Thursday, November 7, 2013

Review : The Awakening by Kate Chopin

First published:-1899
Star rating:-

Often, I have witnessed a few women, who proceed to talk about misogyny, sexism, or give their views on a piece of feminist literature, starting their discourse with something along the lines of "I'm not much of a feminist...but". As if it is best to put a considerable distance between themselves and this feared 'word' at the onset and deny any possible links whatsoever. As if calling herself a feminist automatically degrades a woman to the position of a venom-spewing, uncouth, unfeminine, violent creature from hell whose predilections include despising all males on the planet with a passion and shouting from the rooftops about women's rights at the first opportunity. 

Attention ladies and gentlemen! Feminism is not so cool anymore, at least not in the way it was in the 80s or 90s.
Don't ask what set off that particular rant but yes I suppose the numerous 1-star reviews of this one could have been a likely trigger. 

So Edna's story gets a 1 star from so many people (on Goodreads in case you are wondering where) because she is a 'selfish bitch' who falls in love with another man who is not her husband, doesn't sacrifice her life for her children and feels the stirrings of sexual attraction for someone she doesn't love in a romantic way. Edna gets a 1 star because she dares to put herself as an individual first before her gender specific roles as wife and mother. 

But so many other New Adult and erotica novels (IF one can be generous enough to call them 'novels' for lack of a more suitable alternative term) virtually brimming with sexism, misogyny and chock full of all the ugly stereotypes that reinforce society's stunted, retrogressive view of the relationship dynamics between a man and woman, get 5 glorious stars from innumerable reviewers (majority of whom are women) on Goodreads, the most popular bookish social networking site on the internet.

This makes me lose my faith in humanity and women in particular. 

Edna Pontellier acknowledges her awakening and her urge to break away from compulsions imposed on her by society. She embraces her 'deviance' and tries to come to terms with this new knowledge of her own self. She desires to go through the entire gamut of human actions and emotions, regardless of how 'morally wrong', unjustified or self-centered each one of them maybe. 

Because THAT is the whole point of feminism. 

"Feminism is the radical notion that women are people." - Rebecca West

A woman to be recognized as a human being first - imperfect, flawed, egocentric, and possibly even as a bad mother and an irresponsible wife. Just like the way society accepts a bad husband as a bad husband, a bad father as a bad father and moves on after uttering a few words of negative criticism. Somehow being a bad father is reasonably acceptable, but being a bad mother is blasphemous.

Edna's husband is equally responsible for abandoning their children as she is. He limits his role as a father to performing minor tasks like buying them bonbons, candies and gifts and lecturing his wife on how they should be raised without bothering to shoulder some of her burden. As if raising children is the sole forte of the mother and the father can nonchalantly evade all responsibility.

I have seen readers being kind to unfaithful literary husbands, being sympathetic to their existential dilemmas (case in point being Tomas and Franz in 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' which I am currently reading) and even trying to rationalize their incapability of staying in monogamous relationships. But oh heaven forbid if it's a woman in the place of a man! Women are denied entrance into the world of infidelity or sex without romantic love (and when they are allowed they are stuck with labels like 'slut', 'whore', 'tart' and so on). They need to be absolute models of perfection without fail - angelic, compassionate, thoughtful, always subservient, forever ready to be at your service as a good mother and a good wife and languish in a perpetual state of self-denial with that forced sweet smile stuck to their faces. Double standards much? 

Edna is flawed and hence, very humane. Edna is all of us. And her cold refusal to let societal norms decide the course of her life, reduce her to the state of mere mother and wife only makes her brave in my eyes, not selfish. 

[Wikipedia extract:- 
The Awakening was particularly controversial upon publication in 1899. Although the novel was never technically banned, it was censored. Chopin's novel was considered immoral not only for its comparatively frank depictions of female sexual desire but also for its depiction of a protagonist who chafed against social norms and established gender roles.]

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