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Kate Chopin. The Awakening. Romanticism The exotic locale, use of color, and heavy emphasis on nature Edna's search for individuality and freedom : freedom to decide what to be, how to think, and how to live Rebellion against society Other prototypical romantic elements of the text:

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literary movements


    • The exotic locale, use of color, and heavy emphasis on nature
    • Edna's search for individuality and freedom:
      • freedom to decide what to be, how to think, and how to live
    • Rebellion against society
    • Other prototypical romantic elements of the text:
      • Frequent inner thoughts,
      • memories of childhood,
      • the personified sea and its sensuous call,
      • the fantastic talking birds,
      • the mysterious woman in black,
      • the romantic music playing almost constantly in the background,
      • the gulf spirit, and
      • the desire to express herself through art.
Literary Movements
literary movements1

Realism/Naturalism/Local Color

    • Reaction against Romanticism and stressed the real over the fantastic
    • Stressed the uncaring aspect of nature and the genetic, biological destiny of man
    • Humanity's instinctual, basic drives dominate their actions and cannot be evaded
    • The identity of the setting is integral to the unfolding of the theme, rather than simply incidental to a theme that could be set anywhere
    • Portrayal of Edna as hostage to her biology:
      • Edna is female, has children, and is a wife in a society that dictates behavioral norms based on those conditions,
      • Relationship between men and women and the economic aspects,
      • Speaks of women in terms of possession, as property, and as a symbol of a man’s social status,
      • a victim of fate, chance, of an uncaring world, pulled into a consuming, but indifferent sea,
      • the only escape from her biological destiny as a woman in society, possessed, sexual, and ruled, is death,
      • the Creole society and its rules.
Literary Movements
historical context

Industrial Revolution

Darwin’s theories: basic drives dominate actions

Women’s Suffrage

Creole Culture

Historical context
historical context1

Industrial Revolution

    • Turn of the century: 19th/20th; tension between old/new; traditional/modern
    • World’s Fair Expo Chicago 1904: heralded the rise of the machine age
    • Transformed handicrafts, which women had always done in their homes, into a machine-powered, mass- produced industry
    • Lower-class women could earn wages as factory workers
Historical context
historical context2

Darwin’s Theories

    • On the Origin of Species
    • The Descent of Man
      • Conditioned and controlled by:
        • Environment
        • Heredity
        • Instinct
        • Chance
Historical context
historical context3

Women’s Suffrage

    • First women's right convention in July of 1848 (two years before Chopin was born) in Seneca Falls, New York
    • Lucretia Coffin Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton
    • Adopted a Declaration of Sentiments patterned after the Declaration of Independence and focused on getting the vote
    • Suffragists were branded the 'shrieking sisterhood,' labeled unfeminine, and accused of immorality
Historical context
historical context4

Creole Culture

    • It was Catholic in a Protestant country.
    • The Creole women were very conservative
      • They were frank and open in discussing their marriages and children, but could do so because their moral nature did not allow any doubt as to their chastity.
    • LA was the only state in the nation that operated under a different legal system.
      • Under the Louisiana Code, patterned after the Napoleonic code of France, a woman belonged to her husband.
      • Article 1388 established the absolute control of the male over the family.
      • Article 1124 equated married women with babies and the mentally ill, all three were deemed incompetent to make a contract.
Historical context
social context

Middle and upper-class women were still expected to stay at home as idle, decorative symbols of their husbands' wealth.

They were, as Virginia Woolf termed it, expected to be angels in the house.

They were pregnant frequently due to the restrictions on birth control.

They cared for their homes, husbands, and children, played music, sang, or drew to enhance the charm of their homes and to reflect well on their husbands.

Wives were possessions, cared for and displayed, who often brought a dowry or inherited wealth to a marriage.

They were expected to subordinate their needs to their husband's wishes.

Social context
compare contrast

1890s: The women's movement begins to gain a foothold on American society. However, women still do not have the right to vote, and women's issues were not part of the political platform.

Today:Women have had the right to vote since the passage of the Twenty-second Amendment to the Constitution in 1920.

1890s:According to the law, a married woman's property belonged to her husband, even if she had inherited land before being wed. If she later divorced her husband, the land would still be legally his.

Today:Women have equal legal rights to property, and divorce cases usually conclude with at least half — if not more — of a couple's possessions going to the wife.

1890s:Advice columns for women had their beginning. With the advent of Dorothy Dix's column in 1895, advice columns appeared in newspapers and provided a forum for discussion of women's issues.

Today:Not only do publishing companies print women's columns in newspapers, but they also dedicate entire magazines to women's issues.

Compare & contrast
biographical context
Biographical context
  • Born in Missouri in 1850
  • Raised in matriarchal household
  • Educated at Sacred Heart Academy (Catholic boarding school)
  • Strong female influence in younger years
biographical context1
Biographical context
  • In 1870, married Oscar Chopin, the son of a wealthy cotton-growing family in Louisiana.
  • He adored his wife, admired her independence and intelligence, and "allowed" her unheard of freedom.
  • They had seven children.
  • They moved to his old home in Cloutierville.
  • Oscar died of swamp fever there in 1882.
  • Kate took over the running of his general store and plantation for over a year.
biographical context2
Biographical context
  • In 1884 she sold her property and moved back to St. Louis to live with her mother.
  • To support herself and her young family, she began to write.
  • Her first novel, At Fault, was published in 1890, Bayou Folk in 1894 and A Night in Acadia in 1897.
  • The Awakening was published in 1899
  • She died of a cerebral hemorrhage on August 22, 1904.
  • Identity
  • Women & Femininity
  • Marriage
  • Love
  • Society & Class
  • Repression
  • Art & Culture
  • Family
  • Respect & Reputation
  • Life, Consciousness, & Existence
  • Art:
    • Art becomes a symbol of both freedom and failure.
    • Edna sees art as a way of self-expression and of self-assertion.
    • Mlle. Reisz sees becoming an artist as a test of individuality.
    • Edna fails because her wings are too weak.
  • Birds:
    • Birds are major symbolic images in the narrative.
    • They symbolize the ability to communicate and entrapment of women
    • Flight is another symbol associated with birds, and acts as a stand in for awakening.
    • Edna escapes her home, her husband, her life, by leaving for the pigeon house.
    • Mlle. Reisz lectures Edna on the need for strong wings in artistic endeavors.
  • Clothes:
    • Edna is fully dressed when first introduced; slowly over the course of the novel she removes her clothes.
    • This symbolizes the shedding of the societal rules in her life and her growing awakening and stresses her physical and external self.
    • Adele is more "careful" of her face in the seventh chapter and wears a veil.
    • Both she and Madame Leburn constantly make clothes to cover the body.
    • The woman in black and Mlle. Reisz never change their clothes, symbolizing their distance from any physical attachment.
  • Sleep:
    • Sleep is an important symbolic motif running through the novel.
    • Edna's moments of awakening are often preceded by sleep.
    • Sleep is also a means of escape and of repairing her tattered emotions.
    • In fairy tales, sleep is a key ingredient.
  • Ocean, Gulf, or Sea:
    • The ocean is a symbol of both freedom and escape.
    • Edna remembers the Kentucky fields of her childhood as an ocean.
    • she learns to swim in the gulf, and she finally escapes into the sea.
    • The ocean is also a source of self-awareness, both an outward knowledge of the expansion of the universe and an inner direct obsession with self.
    • The sound of the surf calls to her, comforts her throughout the novel, and acts as a constant beckon in the text.
    • As you read, notice how often, even in New Orleans away from the sea, the language mimics the sound of the surf or the actions of the water.
  • Houses:
    • There are many houses in the novel: the one on Grand Isle, the one in New Orleans, the pigeon house, the house in which Edna falls asleep on CheniereCaminada.
    • The first two of these houses serve as cages for Edna. She is expected to be a "mother-woman" on Grand Isle and to be the perfect social hostess in New Orleans.
    • The other two are places of supposed freedom. On the island she can sleep and dream, and in the pigeon house she can create a world of her own.
    • Grand Isle itself is a place of women. Most men only visit on weekends, and while there go to places of their own like Kiles's hotel.
    • CheniereCaminada is then a place of escape off this island of women, into a new, romantic, and foreign world.
    • New Orleans is the bastion of societal rules, of realistic life and duties.
    • Kentucky, for Edna is simply New Orleans in a different place; ridged with rules and full of unhappy memories.
    • New York and Mexico are men's Grand Isles, and both Leonce and Robert leave Edna for these places, where they do business with other men.
edna s awakening symbols metaphors

Call of the sea (III)

  • Passions are aroused
    • “you are the only one worth playing for”(Mademoiselle Reisz to Edna)
    • Bathing (swimming) at midnight (IX)
    • Robert: “he did not lead the way, however, he directed the way” (X)
  • Edna learning to swim, determined to inhabit her physical self, to value it, luxuriate in its sinews and strengths (X)
  • Turning her face seaward. . .a quick vision of death smote her soul (X)
Edna’s Awakening: symbols & metaphors
edna s awakening symbols metaphors1

Expected to answer her husband’s request, “unthinkingly,” as befits the “daily treadmill of life”

  • “I can’t permit you to stay out here all night”
  • Awakening gradually, as if from a dream (XI)
  • NOT a mother-woman (IV)
    • Idolizing her children
    • Worshipping her husband
    • Esteeming it a holy privilege to efface herself as an individual and grow wings as ministering angels
Edna’s Awakening: symbols & metaphors
edna s awakening symbols metaphors2

Edna (re)birthing herself (XIII)

    • Revisionary mythmaking again: this time of Sleeping Beauty
    • Oppression of church service
    • Madame Antoine’s cot
    • Edna bathing herself, sleeping lightly at first (XIII)
    • AWAKENING, “with the conviction that she had slept long and soundly”
    • Hunger (XIII), eating bread & wine
Edna’s Awakening: symbols & metaphors