten after its publication; Chopin herself died in disgrace. Not until the 1960s did critics recognize Chopin’s last novel as a canonical work of literature.